Several years ago I was asked to debate an anti-gay pastor on national television. When I woke up that day, I stumbled into the kitchen and poured myself a cup of hot java just like I do every morning. Glancing into the living room, I noticed my partner and our trio of little ones cuddled on the couch watching Tom and Jerry on the Cartoon Network. Something tickled their funny bone and all four erupted into a short but loud giggle.
I finished my coffee, got dressed, and headed toward the television studio. The debate, as expected, was both challenging and heated. I guess it made for good television because the producers kept showing reruns on cable for several months.
That night, I reflected on the events of the day as my head touched the pillow. I realized that the 20 minute debate, while certainly important, was not the highlight. The moment that touched my heart and left a lasting impression was that simple 3.5 second burst of laughter from my family.
Spiritual educator Celeste Schroeder said that when we see beauty in ordinary moments we are experiencing what she calls "gracelets." Splendor emanates from the people, places, and things around us, and we begin to see the value in simple things. As a result, we step into a world that is deeper, richer, larger, and more full. Suddenly the sacred is here, there, and everywhere and the mundane becomes a kind of meditation.
It's also important to express appreciation for those little moments. Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart once wrote that if the only prayer we say in a lifetime is "thank you," that would be enough. A 2003 study seems to support that sentiment.
Participants in the study were randomly assigned to one of three groups and kept an extensive journal for 10 weeks. One group was instructed to describe five things from the previous week for which they felt grateful (the gratitude condition). The second group was asked to describe five things from the previous week that had displeased them (the hassles condition). The third group was told to list five events from the prior week that had affected them, but they were not instructed to highlight either the positive or negative features of those events (the events condition). The results showed that those in the "gratitude condition" had engaged in nearly 1.5 more hours of exercise, reported fewer physical complaints or symptoms of illness, and had higher levels of overall life satisfaction than participants in either of the other two groups.1
This Thanksgiving I'm hoping that you and I both will pay attention to the little blessings that surround us. As we notice these tiny doses of grace, let us embrace them with a grateful heart. My personal goal is to practice this strategy well beyond the holiday season and live with an absolutely incurable and life-long condition of gratitude. Will you join me?
Emmons, R. A. & McCullough, M. E. (2003) Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well being in daily life, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology