|Glen Mitchell, diocesan director for planned giving|
Gratitude, Cicero observed, is more than just a virtue; it is the parent of all the other virtues.
Gratitude bridges the gulf between our spiritual and material concerns – those that are soul-destroying and dispiriting and bred into us by advertising and consumerism. Gratitude arises in that space where our deepest longings find the glass of life to be half-full rather than half-empty.
To help you do some reading and thinking about this approach to life, let me recommend three recent books that would make excellent gifts to yourself, or a friend who is interested in creating a Plan of Gratitude.
The author of Radical Gratitude, Mary Jo Leddy, invites readers to ponder gratitude as the most radical attitude to life. Such a spirit of gratitude is the beginning point of authentic spirituality, genuine politics and good economics. It begins with the awareness that our very existence is a gift.
Leddy writes that our deepest spiritual desires — the search for identity, the quest for meaning, and the longing for happiness — are converted into cravings for more — for things, for a certain lifestyle, popularity and success.
In Keith Harrell’s upbeat, breezy memoir, Attitude of Gratitude, the popular inspirational speaker recounts how he overcame early insecurities to become an outstanding IBM training instructor, drawing on his experiences and faith to provide encouragement to readers.
He begins each chapter with a helpful bible verse and encourages readers to look to lessons in their own lives, to understand their individual purpose in life, and to develop a personal vision.
Harrell recalls the scores of individuals who encouraged him and shared their own life lessons, including his parents, grandparents, coaches, teachers, mentors, and friends. Continued success has deepened his religious convictions, and Harrell stresses the importance of God in his daily life throughout this recollection.
In Seasons of Grace: the Life-Giving Practice of Gratitude, Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and John O’Neil, the president of the Center for Leadership Renewal explore the spiritual practice of gratitude, which can be expressed in acts as simple as writing a thank-you note, cleaning the house or meditating in the garden.
Although these two authors do not draw explicitly on Naikan Buddhism, their approach is astoundingly similar, emphasizing gratitude as the key to compassionate living.
Jones’ and O’Neil’s book is beautifully organized into sections around the four seasons: spring is a time to appreciate the gift of a renewed creation; summer a season of frolicking in nature and enjoying some rest; autumn a contemplative period of introspection; and winter an interval of gathering with loved ones. Each chapter closes with “gratitude practices,” offering concrete ideas of ways to cultivate and express gratitude.
Concretely, what can you do to show gratitude?It is definitely not too late to make an important New Year’s resolution for 2007, especially if it is that you will prepare a written Plan of Gratitude to guide the rest of your life. It will be a great revelation and comfort to realize just how much there is to be grateful for, and to know what you are going to do about it.
I’ll be writing a great deal more on this topic in 2007 but here are the basic steps to making a plan.
Inventory of Gratitude: Make a list of specific things you have a reason to be grateful for now. This can include relationships, family, quality of life, your employment, home, faith, recreational pursuits, health, etc.
Vision of Gratitude: Develop a written statement of what a meaningful response would be for you, and then develop 3-5 ways that you could make that happen. Is it as a donor to your church and other important charities, a volunteer in the community, a mentor to a younger person? You choose.
Plan of Gratitude: Once you’ve developed your vision statement, spend some time researching ways to bring it to life, identifying needs and opportunities that fit your donor plan, choosing a specific volunteer role, determining where a mentor might be welcomed, etc., and put some timelines and deadlines in place to help you achieve your vision.
Check Up: Every 12 months or so, give yourself an hour to evaluate how you are doing, what needs improvement, what to change or be dropped, etc.
There it is—your basic Plan of Gratitude. I’ll be developing materials to help visioning, planning and implementation in future issues of my monthly Legacy Bulletin and I’ll publish all of this on the planned giving blog at www.talentsforgod.blogspot.com throughout the year.
Books cited in this article
Radical Gratitude by Mary Jo Leddy is published by Orbis Books, ISBN: 1570754489.
Attitude of Gratitude by Keith Harrell is published by Hay House, ISBN: 1401901999.
Seasons of Grace: The Life-giving Practice of Gratitude by Alan Jones and John O’Neil is published by Wiley, ISBN: 0471208329.
All these books and others are available at the Vine and Fig Tree Bookstore, www.vineandfig.ca, 604 734-2109.