My sister-in-law has a decorative plaque hanging in her house that begs the question, “What if tomorrow you had only the things you gave thanks for today?”
Inspirational quotes show up on pillows, artwork and signs in many of our homes and offices. They have become so common that is easy to read them and move right along.
I only visit my sister-in-law and her family about once a year and generally around the holidays. I was with her when she bought the sign and there is something about that simple question that challenges me every time I encounter its call to action.
Inevitably when I visit her I lay in bed at night letting the list of things I want to carry over to the following day roll over in my mind. It’s as if I don’t want to fall asleep for fear that if I forget something it might be gone when I wake the following morning.
This exercise has a way of bringing laser focus to my gratitude.
I am fortunate to work in the world of philanthropy at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation where gratitude and its outward expression though giving and generosity is part of daily life.
Often our team is astonished to learn the stories of gratitude that inspire giving by generous donors and friends. We have written about them often in this space and sometimes wonder out loud how and why people are so big-hearted particularly at this time of year. Even if we don’t have a sign to remind us to be grateful the calendar has a way of doing that for us.
I have always thought of gratitude as a feeling or emotion expressed in a journal or a quiet moment of introspection, but recently I read an article by Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, who studies the “science of gratitude.” He argues that it leads to a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure, as well as “more joy and pleasure.”
I like the idea of examining gratitude from a scientific point of view. Recent research also points to the fact that gratitude keeps you connected to the present and can be extended from an internal experience to a social interaction. Ultimately gratitude is expressed through others; a higher power, a friend, a boss, the farmers growing your food, and the list goes on. Most everything we are grateful for can be attributed to someone in our lives.
I find this to be true in my contemplation of the question on my sister-in-law’s sign. Nothing on my list would be there without the people and relationships that make my gratitude possible, tangible and meaningful.
So this Thanksgiving I plan to make certain that I don’t keep my expressions of gratitude to myself. I will find ways to share it with those who help me realize this grateful state of mind.
To those of you that work tirelessly to make this community better and the work of philanthropy so meaningful, I say thanks. I wouldn’t want to wake up tomorrow without you.
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, the Foundation partnered with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, we’ve invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.