By Wendy Grace | Diocesan Coordinator for UTO
It has been shown clinically as well a socially that people who demonstrate true gratitude every day live healthier, happier and longer lives. It seems, perhaps, idealistic that a simple act of thanksgiving can lead to an attitude of gratitude, let alone a whole lifestyle change to one of gratefulness. Yet, if an accumulation of isolated incidents of thankfulness really do add up to a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure, then why don’t we take advantage?
One answer to that question is simply we haven’t developed the habit. Our lives are so busy that we don’t even recognize the kindness of others beyond a passing, “thanks.” What if there were a way to take those moments and truly be grateful that expected ordinary kindnesses still can be expected? That in spite of the dire news delivered on a more-than-regular basis, humanity is not lost to all goodness? What if you knew of an easy way to develop the habit of gratitude? Would you take it? Would you even want to live a happier life if it means sacrificing your misery, self-pity and complaints?
What if you knew of an easy way to develop the habit of gratitude? Would you take it?
As your United Thank Offering Coordinator for our Diocese, I offer this challenge to our parishes: let us embark on an experiment together to see how a lifestyle of thankfulness affects our lives, both individually and collectively. Now, this experiment would be conducted very individually, but the benefits reaped should prove to be collective for our community. Perhaps we’ll become more accepting and tolerant of one another and our own weaknesses. Perhaps our worship together will seem more powerful and meaningful. Perhaps we’ll become more welcoming and attractive to new people in our church. We won’t know until we try! Let’s agree to a period from now until Thanksgiving as our trial period (and by all means, carry on beyond November 28). I challenge each congregation to set a UTO ingathering date for the last Sunday of November. To participate in this experiment, follow these steps:
(1) Get yourself a collection box–Blue Boxes from the United Thank Offering are available through your church office or by contacting the Diocesan UTO Coordinator. You can also print your own blue box at this link: clicking on this link. Any tossed away container will also work, but have a little fun with it; dress it up so no one will think it garbage and throw it away! If you have a smart phone and use it for everything, you can use it as your blue box by downloading the blue box app from UTO. It’s a fun app, because until you established your own habit of gratitude, it will provide suggestions for you. That app can be found in your phone’s app store by searching for UTO Blue Box.
(2) Put your box in a highly trafficked and visible place. For instance, that surface where you drop your keys and mail when you enter the house. Or maybe next to the refrigerator or stove or sink would be a good place. One person I know put a money jar front and center in her refrigerator to remind her every time she opened the door how lucky she was to not only have a refrigerator to preserve her food for a longer period than if she did not have cold storage, but also that she has an abundance of food! Her jar filled up pretty quickly with evidence of her thankfulness. If you work, you may want two boxes–one for home and one for work. The work one has the added bonus that you can get your co-workers and clients in on the practice too!
To develop a habit, at first you may have to consciously set a time to stop and count your blessings.
(3) To develop a habit, at first you may have to consciously set a time to stop and count your blessings. So do that right now. Set an alarm (or even several throughout the day) to remind you to take a brief break to say “I thank you, God for…” Write it down! Keep a log of what you are grateful for so that you can actually see what you consider blessings in your life. It will be fun to see what are repeated blessings for which you are grateful and which are one-of-a-kind miracles. As you go along, you’ll find the practice becomes automatic and you won’t need the reminders as much (but keep them just the same to keep you from falling out of the habit). You’ll begin to notice things for which to be grateful all around you without an external prod to get you to pay attention!
(4) Share what you’re doing with your family and friends. There is so much pleasure and fun in finding blessings together and seeing when you have unique moments of wonder and awe. Also, remember God is your family and friend, too. Share with God–God likes that and is grateful when you do.
(5) Now, you could theoretically impoverish yourself if you gave a coin for every single moment of gratitude you have. Maybe not at first when it’s a struggle just to name one or two things per day, but once you get into the habit, everything has the potential for being a moment of thanksgiving. However, true gratitude feels so good that you want to give it away. So give a little bit; give what feels right. Put something in your blue box knowing that eventually it will go to a cause you can believe in because that cause will be built on gratitude. At first, you may have to make yourself drop in a coin or two–after all, you’ll be working against years of conservation and frugality if not outright selfishness. But do it every day. Make sure, though, you connect the giving with a true sense of thankfulness. Otherwise the giving becomes a chore for which you’ll develop resentment.
(6) When your box is full, bring it in for your parish’s United Thank Offering ingathering. If the scheduled ingathering is not imminent, have your parish UTO coordinator (in our case, the parish coordinator) save it for the next ingathering. Or, you can make your donation directly to United Thank Offering. That way, you can continue the practice of daily thanksgiving.
An extra fun step for parishes and congregations would be to hold a special event on the day of your ingathering to take the time to reflect together on the results of your experiment. At that event, formally share with one another the single greatest moment of your gratefulness–the one that compelled your greatest offering to UTO. (This is also why you may want to keep a log of your blessings.) As you share, reflect on how that event or the whole of your blessings has changed your overall outlook on life. As a community, also check in together to see if the changes in your individual attitudes toward gratitude have had any impact (yet) on the collective body. You may find ourselves closer to God than ever before. And that would be something most gratifying of all!