As our world continues to change and shift, we’re all being called to serve. Each one of us has unique and individual ways we can serve others and the planet every day. The more consciously we act from a heart-centered place of sincere caring and concern for each other, the bigger our impact is. Not only during this time of year when “Thanksgiving” is top of mind, but all the time, as a daily practice.

We’ve all heard that “gratitude is the best attitude” and this quasi mantra took on new meaning for me recently. My wonderfully spirited daughter Lani, who shines her light out into the world and serves others through both her performing talents as well as literally “serving” people at a family-oriented restaurant, was faced with a situation where it seemed gratitude was the farthest thing from the other people’s minds.

Unexpected Turn of Events

What happened to her could have, and probably does, happen all the time to servers in towns and cities around the globe. Her restaurant was offering a “buy one, get one free” entrée promotion to try to restore patrons’ confidence after a health scare that had been publicly blown out of proportion. It was a busy Thursday night, and after serving a quiet family of four, she cheerfully left the billfold and check for them to pay when they were ready. No pressure and no sign of anything that showed they weren’t 100 percent happy.

She went off and enthusiastically continued serving her other customers, making sure everyone was equally happy and enjoying their dining experience. Not too long after, she returned to this family’s table and found that they had left the building, taking the billfold and check with them. Not only did they not leave a tip, but they did not even pay the bill! When she told me, I was shocked.

Showing Respect and Gratitude

Their actions appeared to show a total lack of respect and gratitude for the restaurant, the food, and their server. Because of the restaurant policy, my daughter was responsible for the bill. Ouch!

Her fellow servers rallied to support her, however, as we are all human, this understandably scarred her otherwise wonderful day and night. She was very grateful for the support she received from her co-workers, however, it left both of us questioning how anyone could consciously behave in a way that disregards gratitude.

Looking for the Lesson

As someone who looks for the lesson in everything, believing there’s always something to be learned in all situations, I started looking for “meaning.” Maybe the family was hungry and actually couldn’t afford to pay for the meal. Maybe the husband thought the wife paid or vice versa. Maybe they would come back and make everything all right. That’s me being an eternal optimist.

Trying to see the positive in this situation, it was still challenging to understand why people don’t act from a place of gratitude or aren’t able to express it openly and freely to others when given the opportunity. Have we lost the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see what the view looks like from there? And why is it difficult to consciously stay aware and display gratitude in our daily lives?

Gratitude is Good for Your Health

That started me wondering if a positive emotion such as gratitude might even bring us better health. I’m all about taking responsibility for our personal health and well being, in spite of that being almost diametrically opposite of what we’ve been taught. As it turns out, the connection between gratitude and health goes back a long way.

“Thousands of years of literature talk about the benefits of cultivating gratefulness as a virtue,” reports the University of California Davis psychology professor and gratitude expert, Robert Emmons. Throughout history, philosophers and religious leaders have extolled gratitude as a virtue integral to health and well being. Through a recent movement called positive psychology, mental health professionals are taking a close look at how virtues such as gratitude can benefit our health. And the results are very encouraging indeed. Here are just a few of gratitude’s many benefits.

  • Grateful people – Those who perceive gratitude as a permanent trait rather than a temporary state of mind, have an edge over the not-so-grateful in the area of health according to Emmons’ research. “Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and regular physical examinations.”
  • Stress Buster – We all know that our modern-day world is a stressful one and that stress can actually lead to disease. Stress is linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer, and claims responsibility for up to 90% of all doctor visits. That in itself is a staggering number. Gratitude, it turns out, can help us better manage stress. “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress,” according to Emmons.
  • Immune Booster – Grateful people tend to be more optimistic, a characteristic that researchers say boosts the immune system. Optimism also has a positive health impact on people with compromised health. In separate studies, patients confronting AIDS, as well as those preparing to undergo surgery, had better health outcomes when they maintained attitudes of optimism.

Cultivating Gratitude

As I watched the clouds above me on my yearly trip to Sedona, Arizona, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the wondrous heavenly landscapes morphing and floating by. It brought me back to a time not that long ago when I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs and cloud watching was a way to lift me above my earthly illness. It reminded me of how I was led to Sedona where I wrote my book Confessions of a Middle-Aged Hippie, even after the medical prognosis that I would never be able to travel again. I’m immensely grateful that I’m able to travel here each year.

Cultivating gratitude requires practice. It might be as simple as taking time each day to find something in our lives to be grateful for, regardless of how dire the situation may appear. Or keeping a gratitude journal on a regular basis to note the things you are grateful for in your life. The positive results are well worth the effort. Conscious intention is a place to start.

Conscious Gratitude

I found myself wondering when and if we as the human species will be able to demonstrate genuine compassion and gratitude to others, not just in times of crisis or celebration when we seem to rally together, but all the time. This John F. Kennedy quote speaks volumes: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

If you believe in the law of karma, (the law of cause and effect), then what goes around comes around, making it important to walk through life practicing gratitude daily.

When you look around, you begin to see expressions of gratitude everywhere. Keeping gratitude alive is really a simple thing to do and it makes a huge difference in not only our lives, but also the lives of those around us. May we all express our gratitude, not just on one day, but every day!

Share your stories of how gratitude has impacted your life.

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoSteven Cleghorn

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