Thursday, May 1, 2014

Gratitude: It's Bigger Than Being Thankful

Being thankful and having gratitude are similar emotional states, but they're different in the depth of feeling connected to the state of being.  "Thankfulness" and "Gratitude" are synonyms in almost every Thesaurus I found, yet we aren't using the words synonymously when we celebrate a holiday in November or write in a "Gratitude Jounal."

Thankfulness or being thankful usually gets a response like, "I'm thankful for my parents" or "I'm thankful for my food."  When called upon to share what we're thankful for, usually we give a pat, rehearsed answer.

Gratitude goes deeper, and it's more profound, in my opinion.  Whether sharing in a journal or listening to Oprah Show reruns, being grateful dares you to go deeper until you remember the specifics and the reasons associated with just simply being thankful.  "I'm grateful for the way my dad read stories to me at night before I fell asleep" or "I'm grateful for all of the times my mom drove me places before I got my driver's license" are the more specific thoughts one might think of when asked what they're grateful for or if someone read the contents of their gratitude journal.

I'm going to ask you to make a list of the top 5 people who have influenced your life positively, and of course, you'll be thankful for those people...but, I ask you to take it a step further and think of all of the reasons you're grateful for their influence.  Ponder on the things they've done to impact your life and write those things on your list too.  Here's my list of the people who shaped me most in my formative years:

1.  My Parents
2.  My Siblings
3.  My Grandparents
4.  Charline Hampson, caregiver
5.  Dan Cockrell, teacher and coach
6.  "Carrie Ann," my friend and neighbor

Now, you can see that I cheat a little because I give 6 instead of 5, and I have 2 parents and 3 siblings on a single line.  You can do this too, cheat like me, if you have a long list of people to be grateful to for the person you are today.  Also, your list can be longer than 5 people.  The longer you've been alive, the longer your list could possibly be.  If my assignment was to have a list of 14...

7.  William Eric Schooley, husband
8.  My children: Belle, Sophie, and Emirson
9.  My students (4 or 5 specifically)
10.  My Friends (4 or 5 specifically)
11.  My Romanians (2 or 3 specifically)
12.  My Koreans: Grace and Austin
13.  Extended Family (4 or 5 specifically)
14.  My colleagues (2 or 3 specifically)

If I listed out each person's name specifically, my list would be pretty long which is a good thing, but you only need to start with 5 people.  Listing out the specific reasons for gratitude can take time and a lot of thought, but it's a worthwhile exercise for your mind and your can be creative with this part of the exercise.  You can make a list, write a letter, write an essay, make a flow chart, etc.

**Why I have gratitude for Dan Cockrell, teacher and coach, and the influence and impact he used to shape my life:

1.  I appreciate the way Mr. Cockrell coached and mentored me as my volleyball coach, and because of his enthusiasm for the sport, I grew to love every minute I played in high school.  Mr. Cockrell taught me how to play better by showing me what to do, the mechanics of the game, instead of just telling me what to do on the court. I had great confidence in my abilities to play and contribute to my team because I KNEW Mr. Cockrell believed in me.  I wasn't the typical competitor because by nature, I'm not very competitive, but Mr. Cockrell saw that and taught me to care about winning because my teammates were such competitive people.  Making me see that caring about winning because I cared for my teammates was the way Mr. Cockrell led me to reach my fullest potential on the volleyball court.

2.  I am grateful for Mr. Cockrell's love for his family.  Mr. Cockrell wove stories about his wife and kids into our pre-game pep talks, and we felt like he let us into part of his life.  Mr. Cockrell talked about his wife like she's a princess and the greatest person on earth, and myself and the other girls on the team saw something to look for in a future spouse because we all deserved to be someone's princess one day.  Mr. Cockrell brought his family on our volleyball trips, and he put their needs and interests before his own.  His team did a lot of watching whether he knew it or not, and a lot of us saw a family we'd like to have someday.  I'm sure Mr. Cockrell isn't perfect, but from what I saw, he treats his family better than he treated his own self.  I learned that a meek man can be strong and that selflessness is the greatest strength one can possess because it's the strength to control the selfish side of human nature.

3.  Personally, Mr. Cockrell brought me to a closer relationship to God which is one of the best things he blessed my life with.  I learned first hand what Philippians 4:13 means ("I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.") because he started each practice and began each pre-game chat with prayer.  Mr. Cockrell didn't just go through the motions either, he genuinely prayed for us and cared about our teenage girl problems.  He didn't just stop with prayer, we used to sing before games too.  Most of us were also in choir, but no choir or ensemble I've ever heard or sang in ever sounded as beautiful as those pre-game singing sessions.  I can still hear us singing what is now my favorite Psalm, "As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee.  You alone are my heart's desire, and I long to worship thee..."  I catch myself singing it all the time to this day (even now...I just sang it)  :)

4.  As a teacher, I was touched and am grateful for Mr. Cockrell's extreme patience.  He was my teacher for a computer class (before computers were mainstream) on DOS.  To this day, I have no idea how I passed that class.  Everyday, no matter what happened or how many computers crashed, Mr. Cockrell met me and my classmates with a never-ending smile.  His voice, always kind and gracious.  I aspired to be a person and teacher like Mr. Cockrell was to me, one who could touch lives with kindness and graciousness as I teach.

5.  Sometimes, mere words cannot express how a person touches your soul or speaks into your life until you've moved on.  That's how I feel about Mr. Cockrell.  Even though he stood out in the crowd as a person who genuinely loved others and cared for students while I was in school, I could never truly comprehend what he did for me until I became a teacher and had a family for myself.  Mr. Cockrell never won "Teacher of the Year" even though he should've, and he's not famous although everyone should know him...instead, he still serves others and still works in a high school.  I run into Mr. Cockrell on occasion, and he ALWAYS has time for me even if it's just to ask me how I'm doing.  Mr. Cockrell will be rewarded someday, and his reward will be great.

So...that's just an example of what to do after you have your list of people you are truly grateful to for impacting your life positively.  Now, I have one more challenge...LET THEM KNOW how you feel or how their life has touched yours.  My husband's college basketball coach passed away a few years ago, and I remember that he was so grateful for this man's influence on his life...but, when he passed away, it was too late to tell him.  Many days, my husband wishes he would've written a letter just to express his extreme gratitude.  So, start small...start with one person on your list, then move to the rest.  Get into the habit of being full of gratitude instead of just being "thankful" one day or season of the year.

p.s. Your list can go out beyond people your grateful for in your own life, and you could make a list of important influences in your children's lives.  The possibilities are endless once you get started recognizing true, specific gratitude instead of flippantly saying "I'm thankful for my children's teachers."

p.p.s.  Mr. Cockrell is a real person, and everything I say about him is true too.  I'm in this life to practice what I preach, people!  :)