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A Great Fullness

Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide

One day, quite a while ago, I wrote a little book called Attitudes of Gratitude. At the time, there was virtually nothing written on the power of gratitude from a mindset perspective. Except for the teachings of Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast.  Now 93, he was born in Austria, spent his teenage years under Nazi occupation and is the founder of A Network for Grateful Living. He calls gratitude a “great-fullness,” which I have always thought was the perfect description of the sensation that is produced when we practice. A fullness. It’s on my mind today as we prepare to have Thanksgiving in the U.S. in the midst of so many challenges. 

I couldn’t really practice gratitude until I understood it’s not an either/or experience. All doesn’t have to be well—if so, most of us would wait forever. It’s an and experience. It’s a matter of paying attention to the gifts you have been given in every moment regardless of whatever else is. Here is how Brother Steindl-Rast put it in an interview on On Being: “You can’t be grateful for war in a given situation, or violence or domestic violence or sickness. There are many things for which you cannot be grateful,” he acknowledges. “But in every moment, you can be grateful.” 

Sometime after the book came out, I’m not sure when, I got an email request from a guy who was a real estate agent in Southern California. He’d started a non-profit helping teens in the California foster system who were about to turn 18 and lose state support. His non-profit offered transition money, support, and a place to stay. He wanted to know if I could sell him some copies of this book at a discount to give away to people who donated to his charity. I arranged to give him some copies for free and promptly forgot all about it.  

Sometime later, a package arrived in my mailbox. When I opened it, a small rock fell out. I opened the accompanying letter. It was from the realtor who was thanking me for the books and sending me the story of one of the youngsters he was helping, a 17-year-old named Lauren. 

Lauren had lived in 12 different foster homes since she was 8. When she moved, her possessions fit in one plastic trash bag. She was about to “age out” of the California foster system, with no place to live, no money, no job. But she’s consistently happy. Why? Because when she was 10, she lived with Mommy Jean. Mommy Jean gave Lauren a small rock and told her to carry it always in her pocket. Each time she felt it, she was to think of something to be grateful for. Every day since, no matter where she lives, Lauren touches that rock and is grateful.

Since that day, whenever I speak in person about gratitude, I give out pebbles. If I could, I would hand one right now to you. To help you not only practice an attitude of gratitude. But to remember each time you touch it, that, like for Lauren, the amazing power of gratitude is available to you each and every day, no matter your circumstances.

7 Ways to Bring More Gratefulness into Your Life

  1. Practice daily— email to a gratitude partner, go around the table at dinner with your family, before going to sleep. The more you create a routine, the easier it will be to remember.
  2. Create visual or auditory reminders—a sign, a popup on your computer, reminders sent to your cell phone.
  3. It’s all there—the good and the bad. Focus on what’s right in your life no matter how small.
  4. Make sure to include yourself. What did you do well today? What are you thankful to yourself for? The more we appreciate ourselves, the more our good qualities grow.
  5. Especially when they’re annoying or frustrating you, remember why you love your spouse, kids, and friends.
  6. Have a gratitude rock, a little pebble you carry in your pocket. Every time you feel it, think of something you are thankful for.
  7. Imagine that this day is the first and last of your life. How would you treasure it?
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