“Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.”Fred De Witt Van Amburgh
An expression of gratitude is a gift to both receiver and giver. Receiving thanks reminds us that our efforts are not in vain, that we are valuable to others. Giving thanks opens the windows of heaven; it allows us to see what we may have otherwise been blind to.
One of the more difficult aspects of motherhood is that our efforts are often unappreciated. Not only is its significance increasingly disregarded by society but even our own families often don’t acknowledge our sacrifices. Little children rarely think to thank you for making them a sandwich, or going through the hell of potty training. Husbands simply can’t comprehend the misery of the third trimester. This is a reality best accepted rather than resented.*
“Gratitude is a duty which ought to be paid, but which none have a right to expect.” –Jean-Jacque Rousseau
Despite the ingratitude of others, we can live in thanksgiving as we adopt our own attitude of gratitude. Even without receiving it, we can spend grateful-currency on others, which makes us richer in the spending.
A few days ago I noticed my son, age ten, allowing his three-year-old sister to drag him around by the shirt as he pretended to be her puppy. This went on for quite a while and I could tell he was not loving this game. He moaned a bit as she pulled him up the stairs, but he generously allowed his persistent little sister to dominate him. She never expressed her gratitude to her older brother, but she was having the time of her life. After they finished playing I sat down next to my son and said, “Thank you so much for playing with her like that. I know you would rather have done something else but she had so much fun with you. You are a very kind big-brother.” It was obvious that this statement of appreciation meant a lot to him. We had a wonderful bonding moment together. He felt loved and I felt blessed to have raised him. It is sad to consider how many similar selfless acts I have ignored. It seems it is not just mothers that are unappreciated.
Thankfulness is only found when we step out of the humdrum nature of life and notice the miraculous around us. As mothers, we have before us perfect miniature-models of this capacity – small children. Children haven’t forgotten to look – they glory in observing their world. They discover new joys everyday as we become increasingly blind to them. When I first moved to the Hill Country of Texas, I remember being enthralled by the majestic Live Oak trees. Now I can go weeks without actually seeing one – despite their ubiquity. I took a walk with my toddler the other day. She inspected the cracks in the sidewalk and screamed excitedly as she discovered a string of fire ants. She lovingly gave me five dandelions to put in my hair. She chased an ill-tempered stray cat. Rather than the annoyance or disregard I typically give to all of the above, she, in actually seeing them, experienced their magic and joy.
But it is not enough to open our eyes, we must open our mouths. Children live in a spirit of gratitude, as adults we must learn to express it.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”William Arthur Ward
Now we can call up our mom and thank her for potty training us. We can thank our daughter for not complaining about her chores. We can thank our husbands for taking out the trash. With every acknowledgement of appreciation life looks brighter. In recognizing others good deeds, we see that our own have paid off. My son must have listened to my lessons on kindness, my daughter must be maturing out of her obstinacy, my husband notices the needs of his family.
It is an unfortunate truth that we are all tilted towards the negative, we tend to focus on the wilted rose in our beautiful bouquet.
“Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn’t calculate his happiness.”Fyodor Dostoyevsky
However, if we consciously decide to notice the joy in life, and acknowledge it – we unlock the joy that was hidden.
“No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”C.S. Lewis
If we open our eyes as a child we see the glory of life. As we receive these riches we will live in a state of thankfulness, and become rich. If we spend our self-minted money of gratitude generously toward the oft-unappreciated efforts of others, joy increases. The world can become a truly glorious and miraculous place.
“Don’t worry about being happy. Just try to be grateful, and happiness just comes.”Anonymous
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*There are things we can do to teach appreciation to our children, I hope to write a future post on how we can help our children learn the art of gratitude.