A Habit of the Heart
M.J. Ryan


As a young woman in my twenties and thirties, I learned a great deal about thankfulness from Daphne Rose Kingma.  We spent a great deal of time together, working on books, and again and again I would watch her make a personal connection to the people who came across her path--garbage collectors, long-distance operators, or the person selling coffee on the corner.  No matter what was going on in her own life, no matter how rushed or upset she was, she took the time to connect.  I'd hear her on the phone with the airline reservations desk. In the course of getting a flight she'd learn the woman's name, where she lived, and the fact that she, like Daphne, loved flashy high heels.  Daphne was so genuinely appreciative of the other person's help that the person on the other end of the phone felt washed in a warm bath of love.  It was then I realized that while gratitude was a feeling, it could be cultivated.  I set out to emulate her (although I still am not as good at it as she).

One of the most fascinating things about feelings is that they come and go, like waves in the ocean of our consciousness.  Happiness, anger, fear, love, thankfulness--they arise in response to some external or internal trigger and then subside.  We feel angry and then we don't.  We are "in love" and then we aren't.  We feel thankful, and then it's over.

It's particularly easy to see the tide of feelings in a child, where they come and go so quickly and uncensoredly.  One minute my daughter is screaming her head off because I have left the room; I return and pick her up--a big smile.

As we grow, one of our spiritual tasks is to move beyond this purely emotional response to life and begin to cultivate positive emotions as "habits of the heart," as Daphne calls them.  What this means is that we learn to love even when we don't "feel" loving, be kind when we'd rather be surly, and feel grateful when we don't particularly feel like being thankful.  In this way, we turn feelings, which come and go, into conscious attitudes that we act upon even if we don't "feel" like it.

Our attitudes are our mental stances, the positions we hold vis--vis life.  In some ways, our attitudes determine everything, because they are the glasses through which we see the world.  Is the world a wonderful place or a hellhole?  All of us know that the answer to that question depends on our attitude on any given day.  Has the world changed?  Most likely our thinking about it has.  When we consciously cultivate positive attitudes, such as love, joy, and gratitude, we begin to "remake" the world.  We literally live in a different place because our attitudes about it have changed.

The particular beauty of an attitude of gratitude is that it instantly connects us to everything else.  In an important way, it is a recognition of the connection, the switch, between us and the rest of life.  And consciously recognizing it opens the flow:  the more grateful we are, the more of an abundant sense of life we will experience.

For that's the irony about the relationship between attitudes and feelings.  The more you cultivate the attitude, even if you don't feel it, the more you experience the feeling.  The more loving we are, the more love we feel.  The more joy we radiate, the more comes back our way.  And the more thankful we are, the more we experience the richness of spirit that grateful feelings produce.

In Attitudes of Gratitude, M. J. Ryan teaches us how to unlock the fullness of life through the expression and exercise of a grateful heart. In a series of brief, evocative essays, she inspires us to discover and distill a sense of gratitude in every aspect of our lives and offers practical suggestions to help us focus on all that we have, rather than our perception of what may be lacking.


Expressing gratitude ignites the light within us and is a sure path
to joy.  Gratitude is one of the highest vibrations of energy we can
create, it's free, and anyone can give it.  It can be as simple as
being thankful for soup, being thankful one can see, walk, wiggle
a finger, or tap to a beat.  One can be grateful for happy children,
good neighbors, good luck, and simply being alive. . . . Part of the
journey toward joy involves not waiting around for trouble,
but being continuously aware of our blessings.

Charlotte Davis Kasl


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