by Ese Omatsone
The Merriam-Webster English dictionary defines gratitude as the state or quality of being grateful. Interestingly, the only synonym the dictionary gives for gratitude is the word thankfulness. Thankfulness or thanksgiving (by definition) implies the acknowledgment of a gift, or an experience received. It means a connection to something or someone outside of us that was either the source of the gift or the channel through which the gift came.
We can do an excellent job of washing the car or clearing out a cluttered garage and experience a pleasant inner sense of accomplishment or joy at the completed task. However, this nice feeling might not include the quality of thankfulness if we “did it all by ourselves” and didn’t receive help from any external party – in any way, shape, or form. We can feel happy and quite satisfied with our hard work, but maybe not particularly thankful because there is no one (but ourselves) to thank. We worked hard and achieved the desired result, and that’s simply that. Or is it?
Gratefulness involves an implicit acknowledgment that someone or something outside of oneself has given us a good thing or has been part of giving us a pleasant experience. This good thing or nice experience has triggered positive feelings of connectedness and joy within our own hearts and minds, and we cannot help but notice it, first to ourselves and then, to the source or channel of the “gift”. Genuine gratitude or gratefulness articulates or expresses these positive feelings to the external party.
Personal and Extra-personal Impact of A Grateful Disposition.
We all wish we could receive beautiful gifts every day or even many times a day that would trigger gratitude in our hearts and minds. We all want to feel valued and firmly connected to the various sources and channels that bring us joy, peace, and hope (especially in times of despair or loss). We treasure those moments when everything works out, and indeed, we are eternally grateful. However, unlike curly hair, hazel eyes, or a large-bone structure, we are not necessarily born with a grateful disposition. We all must work at being continually (or eternally) grateful. We all must practice mindful gratitude – regularly contemplating and counting even the perceived smallest of gifts and blessings that surround us and permeate our souls. And practice does make perfect.
We can express thanks regularly to another person, an institution, the Abstract Universe, or Mother Nature. Rigorous academic research 1, 2, 3, 4 repeatedly shows that periodically expressing gratitude for material and non-material things can help the human brain form new or expand healthy neural pathways and connections. Being consciously grateful also helps people build and maintain healthy long-term friendships and resolve conflicts. We are training ourselves to affirm the good things we receive or experience and thus make a “glass-never-empty” psyche that we unconsciously project to the people we regularly interact with. Most people who work with children and teenagers or have children of their own will attest to the fact that teachers, coaches, and other caregivers and influencers are usually pleasantly disposed to the child who routinely says “please” and “thank you.” Training ourselves and our loved ones to develop a grateful disposition might be one of the most important things we do to build resilience in meeting the different challenges that life inevitably brings.
Writing in the Journal of American College Health in 2021, Kanieka et al. report that a study of 913 college students from a mid-size university in the southeastern USA showed that gratitude, or thankfulness for positive aspects of life, is related to psychosocial well-being and decreased psychopathology and that gratitude may even reduce suicide risk. Studies of elementary school-aged children in Japan showed positive correlations between an overarching grateful disposition, reduced depression symptoms, and reduced wasting of school-provided lunches!
What is the Appy Way?
Writing a lengthy epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says, “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers, and sisters, so that through us you may learn not to go beyond what is written so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other. For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast that you did not?”
Whether gratitude is expressed to another human being, an institution, or a Deity, it always involves a humbling acknowledgment that something positive or beautiful has been given to or done to us – whether we deserved it or not. I think it is so potent in wiring our brains in many healthy ways. Say, for instance, we get a significant discount on all the groceries we need when we go to the store; several events probably worked together to materialize that considerable discount.
I used to ponder the importance of gratitude a lot, and when my children were younger, I wanted to help them grasp this. They are now 28 and 26 years old. I came up with three steps to help anyone cultivate and maintain a grateful disposition, and I will call it The Appy Way. The three steps are Apprehend, Appreciate, and Appropriate. I will expound on this a little further, but first, I’m learning we can be grateful people daily, from morning till night, as we practice these simple steps.
A- To Apprehend What?
To apprehend something means to take hold of it, to receive it, and make it your own. Imagine getting a boxed gift on your birthday, and you just put the box away in your bedroom closet or on a shelf in the garage, and you never open the box or try to peek at its contents. That is how NOT to apprehend or receive a birthday gift. We love it when someone receives and opens a gift we selected, purchased, and wrapped thoughtfully for them. On Christmas morning, we encourage children to open all their gifts and express their gratitude, mindful that many millions don’t get gifts for Christmas. We should realize we wake up alive from the night’s sleep; we have been given another lease of life for a new day full of possibilities. Apprehending the day for me often means getting dressed and going outside for an early morning walk (weather permitting). It means looking up at the early morning sky and pondering the changing seasons’ beauty and wonders. I walk for 30 minutes every morning, taking different paths around my neighborhood and noting any new developments.
A- Appreciate What?
A natural next step to apprehending a gift is appreciating it. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines appreciation as developing an awareness of something, forming a judgment or assessment, or understanding the more excellent value of the thing. When we start a new day or embark on any other unique experience that has come to us as a gift, we should let our minds explore and form a wise assessment of its contents. We should appreciate the contents, facets of the gift, or the schedule and tasks that lie ahead. I never tire of looking at the morning sky and playing amateur astronomers. I always remember my neighborhood and the vicissitudes of Calgary weather. I love to walk briskly up and down all the hills in the neighborhood. I love to explore budding shrubs and trees and little ponds and creeks in the springtime, and I sometimes take pictures to research the plants further or just for their photographic value. The other day, I got a picture of a large coyote that ran across the path several feet ahead of me but stopped and stared at me long enough to get my phone out and take a photo.
A- Appropriate What? Build a new neural pathway?
Lastly, to help us nail the attitude of gratitude and make it a habitual neural pathway in our brains, we must appropriate the gift. Appropriate something means using it correctly or applying it in the right way. So, after receiving (apprehending) the birthday gift box and exploring and admiring (appreciating) its contents, we must now proceed to use its contents the way they were meant to be used (appropriating the gift).
Appropriating a gift might involve research, asking “dumb” or humbling questions, studying the owner’s operating manual (instead of casually perusing it), or even taking a short course. Imagine receiving a brand-new computer that is pre-loaded with exciting new software and games or a new toolbox with all the usual suspects (drill, hammer, nails, and screws) and a couple of new tools that we have never used before. Well, this unique gift calls for some studying so that its contents can be put to good use – just as the giver of the gift would have intended. They probably wanted you to get all the tools you were already familiar with while introducing you to new tools that would require new learning. A key aspect of showing gratitude for this gift would be learning the latest software or how to use the new tool.
These three steps – apprehending (or receiving it), appreciating (or exploring it), and appropriating (or using it correctly) can be applied to every gift that we have been given. I certainly try to apply it to my life circumstances each new day. I am always thinking about my life experiences and trying to take hold of them through daily gratitude journaling. I do my best to learn from people and interact with everyone sincerely. I express my gratitude for the same things every day – things like good food, my body( ?temple), good friends, grace to forgive, and hope for a better tomorrow (even in tough times).
So, I have ten thousand reasons to be genuinely thankful and to maintain an attitude of gratitude. That’s why I call this the Appy Way!
” When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and love rushes in.”
What are you grateful for in 2023?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ese Omatsone is a mum, Engineer, global energy data enthusiast, and musician who resides in Calgary, Alberta. She holds a Bachelor of Engineering from the University of Benin, Nigeria, and an MBA from the University of Phoenix, AZ.