I was recently overwhelmed with a great sense of gratitude, one that made me feel that the mere words "thank you" were just not enough.
I was being honored by The Latina's Self Empowerment and Identity Group, surrounded at a very special event by people, some I have known for more than a decade. As I stood in front of everyone while I was being "appreciated," I looked at the woman reading the speech and then around to all the women in that room and how they were looking at me and, well I almost melted right there in front of them.
It was a genuine feeling so deep and profound I thought I could not describe it even if I tried. I was being appreciated and all I could say was "thank you." The words seemed so hollow a response to what I was experiencing. I was appreciating all those who appreciated me.
And so I set out to understand that feeling and not the act. One thing I knew for sure, that feeling had filled my heart with love, pride, joy and appreciation.
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"Thank you" -- such simple words, right? When we appreciate someone or something, we respond with the obligatory thank you. But how often do we stop to acknowledge the actual feeling of gratitude?
Webster's Dictionary defines the word gratitude as "a feeling of ap
preciation or thanks." We learn early on how important basic good manners work. I have witnessed so many good-intentioned and determined parents teaching their children to say "Thank you," teaching them good manners. But rarely have I seen them explain the difference between speaking the words and actually feeling them.
Do you know the difference? How can we teach gratitude? Well, we know that gratitude is more than just saying two words. Gratitude is an attitude, a feeling I discovered that many have written about.
Today, I want to challenge you to get on the cycle of appreciation and learn what a true "thank you" feels like. When we appreciate what we have, then we can genuinely experience gratitude. When we experience gratitude, we feel a fullness of heart.
As Deepak Chopra, author and speaker in the holistic-health movement, writes, "It is this full heart that will move us from limitation and fear to expansion and love." From this place of expansion and love we can only feel more thankful, and appreciation is felt again, and so the cycle of gratitude continues. The more you appreciate in life, the more things life will give you to appreciate.
To be grateful we must be centered in the present moment, regardless of the situation. Many studies have concluded that thoughts and emotions directly influence our physical and mental well-being. Many have discussed the need to stop and take a few moments to appreciate some of the simpler things, like a sense of well-being, sunshine, birds singing, and the very air we breathe.
We need to stop and remember the gifts in life like friendship, beauty, solitude, joy and life itself. You only have to decide to make it a daily habit. The words "Thank you" begin to sound and feel different because they are no longer just words, they become an experience that can fill our hearts with love and hope.
Did you ever wonder why optimistic, positive people seem to usually be peacefully composed even in the midst of chaos? Why they suffer less medical ailments than the rest of us or just appear happier with life in general? It is because they have discovered how to cultivate the "attitude of gratitude." Psychological studies have demonstrated a clear correlation between cultivating certain habits, or rituals of gratitude, into one's relationships with experiencing a more rounded well-being physically and psychologically. They remind us to remind ourselves that we are much stronger than we realize and can outlast any current adversity, and we will.
So let's get in the habit of practicing the "attitude of gratitude" and remember that some people may never hear how much someone values what they do for others. Let the people in your life know that you appreciate them and why. Because the words "thank you" are not just polite words your parents or teachers taught you.
I learned to connect with the feeling of gratitude. I learned not to take a "thank you" for granted and to appreciate everything I can in my life. So to all of those people who recently left me without words, you have filled my heart with joy. I thank and appreciate you, and hope you know what you gave me on that unforgettable night.
Maria V. Zavala, founder of Latinas of the Women's Resource Center, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.