Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” – A.A. Milne, from Winnie-the-Pooh
Beloved by kids and adults since its publication in 1926, Winnie-the-Pooh not only tells an ageless story but is also chock full of life lessons for children to learn from and implement in their own lives. Adults, too. Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Owl, Rabbit, Kanga, and Roo are wonderfully fallible, yet wise, “teachers by example.” In the above quote Piglet’s introspection reflects self-knowledge of his not-very-bigness and how little size matters when it comes to being thankful.
Years ago, I received a leather-bound set of four Winnie-the-Pooh volumes, which I treasure. From time to time I re-visit those friends from my childhood in the Hundred Acre Wood. Just smelling the leather before opening one takes me back immediately to a kinder, simpler time, when niceties such as being polite to others, caring about their needs, and voicing gratitude when a gift of any kind was given actually mattered.
In this unsettling era when those values are often given a backseat to “me, me, me…and what I want comes first,” the naysayers have upped the volume on the unimportance of mores adhered to by most folks once-upon-a-time. Don’t get me wrong. Many people still embrace old-fashioned manners and still teach their kids to do the same. Whenever I encounter a courteous kiddo of any age, be it an elementary schooler or collegian, I want to call his or her parents and congratulate them on raising their child well.
That said, it’s refreshing to witness the resurgence of the importance of gratitude. Giving thanks has always been a component of religion and of spirituality, but in the last few years, Pollyanna here is delighted to report that giving thanks as a daily practice seems to be on the upswing. Initially, the existence of that trend jumped out at me on several Oprah shows, when her guests included author and alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra (The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success); philosopher, self-help author, and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer (Your Erroneous Zones); author, spiritual leader, and political activist Marianne Williamson (A Return to Love); and spiritual teacher and self-help author Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now). All New Agers; all well-spoken proponents of a healthy, positive lifestyle; all focused on the importance of a daily gratitude practice.
Oprah even gave away thousands of gratitude journals to her TV show audiences in her studio and at home. She told us to look into our hearts, find five things we were grateful for, and write those in our little burgundy books every day. Always an overachiever, I’d often write 10 things. As luck would have it, I received an extra one and filled it as soon as I’d finished the first.
The reason for gratitude, of course, has everything to do with contributing toward living your best life. It may have nothing to do with polite society, though chances are good that being grateful will extend to expressing it to others beyond your heart, your Higher Power, or your God. Expressing gratitude clears your perspective on how much “good stuff” is in your life, albeit a wealth of people, things, health, situations, et al. Writing about it brings home the realization that you’re likely far better off on a daily basis than you may have thought and opens the channels for you to receive more.
Eckhart Tolle states this concept well: “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”
On a human scale, if you receive a nice gift from someone and thank them for it, aren’t they more likely to repeat the act in the future? We’re all different, so maybe yes, maybe no, but you may as well give them a heartfelt muchas gracias. It’ll make both of you feel good.
So what do you do when the Universe gives you a “gift” that doesn’t feel like one? Often at the time an experience appears in your life, you may not be able to see clearly that in reality it’s a positive. Back in 1984 when I contracted an autoimmune illness, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), and felt as if my body were shutting down for keeps, that I’d likely end up on a respirator or in a wheelchair or going toes up, the fact that it might well be a gift of any kind didn’t cross my mind. I was simply terrified.
Over the course of a year, however, the majority of healing took place. Double vision resolved in a few months and my strength gradually returned a bit at a time, thanks to initial care from a friend who was a macrobiotic cook, tons of atta-girl support via cards, calls and visits from friends; and once I could see well enough, daily journaling, which allowed me to page back from time to time to see progress.
Gradually, I began to realize how fortunate I’d been to have had this wake-up call, to have the opportunity to learn the importance of making better lifestyle choices, such as eating healthier food, meditating, exercising regularly and sanely, getting enough sleep, embracing a strong spiritual practice, hanging out with friends often, and being thankful every day that I’m here to experience another one, whatever gifts it has to offer.
It took a while, but I finally understand what the ever-amazing Oprah meant when she said, “True gratitude is when you can say, ‘Thank you for that experience.’”
My heart so filled with gratitude once I realized what a gift having GBS had been, I actually wrote my diagnostic neurologist a thank-you note. He was so surprised that he wrote back a note to thank me for thanking him!
In 1991 at the tender age of 29, award-winning TV and film actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Not until 1999 did he share that news with the public, and in 2000 he established the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to advance scientific study to find a cure. In 2013 this remarkable activist and actor returned to acting and continues to thrill fans with regular appearances on the CBS hit drama, “The Good Wife.” Fox has morphed what could’ve been a pure pity party into an opportunity to help the world, and in so doing, his own quality of life.
I’ll guarantee being grateful is a part of his path. Which brings to mind a bit of wisdom from the marvelous Sufi poet Rumi.
But listen to me.
For one moment, quit being sad.
Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you.
To that I’ll add: Start writing at least five gratitudes every day. More, if you’re so moved. Your world will open wider as your heart fills with thanks for wherever you may be in your life.
Take it from Willie Nelson: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around