Paying it Forward: The Grateful Way of Life
Charity’s November 2019 Newsletter
Despite the numerous reminders to be thankful we are bound to encounter as we enter the holiday season and approach Thanksgiving, I can’t help but feel weird and off topic if I don’t address the topic of gratitude in this month’s newsletter. At the same time, with so many gratitude reminders we are likely to encounter in the coming months, I wonder if there is anything truly new or significant that I have to contribute to the conversation on gratitude.As I’ve reflected on this, I’m reminded of a series of events I experienced a few months ago as the summer was ending and we were just getting a glimpse of cooler weather – that, in and of itself, was something to be grateful for at the time!The first occurred when I met a colleague at a local restaurant on a Sunday afternoon to collaborate on future projects. Being the chatty folks therapists tend to be, we continued talking at the table long after we paid for our food, which worked out well for me because I had left my credit card in the payment tray after signing the bill. As my colleague reminded me, I was fortunate to have a kind server return my card to me despite us taking a prolonged amount of time in his booth where another paying customer could tip him.The next morning, I decided to treat myself to Chick-fil-a, but when I pulled up to the drive-thru window, I was pleasantly surprised to find out the person in front of me had generously pre-paid my order for me. I was so surprised and caught off guard, I only said thank you without ever thinking to also “pay it forward” to the person behind me.
As if I had not already benefited from the kindness of strangers, the next day, I went to a local Panera to study for an upcoming specialty certification exam. Since music helps me focus, I had my headphones on throughout the day and listened to music on my phone. Where I went, so did my phone and headphones – at least until I left my phone in the bathroom. When my music suddenly stopped mid-song a half hour later, I thought my battery must have died but lucky for me, one more kind employee picked up my phone and looked around to see how music could be playing but no sound coming out! She kindly brought me my phone as she saw me confused and rummaging through my purse looking frantically for the source of my music interruption.
The next morning as I was traveling to meet a friend to help update her resume, I thought to myself – finally, I’m going to have the chance to pay it forward because people have been so incredibly generous to me all week. As I reflected on the concepts of generosity and the particular practice of paying it forward, I realized that gratitude and generosity aren’t so much about single acts of kindness, though that is certainly one way in which we can practice generosity. Rather, gratitude, generosity, kindness, and a loving spirit are ways of life, not just things we do but who we strive to be. Aside from the random drive thru customer for whom I cannot speak, all of the people who previously “paid it forward” to me in the week didn’t do so because of some quid pro quo agreement they made with themselves or someone else, they did it because it was the right thing to do and boy am I glad they did!
So, as we enter the holiday season and approach the Thanksgiving holiday, a time that can be marked with great celebration but also a reminder of significant loss, I hope we will all consider gratitude and generosity as ways of life and not just something to be focused on for a few months out of the year. I hope you will find the practices below helpful for living in a spirit of gratitude and of course remember that kindness, whenever practiced with a genuine heart, is a virtue, even if practiced with oneself.
Gratitude: A Daily Practice
- Notice the good things in life. You may keep a gratitude journal or jar where you list multiple things you are grateful for on a daily basis. You can also take a moment every day to write down something specific you are grateful for and why that is significant for you. For example, “I am grateful for my dog, not only because he adores me, but also because he reminds me to be playful and take time to relax on a regular basis.”
- Pause and savor the feeling of gratitude as it spontaneously occurs. Rather than allowing gratitude to be a fleeting experience, take notice and attend to it when it occurs. For instance, when the sun comes out after days of clouds and rain, rather than simply saying, “I’m glad the rain finally stopped”, take a moment to go outside and absorb the sunshine, stand in the warmth of the light, and notice the birds and animals out and about.
- Express gratitude directly to others and share how their generosity impacted you in a significant way. For instance, rather than just saying, “Thanks for calling”, say “Thank you for calling to check on me today. It’s been a long week and I really appreciate you being there for me.”