It’s easy to practice gratitude on the one day of the year dedicated to the idea, but how do we truly establish gratitude in our daily lives? The dictionary definition of gratitude is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness.” I want to focus on those last few words, in that the gratitude involves the ability to show appreciation and return kindness. To establish gratitude in our lives then, means so much more than being grateful for our loved ones and thankful for our opportunities. Gratitude encompasses our interactions with others through kindness.
While we strive to practice being present during the holiday season, we tend to find ourselves sinking deeper into our phones and computers, our smart watches and wireless headphones. As a consequence, our face to face interaction, our contact with others, decreases. Not only is our interaction with each other decreasing, but time that could be spent appreciating and returning kindness is instead spent in a digital world, artificially created for us by algorithms that cocoon us in the ideas and stories that support our beliefs. A dash of provoking news articles and the occasional viral tweets setting us on edge, slip through the cracks here and there. More often than kindness we find anger, resentment, devastation, pain, and fear. We fear our neighbors, the people living one neighborhood away, the people living one border away.
Is there a solution to any of this? And what does it have to do with establishing gratitude?
During my time studying sociology as an undergraduate, I connected with the simplicity of contact theory, often credited to Gordon W. Allport. The theory generally states that as contact between different groups increases, prejudicial beliefs, often rooted in fear, can diminish. The closer we get to one another, the easier it is to see our similarities; to see we are all human. The closer we get to one another, the easier it is to appreciate and return kindness.
Whether we like it or not, we are all on this planet, kept alive by the same sun, grounded by the same gravity. We are all connected. And just as our connections are inevitable, so too is much of the contact we have with others, however diminishing. What we absolutely have agency over is the amount of contact we have and how we react to it. We have the ability to initiate contact in a meaningful, authentic way. Above all, we can pursue contact to find deeper connections in which we can celebrate our shared humanity.
As Thanksgiving has come to an end and the turkey (or if you’re like me, the tofurkey) is ready and waiting to be leftovers, I want to challenge us all, myself included, to be diligent in our establishment of gratitude. In our establishment of gratitude, we must be ready to initiate contact and create spaces to appreciate and return kindness by first offering kindness to others.