Reflections with Sue Tredget 

‘Gratitude’ is a word that is frequently overused and sometimes misunderstood.

It is derived from the Latin word gratia – meaning grace, graciousness or gratefulness. It is a thankful acknowledgement of the goodness in our lives. It connects us to something much bigger than ourselves, whether to other people, nature, the universe or a higher power.

It’s common to see people posting on social media, expressing their gratitude below a perfectly curated photo. I think you know what I’m referring to… #humbled, #blessed, #grateful (I’m guilty as charged, by the way).

I’m not questioning the sincerity of the gratitude, but it’s easy to feel grateful when all is well in our world. The irony is that the more we have to be grateful for, the less grateful we often are. We forget to stop and take stock of all that is good in our lives. We complain about daily irritations and lose sight of the bigger picture.

As I was recently reminded, if you have food to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over your head and a car to drive (or be driven in), you are indeed blessed on a global scale and have much to be grateful for.

The test of how much gratitude someone genuinely feels comes when they face adversity.

Now That’s Gratitude…

My friend recently lost her husband to cancer. It was sudden, brutal and unexpected. Her life, and the lives of her three children, changed seemingly overnight and their grief was immense.

They celebrated his life in a beautiful church, not far from here. The large crowd, made up of his family and friends, shared anecdotes, memories, tears and laughter. It was an uplifting memorial for the life of a wonderful man, loved by many.

After the service, instead of a wake, the family hosted a party. There was food, drink and dancing – everyone was sharing memories, laughing and enjoying each other’s company in celebration of their late friend, father and husband. I didn’t understand how my friend was managing to be so graceful, hospitable and inspiring at such a time. When I told her how amazing she was, she replied ‘I just feel so grateful’. She went on to describe her profound gratitude for the wonderful family that she and her husband had created together. Even in grief, she was able to be truly thankful for all that she had. Now that’s gratitude.

Practice Makes Perfect

Like meditation, gratitude needs to be practised. You can train yourself to be more grateful, especially If you, like me, are prone to a glass-half-empty mindset when things aren’t quite going your way. Even on the worst days there is joy to be found somewhere. The kindness of a stranger, the comfort of friendship, another glorious sunset on the Indian Ocean. The phrase ‘count your blessings’ may be a cliché, but clichés become so because, more often than not, they hold true. Counting your blessings works; expressing gratitude actually changes the brain.

Scientific findings back this up and research into the impact of gratitude on the brain is ongoing by experts worldwide. In positive psychology, gratitude is clearly and consistently associated with greater happiness. It helps us feel more positive emotions, create stronger relationships, and appreciate good experiences more fully. It improves our physical and mental health, enhances overall well-being, builds resilience, leads to greater optimism and helps us cope with adversity.

Robert Emmons, one of the leading researchers in this field, has demonstrated that making gratitude a habit (regular journaling and writing thank you notes are two effective and easy ways to do this) strengthens our self-worth and allows us to celebrate the present, block toxic emotions and be more stress-resilient. He has also outlined some of the characteristics of ingratitude, including arrogance, vanity, self-importance and the need for admiration and approval.

As we enter a new school term, I am sure you are grateful for the chance you had to rest over the holidays. And, if you’ve read to the end of this article, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your attention! #sograteful #soblessed

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