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Understanding the Discipline of Gratitude

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"In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. "The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy." (p. 85) 
• Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932-1996) Return of the Prodigal Son

Anyone who has ever resolved to be inwardly happy has entertained gratitude within the court of their heart. But, like happiness itself, gratitude, as a process, is foreign as a concept of habit. We knew to be happy we had to be grateful, but how does one become instinctually grateful, even when we know we ought always to be?

Gratitude does not come naturally upon the human condition. Our default is opposite. We're much rather given to complaint. We're prone to comparison and to compromise.

REALLY ENGAGING WITH GRATITUDE

Some years ago, I had a friend from a distant land who resolved herself to the practice of giving thanks daily. Her practice was a great journey with a community behind it. It made of gratitude an expedition to a serene destination that one could visit any day of choice. It illustrated how to put gratitude into the daily arena of many who followed or contributed to that blog.

Like almost anything good in life, gratitude costs us a great deal in terms of commitment. We cannot just pick and choose to be grateful and hope that it will stick. We need to wed ourselves to it.

We need a covenant relationship with gratitude. We cannot just be occasional lovers. We need to truly esteem her, and give her all our attention, and resolve to be grateful especially when we aren't, for, in that, we'll finally learn what God is sure to teach us. 
Understanding that acquiring gratitude is a discipline is to understand discipline is central to gratitude's acquisition.

But it isn't discipline in any direction that secures us the acquisition of gratitude.

GRATITUDE - OF GIFTS GIVEN IN LOVE TO BE CELEBRATED WITH JOY

This is the nexus of the quote at top. Those words again:

The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.

The discipline of gratitude is an explicit effort. It's overt. Something very intentional. The effort is put in to acknowledge something first and foremost; a thing that takes precedence over all other devotional activities. What is acknowledged is everything that is part of me and you. Everything. The good and the not-so-good. Every bit. Appreciating everything we've been given - the things we want as well as the things we don't want - is appreciating the Giver. True thankfulness is gratitude. And the output of gratitude is joy.

We can be grateful when we recognise what we've been given as a gift of love. Knowing we've been so richly loved breeds joy in us.


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