By Alexa Benson-Valavanis
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” A.A. Milne
A couple days ago I cracked open a brown leather journal I used to chronicle my days inside the Guatemalan jungle. It revealed a glimpse into my life in 2002. A time when I was in search of simplicity and spiritual healing. When I yearned for happiness but far greater was my craving to do something that made a difference in the world. I sought purpose. I wanted meaning. Many of those lessons were graciously offered but what I learned about gratitude changed my life forever.
As I flipped through the tattered cream pages enhanced by coffee spills, afternoon rain showers and unexpected tears I found these words scratched atop the page:
Amid great poverty and hardship the locals seem to harness abundant gratefulness. I am left to wonder if gratitude derives from a state of soul rather than a state of mind. It is clearly not a state of circumstance.
With years between those days in Latin America and my life now I still ponder the overwhelming gratitude I witnessed there. At first it was a shock to see people, so resource poor, filling each day with laughter, love and generosity. Their time was spent cherishing one another with little distractions on material things. They taught me to start and end each day offering appreciation for all that I had.
New studies show that cultivating a deep sense of gratitude positively impacts all facets of our lives from our productivity to our sleep – from our relationships with others to our attitude towards ourselves. I will leave the science behind gratitude to the professionals. Just as I will leave the spiritual wisdom and direction around appreciation to theologians and philosophers like Meister Eckhart who wrote, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you’, that would suffice.”
But, what I wanted to share was the lesson so graciously offered to me nearly a decade ago, inside the heart of Guatemala – the understanding that nothing can get in the way of feeling grateful. It just requires feeling it.