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Filed in Kim's Corner — December 13, 2016

“Gratitude” is a topic that gets brought up a lot. Spiritual guides, psychologists, and motivational speakers have an absolute field day discussing gratitude. I’m going to take a stab at it myself, because I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Maybe the reason gratitude comes up so often is that we haven’t found what exists on the topic to be very useful in practical application. Gratitude is like true love: It is a cliché because it is both essential and elusive.

This whole idea is intertwined in a much bigger idea than “Let us give thanks this season,” by the way. This isn’t just an element of life; this IS life. It actually truly is. What if every day you went to work and no one responded to you or a single thing you did? It would be horrible to go through life without gratitude. If we have no appreciation for what others do, then we don’t really have anything.

I know that for me, gratitude plays such a visible and important role in my health and my life. Gratitude has become something that takes up actual space in my heart—something as present and palpable as the air I breathe or the love I feel for my family. I don’t know if it’s because of the stage of life I’m in, or because of where I now sit in my career, but man. I sure do know some stuff now that I didn’t know before.

I’ve talked before about the wholeness brought to my life by family and friends, but our members and employees play a substantial role in the thankfulness in my heart, too. I’m beholden to a staff that steadfastly believes in what we offer. I really think about this: Our employees choose to spend up to 8 hours a day helping us carry out our mission because they feel that it has value. I mean, they are paid for their time. But! They choose to commit a chunk of their lives to a cause—an indisputable act of dedication. These energetic, talented, wonderful people make the choice to be with us, right here and every day. They are willing to be a part of this dream and this community, and I love them for it.

And then there are our members, who perceive what OTAC offers as valuable and worthy of receiving. We’re providing a service to them, but it doesn’t stop there! When they’re done working out, they go home or drive to work and proceed to give their own time and effort to others. Through family bonds, working relationships and community connections, our members repeat the same dynamic they have with us through countless others, and this phenomenon fans out into infinity. The time, work and love that we put into our members is energy that transmits to time, work and love that they put into other relationships. And in turn, their service becomes valuable based on how others respond to it. They’re giving something, sure, but they’re also getting something back: gratitude. Just like we are here at OTAC.

Most of us feel happier when we’re providing something we can stand behind with passion. When we really sincerely give someone a piece of ourselves, that person’s acceptance of our gift with a show of gratitude makes the giving wildly sweeter. I have to admit: If I didn’t think my kids were grateful for the dinner I serve to them on Thursday nights, it would take a painful hunk of the fun out of it. I love planning meals and making favorite dishes and sneaking in surprise desserts. I want them to eat my food because, frankly, I think it tastes marvelous. Cooking is my language of love, and I perceive what I do to be valuable. The best part of the whole night is the feedback—the warmth and laughter that ensues from consuming a good meal, the unspoken yet clear display of gratitude. If they didn’t care, it would drastically diminish the joy of our togetherness.

This passion and self-value is where it all needs to start. Imagine that we’re all moving train cars, hitching on to each other with the potential to deliver and receive countless valuable commodities. You are one of those cars, and when you appreciate your authentic self, when you are grateful for your own skill or service, you have the fuel that gets your own train moving. You’re attached to this stretch of energy with the people you surround yourself with, and when the train goes through challenges, your car is 1) pulled by the person in front of you and 2) pushed by the person behind you. At some point, it will be your turn to push or pull to keep the train going. The commodities you carry are whatever you perceive to be precious—a show of approval, a word of compassion, a job well done, spontaneous assistance of some kind. In our own ways, each of us is thankful for these relationships, for this train of giving and receiving that grows or shrinks as we allow it.

It’s your personal responsibility to believe in yourself, to find a piece of yourself that you value and share. Once you create that self-worth, the whole process of exchanging gratitude starts to build up speed. People see your energy, your passion, and they begin to appreciate it. It draws them in—they connect. Soon you’ve built a train with people you love, doing what you love. The passion in your efforts is visible, and it energizes people; it becomes easier to put effort into what you do because you’re all hitched up and pulling each other along. Each of us has to fuel our own car with all the “selfs”: self-gratitude, self-worth, self-value—so that the good energy blossoms and touches someone else.

The next time you’re in a position to give of yourself or show appreciation for a giving act, think of the train metaphor. It has to start with you. We all have to live on this planet together, and it helps to think of ourselves as connected. It helps us understand the necessity of gratitude and the role it plays in keeping us all well, whole and moving forward.

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