The Attitude that Could Change Everything: How to Develop a Grateful Heart The Power of Gratitude
Gary Roe on 05/11/2017
Often, things aren’t what they appear. How we view what's happening to and around us has a massive impact on the quality of our lives and relationships. I remember the first day of my Intro to Psychology class in college. The professor entered and promptly gave a pair of red glasses to a student in the first row. Then he held up a white styrofoam cup.
"What color is this cup?" he asked.
"White," the class said.
"Red," answered the student in the first row.
"And what color is this?" he asked, holding up a sheet of paper.
"White," we said.
"Red," came the answer from the front.
This went on for several minutes, with the prof choosing random objects around the room. "Red," was always the answer from the front row.
The professor retrieved the red glasses. Holding them up, he said, "How you see life is determined by the lenses you look through. How you view circumstances and people will profoundly impact the quality of your life."
How right he was, and still is.
We've all been wounded. We've all experienced loss, pain, and dysfunction on some level. We're all capable of tremendous good, and all of us have the potential of doing evil. Deep down, most of us want to be the best version of ourselves possible. We want our words, actions, and lives to count for something - preferably something meaningful, even extraordinary.
Like my Psychology professor said, much will be determined by the lenses we choose to look through.
My Friend, Bill
Bill and I met during my freshman year of college. At first, I saw Bill as, well, a little weird. Quirky. A nerd. His appearance was always rumpled, like he had slept in his clothes. It was obvious he didn't use deodorant.
People shied away from Bill, but he didn't seem aware of this. He was always smiling, engaging with people, seemingly never put off by the looks and rebuffs he constantly received. More than anything, Bill was thankful. He was always expressing gratitude.
I tried to ignore Bill, but he just kept coming. He was in a lot of my classes. We wound up in the same groups. He kept showing up in the dining hall and outside my dorm room. Over time, I let my guard down, and Bill began to share about his life.
Things had not been smooth for Bill. He was picked on and bullied for most of his school career. As his story leaked out in bits, he always managed a smile. This wasn’t some perpetual grin of denial or an attempt to hide from the past. His smile was real, authentic. His words were honest and unshaded. Bill was stunningly straightforward. I don't think he had a deceptive bone is his body.
Bill grew on me. His infectious gratitude permeated everything. He faced challenge after challenge, and received wound after wound, but he always rose from the mat, grateful for what he learned from the experience. My respect for him grew to be immense. Bill became a good friend.
After graduation, Bill contacted me several times a year. Life kept coming at him, and he kept saying, "Thank you." He managed to see things as they were, and then found a way to be grateful. His reservoir of wisdom was astounding.
At age 40, Bill was diagnosed with lymphoma. I was stunned, and so was he. It wasn’t long, however, before Bill had turned that around too. Every time we talked, he shared about all he was learning and how thankful he was for this friend, that doctor, this coverage, that opportunity, etc.
During his treatment I asked Bill, "How are you doing with all this, honestly? Give it to me straight."
"Well, brother, I could choose to focus on what I've lost and am losing. That would kill my heart. I choose to focus on what I have. I can still see people, listen, and love. Those are always the most powerful things I can do. Actually, lymphoma has helped me do this even more."
Bill died two years later. He was calling people and posting on Facebook up until his final morning. I still remember his last post, typed by a family member sitting next to his bed. "It's time for me to go. I'm so grateful to have known all of you. I am so blessed. Now, it's time for the next adventure."
My heart was broken, but I was so proud of him.
Bill was extraordinary, but then again, we all are - or can be.
Developing a Grateful Heart
Grateful hearts don't just "happen." They are usually forged through suffering, hardship, and pain. One thankful heart benefits everyone. Gratitude is like liquid light that spills out of the carrier's heart onto the world around them.
How do we get there?
We must make a decision.
"I resolve to develop a thankful heart." Better yet, speak as if it is already true. "I have a grateful heart. I will dig deep, find it, and begin to exercise it." When we decide to have a grateful heart, we must go all in – 100%. "I will do this. I will not back off. I will find the good in things. I will look through lenses of gratitude."
Begin practicing thankfulness.
A grateful heart must be continually nurtured and cultivated.
Try this. Each morning, as soon as you get up, make a list of three things you are thankful for - people, events, situations, whatever. Speak your gratitude out loud. "I'm thankful for..." Write them down in a journal or notebook. I personally prefer post-it notes. I stick them on my mirror and let them accumulate. Each evening, try repeating the process with three more things you're thankful for. This takes all of 30 seconds. It's easy, and painless. Make this a habit and watch the impact over time. Your gratitude will grow by the day.
Find a gratitude partner.
Get someone to go on this journey with you. You can encourage each other and hold one another accountable. You will have more fun and can celebrate victories together. The human heart slips quickly. We live in a largely negative world fascinated by disaster, conflict, and bad news. We need grateful people in our lives.
Change the Lenses
If we change the color of our lenses, it will change the way we see life. We will live differently, and the impact could be extraordinary.
I will never forget Bill. How could I? He's unforgettable. What an amazing, grateful heart. I want to be like that.
Make the decision. Change the lenses. Practice thankfulness. Speak it. Write it. Share it. And watch what happens.
Gary Roe is a bestselling author, chaplain, and grief counselor with Hospice Brazos Valley. Visit his website for free resources at www.garyroe.com or contact him at 979-821-2266 or firstname.lastname@example.org.