I hope you are enjoying these dog days of summer – it is hot out there! But I am thankful to be in Colorado, where even on the hottest days, you can get some relief by finding shade, and by the evening, it’s invariably cooling down.
Last night, I had a conversation with a woman from Georgia. This was her first time to Colorado, and she was commenting on how pleasant the weather was here. I noted that it had been particularly hot these last few days, and she countered with the pleasantness of the lack of humidity, especially as compared to Georgia, where it might still be over 100 degrees with 95% humidity at midnight. When you walk out of an air-conditioned building, even at night, you feel like you’re walking into a furnace.
As she spoke, I realized that yes, indeed, I was grateful for living in a place where the climate is particularly pleasant. But as she told me more of her story, I remembered just how much I have to be grateful for.
You see, I met this woman at the Ronald McDonald House in Denver. Every two or three weeks, my son and I head down to Denver for what began as a short-term English project (thank you, Ms. Fink!) and has developed into an ongoing relationship. On these evenings, we set up shop in the commons area, and he calls bingo for the guests. Some nights there are over twenty people, and others as few as five. But no matter what, each time we are greeted with such enthusiasm and gratitude that I am consistently humbled.
In case you don’t know, the Ronald McDonald House is a place for families with hospitalized children to stay in order to be near the hospital. Sometimes they stay for a few days; sometimes a few months; sometimes even longer. The organization believes that you shouldn’t have to worry about anything else when you are supporting a sick child; and so, they provide a place to stay and home-cooked meals. They also like to provide opportunities for fun, and that’s where the bingo comes in.
“B-8.” As my son calls the numbers, I look around the room and wonder about each person’s story. I certainly don’t want to pry, but some people seem eager to talk, and so I listen. I can’t imagine what they are going through. One woman tells me she is in a blended family with nine children, and she is there because her youngest was born premature and is in intensive care. A teenage girl tells us she’s living there while her brother is in the hospital. It’s their third visit to Denver for his treatments.
As I hear their stories, I am struck by how calm and cheerful each person is. They have every reason to be frustrated with the world, and yet they are kind, thoughtful, and more than a little excited about playing some bingo on a Wednesday night. This is the power of gratitude.
There has been a tremendous amount of research done on the benefits of practicing gratitude, benefits that are both physical and psychological. I’m not going to list them all here, but suffice it to say that research shows that practicing gratitude regularly can increase one’s happiness, one’s physical well-being, and one’s empathy and compassion towards others. It can be easy for us to focus more on all of the things going wrong in our lives; but if we take the time to put on different lenses, we can view the world differently, taking the time to relish the small, seemingly forgettable, moments in our lives.
Gratitude has ties to mindfulness, and several teachers at Dawson have incorporated it into their mindfulness practices, both on their own and with their students. Small regular practices, such as gratitude journals or circles, can help students take time to reflect on what they are thankful for and eventually reap the myriad benefits of this practice.
I encourage you to find ways at home to practice gratitude, both on your own and with your family. Some families develop a dinner-time ritual, where everyone goes around and says what they are grateful for that day. Most important, I believe, is modeling gratitude for our children. If they can see us taking a step back to appreciate small things, rather than getting worked up over anything remotely upsetting, they can learn how to handle disappointments themselves. If we can then guide them through recognizing what they are grateful for in their own lives, we will help them be more positive, thoughtful people moving forward.
One night at the Ronald McDonald House, a young girl in a wheelchair joined us for bingo. I learned that she sometimes stayed there with her family between treatments at the hospital. She was more excited than anyone to play, and she masterfully handled four boards at once. Yet somehow, she never won – she would have one left on every board but then someone else would cry out, “Bingo!” She would screech in frustration, but it was clear she was having a blast. After she had come close multiple times, my son asked her if she might prefer to come help him call out the numbers. I hadn’t seen a smile that big in ages as she came to the front of the room. I was amazed by this girl who has had to face serious adversity in her young life. Consciously or not, she was practicing gratitude. She found great pleasure in small things and spread that feeling to others around her. As I watched her call out the numbers, I thought about all of the things I have to be grateful for. All of the usual things came to mind, of course: my family, my friends, my health. But at that moment, I was most grateful for getting to spend the evening with this girl and listening to her call bingo.
Looking forward to seeing you all soon!