A certain excitement and energy gust 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 character as the nighttime dustings of snow begin to cover the highest mountain peaks. The gorgeous summer flowers are but pleasant memories now. Picnic umbrellas have been put away, and the bright-yellow snowplow blade has been methodically reattached to the ATV. It’s fall in Colorado!

I love the fall, and I love November, because I’m still the kid who loves Thanksgiving. I’ve adopted, and throughout my life I’ve embraced, the idea that it isn’t happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. Gratefulness is being thankful for what we’ve received from others. It’s not only a feeling or expression; it’s an attitude. When we receive something and express our appreciation for it, something happens deep within our souls.

Multiple studies have shown that people enjoy some pretty significant health benefits from cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Among the benefits are a happier disposition, less depression and stress, better overall immunity and health, and more satisfaction with life. It appears that grateful people also have an edge on personal growth, have better coping and planning skills, and are more likely to seek out support in difficult times. The grateful people I’ve observed over the years seem to have a clearer purpose in life and enjoy a broader spirit of self-acceptance as well.

They even sleep better because they concentrate on thankful and positive thoughts just before going to sleep, instead of allowing their minds to be filled with disturbing or negative thoughts.

In the course of my travels to so many venues, I’ve observed the practice of gratitude and thanksgiving in many religious traditions. According to the Greek philosopher Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

In the three major world religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, gratitude plays a central role in life and worship. For Christians, gratitude is the heart and soul of the gospel. As Martin Luther said, gratitude is the “basic Christian attitude” that directs thoughts, emotions, and actions.Christians are admonished to express gratitude to God in worship as well as in their lives for all he is and all he has done. Interestingly, the Greek word eucharist means “grateful.” So each time Christians celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection in the eucharist, they’re saying thanks!

According to the Hebrew worldview, God created everything, and in Judaism worship is considered a continual expression of gratitude for his goodness. Gratitude is reflected throughout the book of Psalms, in passages such as “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart” (Psalm 9:1), as well as in traditional Jewish prayers and blessings, such as the Shema. or orthodox Jews, in particular, reciting blessings, such as the berakhot, is an integral part of daily worship.

The Koran teaches Muslims to express gratitude to Allah for everything. Faithful Muslims who “praise God in prosperity and adversity” will be “the first to be summoned to Paradise.” That’s a pretty strong motivation to be grateful, if you ask me!

One of the most unforgettable lessons I learned about the inner need to express gratefulness occurred when Anna Marie and I visited Brazil. Dr. Casio Amoral and his wife, Vera, ran the best cranial/reconstructive and plastic surgery hospital in the country. After our arrival, 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 in 1972. We were escorted through the hospital as I performed the customary Needs Assessment Study. At 11:00 a.m., we returned to the conference room with Dr. Amoral and his wife, where we joined a team of twenty staff members for a preoperative 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 the status of the case to Dr. Amoral and made recommendations regarding the upcoming operation.

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 their teens. Most of the mothers and patients had perhaps traveled hundreds of miles to get to the hospital that day. They were poor mothers who were typically single, unemployed, indigent, and very frightened.

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The first little girl, age eight, had already undergone ten operations.She still had many, many operations to go. Her hands were completely fused together with her arms in a clump. 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 next 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 looked very poor, brought in her daughter, Sylvia, who was wearing a large hat, jeans and a T-shirt. Sylvia appeared 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, gripped my forearm, and began speaking directly to me. Her eyes were like sparkling flames, 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 speech slowed down a bit when they informed her that I couldn’t understand Portuguese. She just kept on talking.

They said she was telling me that her daughter had been so deformed and ugly, but 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 she wasn’t 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 praise, an uncontrollable flood of happiness and deep joy washed over her. 

I learned a spiritual lesson from that sweet Brazilian lady. Many in the room were embarrassed for the woman, but I simply stood up as she left and kissed her, first on one cheek and then on the other. I had just experienced the unstoppable power of praise and the satisfying gift of gratefulness.