Put a Little Attitude in Your Gratitude

A week ago I was in a department store grabbing black pants for my middle child's concert, the concert that was scheduled for that evening — the show that I had known about for less than a week because my email had been blocked and therefore all school reminders as well. My middle child lives in a place of telepathy, his not mine. He keeps telling me he is telling me stuff, but somehow the information gets stalled somewhere in the cosmos. So it was a black pants emergency. Anyway, I thought a quick stop on my way home from work, and we would be good. When I headed to the register, I saw a long line snaking around into the women's clothing section, nearly 20 people already lined up. I asked an older woman in front of me if she was in line and she replied rather grumpy," I am, and this is ridiculous."

I couldn't argue with her. It did seem ridiculous but with Christmas music humming in the background how else is one to respond? A week before Thanksgiving and people were already in a panic that they were running out of time for buying and wrapping and cookie making and decorating. Once I got to the register the woman helping me, who looked perhaps in her 60s, looked tired and stressed. Her attitude put me on alert. Her energy was negative, and her face pinched. I had to take a deep breath while I put my stuff on the counter. I had a coupon, so I had done a little extra shopping. I watched as she rang out each item, making sure they were on sale. When she saw me staring at the screen; I heard her sigh. Something I thought was on sale didn't come up that way. I asked her to void that, mentioning it was on a sale rack, and then I apologized. I am not sure what exactly was in my voice or my body language, but I saw her visibly relax. Her shoulders loosened. Once she did that my own body relaxed. I had not even realized that my shoulders had become tight. That I had probably brought tension that added to her stress after waiting in line and listening to everyone around me complaining.

As she finished her work, she handed me yet another coupon, this one stating that the store would be open on Thanksgiving Day starting at 5 pm. I told her I hoped she didn't have to work on Thanksgiving Day and she said no. I leaned in and touched her hand and wished her a Happy Thanksgiving and thanked her for helping me and I smiled. Her response was, "It was my pleasure." And she returned the smile.

It may be the nurse in me. I don't find it hard to reach out to people physically. When you spend half of your career introducing yourself to half-naked people and spend the next eight hours poking and prodding their bodies in all kinds of ways, touch is something that comes with the territory. But even if you are not comfortable touching every salesperson who helps you this holiday season you can still show some gratitude in your attitude.

In a recent interview on CBS, freelance writer Jennifer Wallace spoke about the science behind living a grateful life. Researchers are finding that the act of appreciation has multiple health benefits including lowering blood pressure, improving sleep and boosting our immune system. The power of gratitude is not new science, but I think we need to practice this now more than ever. We rush, and we hurry, and we complain, and we argue. We get offended all too easily, and we forget how our attitude affects those around us and how simply understanding how being grateful and sharing that visibly can change the dynamic of how we live.

Showing gratitude and living in a space where we are happy for what we have, not focusing on what we don't have opens up our hearts. It gives us the ability to expand our empathy and live a more authentic life. When you focus on what you do have there is no room to be unhappy about what you don't.

Years ago, when my husband had purchased yet another boat, I was attempting to complain to my sister. I would get some sympathy for my plight, I thought. Her response when I told her about the latest purchase was "Good for Uncle Greg!" She went on to say it was nice that he could have something he enjoyed so much. Well, that pretty much burst my bubble, but it also opened my spiritual center. It gave me a swift kick right in my bad attitude and made me realize how happy my sister always is for others when they get something or can do something they enjoy. In that way, she is very much like our mother was. I never have once heard in her voice or with her words anything, but gratitude. Maya Angelou said," When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully everyone is blessed." Amen to that.

I have a sign in my office that reads "Please and Thank You are still magic words." It goes mostly unnoticed by the tweens and teens who walk through, but almost every adult has commented on it. It is, I believe the first and most basic practice of gratitude. Not because it is polite but because the method of saying "thank you," can start those good endorphins flowing. Saying thank you opens you up and shows someone else the way to gratitude. In a society where how much we have, how much money we earn or how many likes we get on social media drives us, the simple act of being grateful has gotten lost.

It isn't always easy, and I believe practicing gratitude is like working out. If you want to lose weight or gain muscle, you don't do it in one day. You have to keep at it. You have to prepare yourself for your work out mentally. You have to talk yourself into it some days, or maybe most days. Eventually, though you begin to see it take effect. You see a little muscle definition on your upper arms, or maybe your favorite pants can button again. And working out becomes second nature. That is how living gratefully happens — small step by small step. All it takes to get started is a smile and little practice.

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