There is a certain excitement and energy that gusts down through our Colorado mountain canyon as October morphs into November. The golden aspen leaves of autumn skip along the surface of our high altitude stream in lively funnels of brilliance. The late afternoon air takes on a crisp and moist characteristic as the nighttime dustings of snow begin to cover the highest mountain peaks. The gorgeous summer flowers are but pleasant memories now, the picnic umbrellas have been put away, and the bright yellow snowplow blade has been methodically re-attached to the ATV. It’s fall in Colorado!
I love the fall, and I love November, because I am still the kid who loves Thanksgiving. I have adopted, and throughout my life I have embraced, the idea thatit is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. Gratefulness is the thankful recognition and acknowledgement of having received something good from another. When we receive something and express our appreciation for it something happens in our very soul.
It has been my observation that people who are more grateful are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives. It seems that grateful people also have higher levels of harmony with their environments, and more control over their own personal growth. Additionally, it seems they have clearer purposes in life, and enjoy a broader spirit of self-acceptance. I’ve even heard grateful people claim that they sleep better, because they practice thinking thankful and positive thoughts just before going to sleep, instead of allowing their minds to be filled with bothersome thoughts.
Because of my travels into so many venues, I have been able to observe that the major religions encourage the practice of appreciativeness and giving of thanks in their religious practices. According to the Greek philosopher, Cicero, "Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others."
Judaism is grounded in a Hebrew worldview that all things come from God and that the worshiper must be continuously involved in the practice of being grateful for that goodness: “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart” (Ps. 9:1). Faithful Jewish worshipers recite more than one hundred blessings, called berachot, throughout the day.
In Christianity, gratitude is regarded as a virtue that shapes not only emotions and thoughts but actions and deeds as well. Gratitude could be called "the basic Christian attitude," and is referred to as "the heart of the gospel." One of the most sacred rites is called the Eucharist, that is translated thanksgiving.
The Islamic Quran is filled with the idea of gratitude. Islam encourages its followers to be grateful and express thanks to God in all circumstances. Islamic teaching emphasizes the idea that those who are grateful will be rewarded with more. A traditional Islamic saying states, "The first who will be summoned to paradise are those who have praised God in every circumstance."
Dr. Casio Amoral and his wife, Vera, ran the best cranial/reconstructive and plastic surgery hospital in Brazil, and it was there I learned a most unforgettable lesson about the inner need to express gratefulness. Anna Marie and I were ushered into a conference room where Dr. Amoral and Vera shared the story of their lifelong work and the establishment of the hospital in1972. We were escorted through the hospital as I performed the customary needs assessment study. At 11:00a.m. , we returned to the conference room and joined a team of twenty staff members and the Drs. Amoral for a pre-operative session with all the surgical patients for the following week. One at a time the cases were reviewed, and the doctors handling each case reported to Dr. Amoral and made recommendations regarding the upcoming operation and status of the case.
There was really no way to prepare ourselves for such an experience. I was invited to sit right next to Dr. Amoral during the examination and consultation. Viewing each of the nearly twenty patients was enough to make me cry out. It was very traumatic. The patients ranged from just a few weeks old to some being in their teens. Most of the mothers and patients had traveled perhaps hundreds of miles to get to the hospital that day. They were poor mothers who were typically single, unemployed, indigent, and very frightened.
The first little girl, age eight, had already undergone ten operations. She still had many, many operations to go. Her hands were completely grown together as one clump per arm. Many surgeries had already been done on her hands to separate the clumps into fingers and thumbs. Her feet were the same way. But it was her head that was most severely deformed. The present operation was to include a complete cranial restructuring to relieve the constriction on the brain that was causing behavioral and motor problems.
But one mother, who appeared very poor, brought in her daughter, Sylvia, who was wearing a large hat, jeans and a T-shirt. I would guess the daughter to be in her early teens. She had many congenital deformities of the face, head, and thorax area. She had received several earlier surgeries, and only recently had Dr. Amoral been able to complete a major operation.
The girl’s mother, an older lady, was sitting next to me. As the doctors began discussing Sylvia’s case, she turned to me, gripped my forearm, and began speaking directly to me. Her eyes were like sparkling fires and her words flowed in a steady stream of white-hot emotion. I could literally feel the intensity of emotion build as her speech rose to a crescendo and her grip on my arm tightened. Neither her emotion nor her flow of talk slowed down a bit when they informed her that I could not understand any of the Portuguese she was talking. She just kept on.
They said she was telling me that her daughter had been so deformed and so ugly, but now Dr. Amoral had made her pretty. She just couldn't stop praising the doctor and thanking him. No one could quiet her. I took her by the hand and just smiled. She needed to express her feelings and her praise, and she was not concerned whether I spoke English, French, Chinese, or Pig Latin. She needed someone to listen as she expressed her gratefulness, appreciation, and thanksgiving. Her precious daughter was now so beautiful! And with every word of recognition and tribute came an uncontrollable flood of happiness and deep joy washing over her.
I learned a spiritual lesson from that sweet Brazilian lady. Many in the room were embarrassed for the woman and tried to quiet her. I simply stood up as she left and kissed her, first on one cheek, then on the other. I had just experienced the unstoppable power of praise and the satisfying gift of gratefulness.