A few years ago I looked up the definition of the word gratitude. I look up words a lot, but that’s a whole other conversation, so I’ll stick to the story about what I learned in Funk & Wagnalls. Like many people, I thought gratitude was a simple aspect of being thankful, some expression designed to communicate how pleased and/or perhaps relieved I was to have certain things, or feelings, or people in my life.
I thought it sounded something like this:
I’m totally grateful for these amazing clients. OR;
I have a lot of gratitude because my children are healthy.
OR, if you’re anything like me;
Oh my goodness, the fact that this glass of wine is in my hand right now fills me with so much gratitude.
But in my search for the meaning, literally and perhaps figuratively, I discovered that thankfulness is only half the story. I’m not going to suggest that it isn’t a beautiful half to know, but knowing the rest is key.
When I cracked open my well-worn dictionary I saw a definition that included gratitude having to do with someone’s willingness (and this is the important part) to return kindness, not just be grateful for it. In other words, being grateful means we’re thankful to have something in our lives and are looking for ways to return it, pay it forward and give it back.
My mind was blown. For years I’d had gratitude all wrong. Well, maybe not all wrong, but 50% wrong is pretty wrong.
After closing the dictionary and collecting the bits of my intellect that were swirling around like wispy, cirrocumulus clouds, I realized my entire attitude on gratitude had to change. If I was going to express appreciation in its fullest, truest, most beautiful form (because who wouldn’t want to do that), I had to ask myself what I was grateful for receiving, and also what I was willing to give back and share with others. This thought changed my life in multiple ways.
First and foremost, my understanding of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ lyrics, Give it Away, deepened in a very profound way. Yes, I want to give it to my mamma! Yes, I want to give it to my papa! And other people too!
Second, I did a complete one-eighty with the way I lived and worked. I switched my frame of mind from an I-want-I-need-thank-you-thank-you-thank-you attitude to a thank-you-thank-you-thank-you-now-how-can-I-help-you attitude. I started to give stuff away––mostly time and energy, but other things too. I dished up my gratitude in generous heaps and held it out, offering myself to others in a brand new way.
I’m not suggesting that I gave everything away because you’ve got to have energy and time and love in order to give. Nor am I suggesting that I stopped charging all my clients because I wasn’t sure that would make for a very good business model. What I did was ask myself the following questions:
What more can I give?
and (my personal favorite);
How much more of myself can I offer?
The answers varied. Sometimes it was an extra five minutes, other times it was an entire afternoon. Sometimes it was a smile, other times it was a hope and a prayer. I thought in new ways about what offerings I was creating for my clients and if they included gratitude in the fullest sense. I thought about social media and if I was really taking time to comment on, and share, the stuff I love. I thought about the people I love and asked, “How else can I support them?”
The result of my new appreciation for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song, as well as my brand new attitude of gratitude, was huge. Could I count it in dollars and cents? Probably, but an increase in my bank account isn’t nearly as important to me as the increase I’ve seen in the quality of my relationships, which by the way have skyrocketed.
I typically close short articles like this by asking a question, but today in the spirit of gratitude I’m going to change things up by sharing my favorite quote. I look at it every morning before I start writing. “If you have a talent, use it in every which way possible. Don’t hoard it. Don’t dole it out like a miser. Spend it lavishly like a millionaire intent on going broke.” –Brendan Francis
It’s important to know that “a talent” can be something as simple as just being you. Use yourself in every way possible. Don’t hoard yourself. Don’t dole yourself out like a miser. Spend yourself lavishly, on others, like a millionaire intent on going broke.