Gratitude and the life changing month
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
– Melody Beattie
One of the labor attorneys we work with recently said,
“Years ago, we were in the midst of making a difficult hiring decision and you made a statement that left a deep impression on me. You said, ‘Hire the candidate that is going to be grateful.”
Gratitude fuels so many good qualities such as optimism, connectedness to others and promoting good rather than the cynicism. With gratitude we become more contributive and practice a higher degree of courage to protect what can become a precious state of mind.
The past thirty days have served as an object lesson in the value of gratitude.
About ten years ago, I took a vacation to the Villa D’Este in Lake Como, Italy – perhaps the most glamorous hotel in Europe. This was the most extravagant gift I ever gave myself. For ten days, I was mesmerized by a beautiful culture situated in the midst of the most spectacular surroundings in Europe. One night, I was sitting in the dining room watching the deep blue waters of Como turn golden in the setting sun. In the other direction, I looked up the side of a mountain. There was a large Roman temple at the top. Water poured out of a huge marble scepter into reflecting pools that cascaded all the way down to the edge of the hotel. The dining room resembled a huge luxurious tent. Lights from magnificent villas began to sparkle across the lake’s surface. It was all so overwhelmingly beautiful that for one moment tears welled up and I felt a deep seated ache in wanting to share that experience with one other person, someone to witness and to perhaps remind me that it had all been real.
A few months ago, my partner asked me where I wanted to go more than anyplace in the world.
Of course I responded, “Como.”
Like typical Americans we arrived only to be irritated that stores and banks weren’t open. I am so conditioned to be productive at all costs. It is healthy to become immersed in a culture where living, connecting and enjoying beauty is the point. In Italy, the reward of living is the endgame. They take almost three hours off in the middle of the day. Some take naps. Others visit their children. Many fill cafes and have conversations that seem to run the gamut of human emotion in one minute. If someone looked at their smart phone, they would probably receive a good solid slap.
We took a beautiful apartment on the shores of the Lake Como. It was in a huge villa sharing the property line with the Villa D’este. Waves lapped below a big porthole window where we watched old ferries sail passengers to quaint villages. The estate was on about three acres at the edge of a forest. Usually when the thought of running around to tourist sites came up we responded with, “Why?”
It was all so idyllic.
We’d stroll down a cobblestone alley to a bakery filled with boisterous women gossiping, arguing, laughing and sizing us up. On the first afternoon we literally walked into Cate Blanchett on the arm of a very handsome man. Polite smiles. Respectful. No big deal.
Often, I’d wake up and stand next to the water watching schools of fish meditate near the shore. A few pieces of bread usually attracted a family of ducks, all in perfectly coordinated movement, swimming at attention.
One night, we had dinner at the Villa D’este. The same maitre d’ greeted us and was only too happy to take us to my old table. There, we watched the sunset together.
When we arrived home, hundreds of congratulatory notes were waiting to celebrate Inspired Work’s twenty-four year anniversary. The messages swept me back to our first program. I was terrified when I walked into that room only to emerge with a new life and a new purpose. Twenty-four years. What I never expected was how much this work would change my life.
I grew up in a violent adoptive home. I survived by performing. Unfortunately, I also became conditioned to always want to be somewhere else. I always longed to be in a better career, in better financial circumstances. If I was on a boat, I wanted to be on a yacht. If I was flying economy, I longed for the day I could travel first class. I am sure the behavior produced many lost opportunities in enjoying the richness of life.
In the years since, circumstances have very little to do with our capacity to enjoy life and to be driven by gratitude.
For the last several months, I have not a moment where I wanted to be someplace else.
This past weekend, the doors opened to another Inspired Work Program, I didn’t want to be in Italy. I only wanted to be in that room and watch wonderful people find new lives, start new careers and resolve problems.
Gratitude helps us enjoy being exactly where we are.
I have been waiting to come up with the perfect words to convey this experience until I realized that not sharing gratitude is like wrapping up a gift and never giving it to someone. Perhaps I will find a way to express this message more eloquently but I hope it finds its mark in some of you.
Gratitude is the state where we stop taking anything for granted and shift the practice of our lives to enjoying everything that we have.
Gratitude is worth every difficulty. In fact, gaining a foothold in gratitude is worth changing ourselves, our beliefs and our old ideas.
John Milton the English poet once said,
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”