Gratitude in Action

Around the campfire during the summers, I get to speak with our campers and staff about big ideas. The idea is to enliven their imagination and get them thinking about foundational values. Stories are shared as are quotes from thoughtful people.

Preparing to speak about gratitude for the first time around the campfire, I came across JFK’s quote:

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

Ten years later, JFK’s quote came up again. In a wonderful conversation with two of my favorite people, Co-Director Kate and Asst. Director Dana, we kept circling back to acting out our grateful feelings and intent. I’ve always thought of it as an ‘attitude of gratitude’ but that’s only a small part of the equation, isn’t it?

Action is more important than words or feelings. Yes, I want to have a more grateful outlook on life but my actions will show me and everyone else what I truly believe. Jerry Sternin said something about this:

It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting.

Practicing Gratitude

My friend AJ Jacobs just published a book on the idea of acting out your gratitude. He decided to thank as many people as he could who were involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. Thanks a Thousand chronicles AJ’s gratitude journey and offers a number of great ideas to help us all become and act more gratefully:

  • Focus On What Goes Right – do you know how many thing have to go right for your body to feel as good as it does, for food to get in your fridge, and there be a roof over your head?

  • Savor the Moment – get into the present moment and love it, taste it, keep it going as long as you can. Take your time and savor the moment - camp this summer will over before you know it!

  • Practice Six Degrees of Thankfulness – You are a part of a connection that spreads out enormously. Practice thanking people up and down the chain.

  • Fall Asleep Counting Your Gratefuls – I love this. Starting with A and going up the list, think of something for which you are grateful. Once you get to Z (which you probably won’t) turn around and do it backwards. But you probably won’t make it to ‘z!’

  • Thou Shalt Not Practice (Delusional) Nostalgia – AJ likes to keep this phrase in his head: surgery without anesthesia. It’s good for us old people to remember that!

  • Fake It Until You Make It – Your actions have a lot more impact on your mood than your thoughts. If we can get our kids to take up this practice, they’ll get it in their hearts, too.

  • Go Analogue – write a ‘thank you’ note. It’ll brighten another person’s day and you’ll feel good about it, too. Yes, you can write a text, too, but putting pen to paper has a much bigger and lasting effect.

These are all great ideas that we can share with the young people (and the… more experienced… people) in our lives to energize their gratitude practice. And, it’s a fun book - I highly recommend the read for anyone interested in laughing and learning at the same time.

Three Happies and an Appreciate

One gratitude ‘hack’ that we’ve enjoyed for two decades is the sharing of 3 Happies and an Appreciate.

The idea is simple and powerful. Throughout the day, collect the three things you were most happy about, i.e., ‘my child got the therapy he needed’ or ‘it rained on my flower garden today.’ Right before you go to bed, share those three happies with your child and your spouse.

Kate and I started doing this while courting and have practiced it every night for 18 years. When the boys showed up, we extended the habit to them as well. When your voice-changing, smelly, phone-addicted fourteen year old comes back down the stairs saying ‘you didn’t get my happies!’, you know it’s working.

The ‘appreciate’ was a new addition 10 years ago and it’s made a big difference in our lives. At the end of saying your happies, you look at the other person and tell them one thing you appreciated about them that day. Simple, yes, but hearing that you are appreciated is a powerful and wonderful thing.

Thank You

I’m grateful you’ve read through all this and hope it will be useful to you. I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you sharing some with me. As a parting gift, here’s one of my favorite quotes on the mother of all virtues:

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, and confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

Have a grateful week!

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash