They say it’s not what you have that makes you happy but what you appreciate. However much we have or don’t have there are a lot of things we take for granted; people who help us, serve us, care for us, who we barely acknowledge. Two years ago I decided I wanted to do something about this. I took up gratitude for Lent.
You probably know, Lent is the six weeks when Christians prepare themselves for Easter. It’s also used more widely by people of all faiths and none, to prove to ourselves that we can live without social media, chocolate, coffee or wine. It’s hard to explain to Muslim friends that this is our “fasting”, but when I told people I take up gratitude for Lent it sparked their imaginations.
The idea is simple. Six weeks, forty days (you get Sundays off), forty thank you notes. The first year I did this I went out and bought 4 packs of 10 thank you cards and 40 stamps in the hope that a bit of financial investment might make me more likely to do it and frankly, who can resist a trip to a stationary shop? Then I had to start. The first few were easy; I thanked my mum, I thanked my colleagues, I thanked people who had been inspirational to me becoming the person I am - some of them I knew, one or two I didn’t. After the first two weeks I was running dry. Was I really this unable to be grateful? In a bid not to fail at my task, I started noticing things; I wrote a thank you note to the cleaner who cleans my office, there must be one, the bin is empty every morning. I wrote one to my postman, to that supermarket cashier who always makes an effort to say a cheery hello and recognises me when I see her.
“Dear X, I’m taking 40 days to thank people over Lent and you sprung to my mind. I really appreciate the way you …”
Research suggests, if you do decide to join me this year, that you’ll get the most from your gratitude if you write your thank you notes just before bed. According to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer. The thoughts we have about ourselves solidify in our sleep. If you are thinking about people being kind to you just before you sleep each night, you’ll start to believe you are the sort of person people will be kind to.
It has other benefits. According to a study published in the 2003 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. It reduces a whole host of negative emotions, including envy and regret. So often we don’t register the kindnesses we are shown, or we explain them away imagining that the person must have had some ulterior motive. “They can’t have meant that just for me!” Gratitude trains us to let kindness nourish our souls, trains us to respond reach out to others when we are reached out to. It connects us more with those around us.
From a faith perspective, gratitude opens our eyes to other gifts in the world. A sunny day, spring flowers bursting through the frost and the great gift of Easter hits home more when we train our minds to respond with joy when we are given something for free. If you want to round off your GratitudeForLent well you might want to try Easter Sunday in a church… Any church around 10am, there’ll be an explosion of gratitude and joy that is a great time to go even if you’re not normally religious.
But that’s not the real reason I’d suggest you try it. The greatest reason you should think about taking up #GratitudeForLent is found in the messages that started pinging into my inbox, the text messages, the return notes; people saying how much it meant to them. You should think about doing it because I know people who keep thank you notes for years, looking back at them when life is hard and they don’t feel anyone is noticing their efforts.
Gratitude ripples out unlocking the real value of the world.
Do you know someone in the UK who’s done something incredible for another person? Maybe they dedicated hours to volunteering, changed someone’s life with a small but significant act, raised thousands of pounds for a good cause, or perhaps they went above and beyond to help in someone else’s time of crisis? Either way, we want to hear about them. Nominate your kind person or group here or email your personal story to firstname.lastname@example.org.