I spoke about gratitude to my friend Paul’s local chapter of Rotary International a few weeks ago. One of the experiential exercises we did in groups of three, which I often do in my Bouncing Back workshops, was to share an experience of feeling gratitude with the other members of the group, and then to take turns in the group again reflecting on what it was like to share your own story and hear the stories of others.
This exercise (described more fully below), most of the time, helps people come to a new appreciation of the blessings in their lives, including the people in their lives who help make their lives as blessed as they are.
In the discussions during and after the exercise, I came to realize that “Hands to Serve; Hearts to Care” was much more than a Hallmark card motto for the Rotarians present that morning. Rotary International is a 110-year old service organization with 1.2 million members worldwide. The local Rotary Club of Marin Sunrise I spoke to:
Founded Rotacare Bay Area, Inc., a volunteer group of medical professionals and community volunteers providing free primary health care to the uninsured families and individuals with limited abilities to pay for medical care.
Sponsors Ride 4 Vets, raising funds for treatment of post-war veterans, especially those with “hidden” injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Founded the Bay Area Cuba Community Alliance to support sustainable community empowered projects in under-served communities in southeastern Cuba.
As chapter president, Chuck Orr, said, “I joined for business; I stayed to save the world.”
I left the meeting that morning profoundly grateful that people from all manner of businesses and professions devote the time they do to provide services, hope, and inspiration to others. They are now included in my “web of life” that I am profoundly grateful for.
Exercise: Sharing Gratitude
A hundred times every day, I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other people, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.
– Albert Einstein
- Invite one or more friends to participate in person in this exercise with you.
- Begin with each of you jotting down notes, in a 5-minute free-write, stream of consciousness style:
- the nouns of life you are grateful for: people, possessions, accomplishments
- the verbs of life you are grateful for: walking, eating, seeing, hearing, making decisions, making love, reading, writing, listening to music, thinking.
- the “web of life” – people who provide the services that keep your life going: the person who delivers your mail, who picks up your garbage and recycling, who checks the water quality in your community, who staffs the emergency room at your local hospital, who staffs the local fire station, who repairs the highways in your area.
- Share your observations or insights with the other members of your group, taking turns, two minutes each.
- Each person takes a two-minute turn again, reflecting on what it was like to share your insights and hear other people’s stories.
Sharing stories of positive experiences helps evoke the “left shift” in the brain; we experience more neural firing in the left hemisphere of the brain, the part of the brain that allows us to be more open to experience, encouraging learning and growth.