Transcript of Talk given at Unitarian Universalist Church, Pittsfield, MA 11/15/09

I’ve noticed that often, when I say to someone, something like “what a beautiful day it is”, they’ll say something like: well you better enjoy it now because before you know it, it’ll be snowing out and we’ll be up to our eyeballs in the stuff, oh yeah, but rain’s coming tonight….
I’ve often wondered why people so often focus on the negative. What’s the pay off? Feeling miserable? That doesn’t make sense to me.
I think it’s just that people get in to ruts-develop habits, and don’t even realize that they’re doing it.
According to science it only takes 3o days of daily reinforcement of behavior for something to become habitual.
So, considering how much of so called social small talk, and our automatic responses can be negative-focusing on what’s wrong or worse case scenarios-you can see how easy it can be to fall in to this trap.
But if you’re feeling thankful, as in for the nice day right now, or that you’re feeling pretty good at the moment, then chances are you’re not going to go to that negative place.
And I’ll bet you are going to feel a lot happier.
Stan was in his 90’s, blind, unable to walk and in a wheel chair sitting out in the hall in a nursing home. When I’d ask him how he was doing and he’d always answer me the same: he’d say he was doing well, smile and tell me what a lucky man he was to have so many people taking care of him….
I visited him for a few months and got to know him and some of his life’s story. And the thing that always struck me was his sense of peace, and the gratitude he had for his life.
His first love had been music he’d been a classical musician and played oboe with an orchestra-until he began to lose the dexterity in his hands and was no longer able to play the complex and challenging passages, so at 60 he left the orchestra. But then he took up something he’d always wanted to do: painting. He began taking lessons and by his late 60’s he was having his work displayed in galleries. He found that he loved painting as much as he’d loved music. Then he began to have trouble with his eyes. And found he had macular degeneration. And by the end of his 70’s painting went the way of music. Then his wife of over 50 years, a woman he said was the other love of his life and whom he considered his best friend, died. As he shared these things with me I reflected back to him that he’d lost so much.
He got quiet for a moment, and then said, “Yes I guess I have. But you have to have had it in order to lose it, and I have had so much! There’s not a day goes by that I don’t say Thank you for all that I’ve been given….”
Visiting Stan was my job, because I was his chaplain. But in truth I feel that I was the person who received the comforting and inspiration-the spiritual nourishment. There were times I felt I was in the presence of a great soul. And I believe I was.
According to his daughter he’d been like this as long as she could remember-always grateful. Even during the awful times-especially during the awful times.
I’d say that for most of us, being blind and unable to walk and confined to a nursing home might be an “awful time” but if it was to Stan, he never let on. He thanked every one who came in his room to help him. And when he died I saw usually tough, hardened nurses and aides cry.

-Henry Ward Beecher said:
The unthankful heart...discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.
Study after study reveals that practicing gratitude can enhance the immune system, and improve health and well-being.
Remember it takes only 30 days for something to become a habitual way of thinking- We can rewire our brains for gratitude! It can become a habit for any one of us- no matter what is going on in our life.
Although it’s easiest to get in the habit of practicing it when things are going well. That way you can train up for when things aren’t so good.
When things go well gratitude enables us to savor things going well. When things go poorly gratitude enables us to get over those situations and to realize they are temporary.
I have a spiritual toolkit that I use everyday, and one of the most frequently used tools is gratitude. (If you’d like a list of what else I keep in that kit I’d be happy to tell you-just see me after the service).
Practicing gratitude is a practice!! You work at it, and the more you do, the better you get at it.
When I first began this practice, it wasn’t during the good times as I’ve advised here; it was during an awful time.
A time of extreme loss and heartache, a time when I was hard pressed to find anything to be thankful for.
So it was suggested to me that I start a list, and add something new to it everyday. So I began a gratitude journal and each day, usually at the end of the day I tried to list 5 things I was grateful for in that day. Some days it was a very short list; sunshine, the car started ok, my head didn’t ache. Other days it was more extensive.
But I made a conscious effort everyday to see things I could say thank you for. And, not surprisingly, my list began to expand.
I’d see a little kid giggling and jumping the way little kids sometimes do for the sheer joy of it- and would say a silent “thank you” to myself, and add it to my list.
I’d notice a cloud in the sky, another silent “thank you”.

In time I began to say these “thank you s” out loud.
The more I looked the more I saw, and that has been the gift of this practice. It has become a habit. And one that not only benefits me, but all the people I come into contact with in my every day world.
You see, I feel better: About me, about you, and about life.
It’s that simple

Rabbi Harold Kushner, the man who wrote the book “When Bad Things happen to Good People” tells us:
That we should try to remember to see the holiness in those things we take for granted – a paved road or a washing machine.
He says that if we concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, we will discover that our life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.
There is a lot to be grateful for. But even armed with this knowledge some days being grateful is hard work.
There are days when you can look out of your window and practically trip over all of the things there are to be grateful for.
And there are other days when you have to look really, really hard to find it.
Cultivating a grateful spirit is a lot like trying to build muscle, it takes time, it takes work and for many of us, it doesn’t come naturally.
Gratitude is a lot like exercising — we know we should do it, we know we need to do it and that our lives will be better if we do, but we have a hard time fitting it into our day. How can you find time to be grateful?
Here’s my suggestion: Start every day with this simple little practice: as soon as you open your eyes, or even before you open your eyes-as soon as you realize that you’re awake and it’s a new day, say “Thank You”-either silently or out loud, it doesn’t matter.
Try your own gratitude list or journal and do it for 30 days, no matter what.
Make a conscious choice to see what is good. Limit your intake of negativity. Don’t start your day with the news first, take a few minutes to arm yourself with some positive thoughts and reasons to say thank you.
Make the last thing you say before drifting off to sleep, “Thank you”. Even if it was a tough day, you made it through. There is always something to say thank you for.
Meister Eckhart said that if the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is Thank You, it would be sufficient.

Practicing gratitude can change the way you see everything. It can help you to be satisfied with what you have. It lets you enjoy the people and things in your life.
Melodie Beattie wrote the following:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.
Exactly! Thank you.