Entire books have been written about gratitude, but here are some ideas that have worked well in my practice. Gratitude comes in at least three different forms.
1. Notice the Rose. The first level of gratitude consists of becoming aware of the good things in our lives that we have often ignored. Using the metaphor of a rose, if we walk past a rose bush every day without noticing it, we don’t feel any gratitude for it – even though it has been blooming and perfuming mightily. When we aren’t aware of the many good things in our world, they might as well not exist, right?
Sometimes the best way to become aware of our blessings is to have them taken away. If somebody chopped down that rose bush, you might notice the empty space by the path.
Similarly, most of us take good health for granted, until we have the flu for a week. Then, for at least the first day we feel well, we really appreciate our healthy body! Or we hate our job until we get fired. Or we get fed up with our children until they grow up and leave the house. So, having our good fortune vanish is one way to become more grateful for our present condition.
But we don’t have to wait for disaster to strike. We can view our world with an attitude of gratitude. With that lens, we can suddenly focus on the blessings we didn’t notice before.
2. Smell the Rose. The second level of gratitude is to mindfully explore and enjoy all the delights offered by the thing in question. In the case of the rose bush, we may carefully examine the rose and enjoy it’s beautif
ul hues and delicate scent. We gently touch the suede petals by brushing it against our cheek. We allow ourselves to respond to the pleasure of the rose by expressing in words and deeds how we enjoy the gifts the rose offers.
3. Value the Thorns. The third level of gratitude is to appreciate even the thorns that the rose bears. Being grateful for an inconvenience or pain seems counterintuitive. In reality, when one can learn to value the difficult things in our lives, it gives a measure of resilience that is incredible. Can you be grateful for thorns? Does that require a different paradigm? The answer is, “Yes. It does require a different thinking style, but it can be done.”
In her great book, The Hiding Place, the author, Corrie Ten Boom, tells an incident that occurred when she and her sister were imprisoned in a German concentration camp. During their secret scripture study, her faithful sister reads a passage that admonishes disciples to give gratitude in all things. Corrie doubts her sister can find a way to be grateful for the plague of fleas that infested their barracks.. For awhile, her very spiritual sister was stymied because the fleas left painful welts from their bites and made restful sleep impossible for prisoners at Auschwitz. Finally, the answer arrives. Because of the blizzard of fleas in the bunks, the prison guards would not step a foot in the huts. The prisoners were free to have Bible study together without fear. They ended up giving thanks for fleas in their room!
Incorporating the three levels of gratitude into our lives can create significant joy and resilience. When our paths are thorny, don’t forget to be grateful for the pain while searching out the roses nearby.