Remember, as a child, laboring to write thank-you notes to friends and relatives for gifts that maybe were not truly loved? Writing thank-you notes was nonnegotiable when I was growing up. Later, when my generation had children, some parents dismissed that gesture as outdated, disingenuous, insincere, and therefore, unnecessary, and did not require it of their children.

The notion was that gratitude had to be a feeling rather than a practice. I’ve always believed that even when we may not genuinely appreciate the material gift, we can acknowledge, recognize, and be grateful for the giver.

"Appreciation can truly be a saving grace."

It is vitally important for a culture to develop ways to recognize and acknowledge gifts, whether we feel like it or not. “Gratitude is the greatest of virtues!” said Cicero.

Contemporary thinkers seem to agree. Gratitude is “the foundation of interaction in many other cultures,” says Robert Emmons, a leading scholar in the positive psychology movement. “Gratitude,” says cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien, “creates a field of resonance.” That is, it creates life-affirming energy and action.

Gratitude, then, is active. It is something we do.

When l was in my 20s, I experienced a period of deep depression.

At the time, being grateful felt like a cliched and simplistic mental exercise that didn't begin to touch my pain. I resented it when people told me to just count my blessings. But somehow, through grace, I was able to spontaneously access appreciation with enough feeling to break the surface of my depressive state.

It began by noticing small things—like the beauty of the blazing red maple tree outside my window, the sound of raindrops after a long dry summer, or the sight of a jittery bird bouncing on a branch.

As I began to collect those moments, I began to think of it as following breadcrumbs back to the light. Another unexpected outcome was that when I caught myself in this game, I began to appreciate myself.

This was a major shift for someone who was deeply depressed. I didn't even realize it at the time, but when I was experiencing appreciation I sensed something in myself that I could respect—the ability to notice little things with a sense of gratitude.

That’s the power of appreciation. Even a small amount of it can change our experience for the better.

Appreciation is a feeling state.

It can be ushered in by thoughtful recognition, and it can also be spontaneous. It has energy, sometimes subtle and soft, sometimes electrifying, that leads to feelings of connection and well-being. The more we look for and expect these states to show up, the more we experience them as the embodiment of grace.

Appreciation challenges our stalwart defense of self-containment, slipping through the crevices of our armor, like one of those tenacious but delicate-looking flowers that pushes through a crack in the concrete. We turn the corner of our self-preoccupation, our loneliness, and are stopped in our tracks by a gift in nature, or a kindness, and we remember there is life beyond our walls. Appreciation can truly be a saving grace.

This awareness is the essence of gratitude, a celebration of wholeness that lifts us up, energizes, and transforms us. 

“Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul.”

Ralph Waldo Emmerson

This article appeared in Unity Magazine®.


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