It happened when I was crammed into in the backseat of a 5-person family car on a two-lane road driving through typical French countryside. We were on the way home from an extended family visit in Russan, about an hour from Castelnau-le-Lez where I live.
As we rode, we listened to Billy Joe singing Piano Man. The fidelity of the sound system was so true that if I closed my eyes, I could imagine Billy Joe on the hood of our car giving an exclusive performance.
As I looked out, various scenes passed by my window — a battered old barn, a centuries-old stone house, a field with cows resting under a shade tree, an occasional vineyard, or a meandering stream — all the while, Billy Joe’s music flooding my brain.
At that point, quite unexpectedly, I had the most remarkable experience.
I was overcome with gratitude, not for anything in particular but for everything — for my loving family riding in the car with me, for the joy of a visit with extended family who’d encircled me with support when I came to France, for the green fields and rural pastoral setting, for the engineers who had designed and built such a safe, comfortable car and incredible sound system, for artists like Billy Joe. . . even gratitude for being alive.
I swallowed to keep tears from coming to my eyes, so overwhelming was the profound sense of thankfulness.
Dumbfounded in the Supermarket
Years ago, I read a real-life story of a man who said he stood in an aisle in the supermarket and couldn’t move. He looked around at all the goods, especially the canned tuna. He thought about the fishermen who had caught fish centuries ago and all the expertise, equipment and logistics that had taken place since then to result in dozens of cans of tuna on the shelves. For the longest while, he stood in a state of profound gratitude to centuries of fishermen.
At the time, I found his report interesting. But for sure, I didn’t know what he was talking about. Now I do.
I’m not sure what brought me to the point of such radical gratitude. Maybe my practice of keeping a gratitude journal laid the groundwork. (Incidentally, “being alive” often makes my daily list.)
Lest you think expressing gratitude is some new age metaphysical gobbledegook, take a look at what major spiritual movements over the centuries have taught.
The Buddhist Notion
Buddhism instructs us to adopt an attitude of gratefulness, independent of our condition. Rich, poor, sick, healthy — independent of circumstances — we are to be grateful. (Now that’s radical!) The Buddha goes further and tells his followers that a person without gratefulness lacks integrity.
David Sudhar, a meditation and Buddhist teacher, says that gratitude is both an attitude and a habit of mind.” He goes on to say that the more we practice, the more “our life slowly gets infused with increased gratitude and joy.”
Christians Are Instructed to Rejoice
Paul, the Apostle, instructed his follows that “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
In addition to Paul’s instruction, there are dozens of references in the Bible admonishing followers to be grateful, to rejoice in the day the Lord has made.
The Jewish Perspective
The Hebrew term, hakarat hatov, means “recognizing the good.” Practicing gratitude means acknowledging the good in your life. The Hasidic teacher Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes, “Gratitude rejoices with her sister joy and is always ready to light a candle and have a party. Gratitude doesn’t much like the old cronies of boredom, despair and taking life for granted.”
Why Seniors Need to Practice Gratitude
If you want to avoid being a boring, depressed old crony, then you’ll need to practice gratitude.
According to Susan Stiles at the National Council on Aging, “Appreciating the world around us from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep is a skill to be learned and incorporated into daily living. It is the starting point of aging both masterfully and gracefully.”
Stiles adds that “the benefits of expressing gratitude are profound. Our own health and well-being are positively impacted, but also the health and well-being of those around us.”
On a practical level, Stiles adds, having a grateful attitude translates into less depression, better sleep, more effective stress management, and stronger biomarkers, such as higher rates of good cholesterol.
A Non-Chemical Boost in Mood
What I’ve discovered is that the most immediate way I have to switch a bad mood into a good one is to list what I am grateful for. That’s why I begin my day with my 10-item gratitude list. It sets the tone for what follows.
And although I’d never made the connection on my own, I can now see the wisdom in the perspective of Cicero, a Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar and philosopher who said: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues, but the parent of all others.
Want to join me in practicing radical gratitude?