So many times a day we say “thank you” out of nothing more than common courtesy at best or, at worst, out of habit, with no realization that we even said it. Thus, saying “thank you” is actually the least impactful part of being grateful. My spiritual director will often instruct me to “sit with a feeling”—not judge it or rationalize it, but instead just “sit with it” so I really feel it. What does real gratitude feel like? Here are the ingredients I can almost taste when I take the time to feel truly grateful.
First we taste two cups of humility. True gratitude instantly puts me in a place of realizing I am dependent on another. Whatever I have just received—whether it was a cup of coffee, a borrowed pen, or the deepest desire of my heart—someone beyond myself has just positively impacted me and made my life better. A western cultural mentality promotes the thinking that we somehow deserve whatever we have received, especially if money was involved. There is even a prosperity theology out there that asserts wealth is a blessing God bestows on some and not others. Don’t fall for it. God’s blessing comes in the way of life and love and is freely given to all. If you think money can take the place of your dependence on others, you are cheating yourself out of recognizing our interdependence and experiencing the humility true gratitude brings.
The second cup of humility in my recipe for gratitude comes from the Ignatian mantra that God is in all things. The enormity of God’s presence is easy to feel standing next to the vast ocean or staring up at a sky with a million stars, but even when I am heartbroken or scared, on the craziest of days or just standing in line at the department store, the moment that I reach for sincere gratitude I am bowled over by the enormity of God’s love and graciousness in my life. How is it that with all my faults and failings, one mere creature of the billions on this earth, the God of all, the Creator of all, longs for me? How is it I have come to have this moment? True gratitude affirms the paradox of our smallness and God’s grandeur.
Sitting in gratitude I can also taste a cup of relief. If you say “thank you,” but you don’t feel just a bit of weight lift off your shoulders or anxiety dissipate from your mind, chances are you aren’t really experiencing gratitude. Naming the concern or need that has just been alleviated instantly stirs the gratitude pot.
Finally, experiencing true gratitude always brings a taste of hope. Receiving is empowering. It allows you to take that next step down the road, to look to the future, and to keep going even when the road is hard. A barrier has been removed or a reinforcement has arrived, even if only in the form of smile from another.
Sitting in gratitude to experience this humility, relief, and hope need not take an extended hour of meditation. In mere seconds of awareness I can feel these ingredients all wash over me. St. Ignatius encourages us to begin and end all things with gratitude. Thus, when I say, “thank you” for taking the time to read this blog post and reflect on your own tastes of gratitude, you know exactly what I feel.