Gratitude: Pay It Forward

In my last post, I promised we would take a closer look at gratitude. Since we are only a few days from Thanksgiving, I thought this might be important territory to cover. People who study this kind of thing, define gratitude as: a generalized tendency to recognize and respond with grateful emotion to the roles of other people’s benevolence in the positive experiences and outcomes that one obtains (McCullough, Emmons, and Tsang, 2002).

Having a grateful disposition helps us to recognize and give thanks to others who have had a positive influence on us. There are four important facets of a grateful disposition: Intensity, frequency, span, and density.

Someone with a grateful disposition feels more intensely grateful when experiencing a positive event compared to a less grateful person. A second factor of gratitude is frequency. A grateful person feels grateful more often and may feel grateful for even simple kindnesses like a warm greeting or compliment. Or, a kind soul who lets you merge onto the highway without nearly running you off the road (Okay, now I’m venting). A third facet of gratitude is span. A grateful person feels grateful for a wider variety of circumstances including family, friends, their job, health, and even for life itself. Simply having another day to enjoy what life has to offer is a wonderful gift itself. As a facet of gratitude, density has to do with the number of people we feel grateful towards regarding a certain aspect of our lives. For example, a grateful person will acknowledge that many people played a role in their success. At the other extreme, a less grateful person may feel that he or she were solely responsible for any success they may have achieved.

I think the hidden gem beneath all of this is that being grateful of the role others have played in our lives is the key to grateful living. And, this explains why grateful people are happier than their less grateful counterparts. Healthy relationships are the sine qua non of happiness. When we recognize the positive role others have played in our lives, we feel closer to those people. I think it was Barbara Streisand who crooned, “People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world”. Babs was really onto something.

So, here’s your assignment this Thanksgiving. Get out a pen and piece of paper, I’ll wait, and write down at least five people who have had a positive influence on your life. Choose one and write them a short note telling them what they did and how much it meant to you. But here’s the rub. You need to express your gratitude face-to-face. It will be the greatest gift they will receive all Christmas season.

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