The Potency of Gratitude

Johnson Wang

Gratitude is a potent, generative dynamism. It breaks through granite hearts, melts brittle souls. It undoes grievances that have ravaged and consumed us, like kudzu devouring a forest. Gratitude gives us new eyes and opens up previously unimagined possibilities. Gratitude wonderfully complicates the tired, old stories that, though connected to a certain truth, have taken over, grabbing us by the collar and chaining us to cynicism or despair or rage. I’m not selling snake oil here. I know gratitude doesn’t cure everything wrong in the world, but I’m convinced it is absolutely part of what we must return to if we ever want to regain our humanity.

I’ve thought about why gratitude doesn’t come natural for me. There’s the normal culprits: I’m not slow enough in my soul to really see people or I’m selfish and self-absorbed. A less obvious reason, however, is how expressions of gratitude make me feel vulnerable. I don’t want to come across as a sap or I don’t want to make someone else uncomfortable or maybe I’m afraid that something that feels so tender to me won’t be understood or received as such. In case you haven’t noticed, we don’t exactly live in a gentle world. But I want to be a man with the strength and courage to live with gratitude.

So yes, we need to learn to say thank you. A gentle word of gratitude to the server refilling our coffee, to the person who holds the door open at the grocery store, to the postwoman as she pulls past our mailbox. A genuine thanks to the mother who birthed us and the dad who worked a double shift to get us through college and the friend who’s stayed close all these years. Thank you to the person we like and maybe especially to the person we don’t like much at all.

And then, after we’ve begun to flex our gratitude muscles, we go deeper. Look a person in the eye, really look, and say thank you to them for something specific. Don’t look away; hold their gaze (this one’s important). “I’ve seen how you’ve stuck with this soul-killing job to put food on the table, and I want you to know how grateful I am for your tenacity” or “I saw you pull out the trash for Ms. Jenkins last week, and I’m grateful for how you love our neighbors” or “I know that you were disappointed in how that conversation turned out, thank you for just showing up and that you keep showing up” or “I saw the way you held your tongue when that knucklehead started blathering like a know-it-all; thank you for being gentle when you could have cut him at the knees.”

Gratitude is a gift we give into the world, and in time (and often, at first, in subtle ways) it changes things. Even more – and I’ve seen this in myself – gratitude, over time, changes us.

16 Replies to “The Potency of Gratitude”

  1. Thanks Winn. That reached way down deep in me and then spread out it’s roots and took me to places I haven’t gone in awhile. God bless!

  2. I suppose the only appropriate response is to say, “thank you.” : )

    Thank you for this and so many other gifts you have given the Reed family through your words, both written and spoken, and the love that saturates them.

  3. Amen. And . . thank you for Love Big, Be Well, which I recently read, passed on, bought a couple more for friends – and through which I was grazed by moments of joy (in the C.S. Lewis sense!) –

  4. Expressions of gratitude make me feel vulnerable…you’ve said it! thank-you but there’s no turning away from gratitude either!!!!

  5. We must also learn to express that simple gratitude to God. How often do I say “thank you” to a server who refills my coffee but fail to thank God for the many kindnesses and beautiful things He places in my life – the antics of the squirrel chasing around the yard – the multiple shades of tulips in a neighbor’s garden – the fragrance of the Lily-of-the-Valley flowers springing up – the kindness of a stranger who opens the door for me at the post office……….

    1. I think that often when we say thank you to these kind folks, we can be offering that to God at the same time, all one grand gratitude for the gifts and the God who gives the gifts. At least that’s how I hope to live.

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