Spirit Matters: Where does gratitude lead us?

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Now is the season for gratitude. We pause on Thanksgiving Thursday to give thanks for what we have received from the earth, from our labors, perhaps from grace or good fortune. How wonderful that we have a national holiday dedicated to giving thanks.

We try to teach our children and grandchildren the importance of being grateful, and naming our blessings on Thanksgiving is a good start. A practice to build on the Thanksgiving reflection is to either start or end each day with silently naming three things you are grateful for. This is a head-on-the-pillow ritual, deliberately placed at the beginning or end of the day when there's a little more room in the mental file cabinet for the expansiveness of gratitude. Because practicing gratitude is an expansive experience. It can bring us to feelings of humility, joy and wonder.

Ironically, it can sometimes be easier to open to gratitude when things go wrong. When the car breaks down we're grateful for friends and coworkers who give us rides. When we become ill we're grateful for care that we receive from medical providers and helpful people in our lives. And when a loved one dies part of our grief experience can be opening to gratitude for all that person taught us or ways they enriched our lives.

But what lies beyond the feelings that gratitude engenders? Where does gratitude then lead us? In her book "Help, Thanks, Wow" Anne Lamont says that gratitude begins in our hearts and dovetails into behavior. The idea is that when we sincerely acknowledge the blessings in our lives we are moved to do something. Sometimes I get momentarily distracted by guilt. Feeling grateful for my blessings can make me feel guilty that I have been given so much in life. But I try not to let guilt sidetrack me and instead use it as fuel along with the gratitude to spur me to action, to kindness, to service.

Psychologist Robert Holden, Britain's foremost expert on happiness, has said that the miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see. When we're thankful for what we've been given in life we're more likely to look for ways to help others, to give back, or, to pay it forward. That's the magic and grace of gratitude.

So, challenge yourself to keep the gratitude flowing after the feast is eaten and the dishes are washed. Challenge yourself to find small rituals in your daily life to remind you of your blessings. Challenge yourself to answer the question, "Where does gratitude lead me?"

Connie Baxter is a member of the West Brattleboro Quaker Worship Group and of the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Leadership Association.

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