When was the last time you felt gratitude simply because the sun came up? Rarely do we even think about this simple miracle because it happens so often – in fact it happens every day! Appreciating the obvious is a skill that may not come naturally to everyone. It may be a habit to be developed. To see the beauty and the wonder in a daily occurrence or in the human beings we interact with every day may involve making an effort to notice. Let me illustrate this point with two simple scenarios.
Scenario #1. I am in the Aldi parking lot, and it is time to return the shopping cart after loading my groceries into the trunk of my car. If you have ever shopped in Aldi’s grocery stores you probably know about the chain that locks the shopping carts all in a row. A quarter inserted in the chain mechanism releases one cart so you can do your shopping, and the quarter is released when you lock the cart up after returning it to the chain of carts. It is a clever system that incentivizes the Aldi shopper to return the cart to its rightful place with a “reward” of 25 cents.
I have found that this is the best bargain in Aldi, and it is not even in the store. I have stopped reconnecting the chain to the line of captive shopping carts and now I look for an arriving shopper who I can pass the cart on to. Most shoppers reach into their pockets to offer me the 25 cents. I refuse it. They are usually surprised and sometimes insist that I take the quarter. I refuse and usually make a comment with a smile, “Today is your lucky day!” or “You have won the Aldi lottery!” Most times I get a chuckle, but almost always I get a lift from bringing a smile to another human being’s face. Price of the smile? 25 cents. There are not too many places where I can get a smile and a good feeling for 25 cents, and for this, I am grateful.
Scenario #2. What do you do when someone approaches you for money on the street? Some of us give them money, while others don’t, fearing how the money will be spent. I have decided not to give money, but now I keep tuna and chicken snack packs in my car. I distribute them when someone asks me for change. The responses I have gotten over the years have been wide and varied. Some people set me straight, telling me that they need money, not food. Others look at the snack and turn their noses up at it. Many are appreciative and accept it. They are grateful, and I am grateful that I could bring some kindness – a small bit of hope – into their lives. I have even had people respond jubilantly, “Hey, I love these, these are great snacks. Thanks!” I do truly believe that this offer of a small snack, at a minimum, dignifies the receiver, who is likely ignored and disdained by many.
My offer is not magnanimous, it is small, but I do believe in both these situations I have made the world a kinder, more welcoming place, in a very small way. It does my heart good, as well as for the person at the receiving end. Why do I tell you about these interactions? Because they make me feel grateful that I can interact with strangers in a positive, uplifting way. Practicing gratitude puts us in a positive frame of mind. Furthermore, gratitude is a natural antidepressant, because it is impossible to feel negative and grateful at the same time.
The benefits of gratitude and positive psychology are also associated with lasting relationships, good health, a greater sense of determination, increased empathy, improved self-esteem, and better sleep. The sun slowly cracks through the horizon and casts a faint glow on a landscape that has been dark for many hours. Although its warmth is yet to be perceived, this light brings a perspective to the day in which we humans feel more in control and hopeful, perhaps because we can now see the world around us in a way that is impossible to see during the night.
Dr. Martin Seligman is a proponent of Positive Psychology and in his book, “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well Being” (2011), he describes gratitude as enduring thankfulness. He draws a distinction between two types of persons – satisficers and maximizers. Satisficers tend to experience their possessions and their status in life as being “good enough” and they tend to have a better sense of well-being. Maximizers have a more restless perspective – “I must find the perfect spouse, dishwasher, or vacation spot.” Seligman believes that people can change or develop ways of thinking that favor perceiving situations from a more “this will do fine” outlook.
Seligman, along with his colleague Christopher Peterson, further describe gratitude as awareness when good things happen to a person, and this person does not take it for granted, but expresses thanks for his or her good fortune. Gratitude also includes appreciation for others’ excellence in their cheerfulness, curiosity, diplomacy, or whatever positive trait they may exhibit. Gratitude also describes a sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life. We feel gratitude when someone does well by us, rather than dismissing their good behavior with, “Well, that is what they are supposed to do.”
I think at times this is a reminder about our conversations with family members and how we are not always in the “gratitude space” with them. Just a thing to consider, when we are joyful and grateful, we brighten the world around us. We sometimes forget that we all have this personal power. So, if you find that you are interested or at least intrigued by these thoughts, please consider googling “gratitude” or pick up a copy of Seligman’s book to further your thinking about this important topic. At the very least, invite gratitude to climb aboard your rig so that your travels will be a bit easier and more positive.
~ Dr. Terence P. Hannigan is a licensed psychologist in New York and New Jersey. Trained as a Counseling Psychologist, his focus is working with healthy people who want to use psychological principles to improve the quality of their lives. He is a semi-retired psychotherapist who works with both couples and individuals. His personal interests include cycling, travel, and gardening.