No doubt, our parents worked tirelessly to get us to say “thank you” when someone offered a gift or did us a favor. Most likely, they succeeded in getting us to mouth these words. But while we internalized proper etiquette, did we understand the purpose behind uttering thanks? To what extent did we develop an inner sense of feeling and conveying genuine gratitude?
Gratitude is a corrective to our sense of entitlement. One aspect of narcissism is the belief that we deserve to get without having to give. We feel that we’re entitled to fulfill our needs without being troubled by perceiving another’s world and responding to others’ needs. Our attention is fully absorbed within a limited and narrow sense of self.
The capacity to experience gratitude means that we’re extending attention beyond ourselves to perceive what someone has given us or done for us. During a moment of gratitude, our eyes open to the existence of the other. Simultaneously, we register how their eyes opened to recognize our existence as separate from their own.
They did something positive for us or with us. During that moment, they saw us, appreciated us, cared about us — and perhaps even loved us. Rather than take these precious gifts for granted, gratitude signals an appreciation for their generously extending attention beyond themselves and into our world.
As explained in Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships:
When someone offers a compliment, expresses gratitude, or reaches out to touch us, do we allow it to seep deeply into our body and being? Are we mindful of how we are touched by it? Perhaps our stomach relaxes or we notice a warmth in our heart. Can we permit ourselves to savor that precious moment?
Sadly, we often permit these precious moments to zoom by. We don’t pause long enough to let them enter a tender place in our heart. We may remain armored, cut off, and disconnected from ourselves and the other person.
How often do we let potential moments of connection evaporate because we’re not mindful of their precious nature? Does this lack of recognition contribute to our loneliness, our sense of disconnection and isolation? Feeling and conveying gratitude allows us to hold these moments a little longer as we receive more consciously, deeply, and intimately.
This movement beyond self delivers us to a deeper sense of connectedness with our world. It might be gratitude for an old-fashioned birthday card or a phone call from a friend who asks how we’re doing. Or, it might be as simple as being more mindful when someone holds a door open for us, pausing a moment until we reach the door.
We might think it’s just a basic courtesy that’s expected. And perhaps their main motivation was to avoid the embarrassment of seeming to be self-centered. On the other hand, maybe they looked back at us, making friendly eye contact, while offering a warm smile.
If so, we’re being offered more than the gesture of an open door. We’re getting a little bit of their heart as well. Do we notice this? Do we let it in? Do we notice appreciation for their kind attention? If so, perhaps this adds some delightful zest to our expression of thanks.
Oftentimes, our rote “thank you” is limited to the realm above our neck rather than infuse our entire being. What needs to happen to actually experience the gratitude and appreciation that would inject a richer meaning into our words of thanks?
The next time someone offers a gift or a word or gesture of recognition, notice how you feel in your body. Take a deep breath and allow the good feeling to register not just in your head, but throughout your entire being. Notice if a sense of gratitude and appreciation wells up inside you — and experiment with allowing words of gratitude to bubble up from this deeper wellspring of your being.