No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main. John Donne
When we think of gratitude, we consider the many ways we have been blessed by God, and this is appropriate and good. But we also have reasons to be grateful to other people. Several years ago, I attended a workshop on Positive Psychology, which is the study of factors that make some people exceptionally positive. The workshop leader has us do a little exercise and I want to share it.
Sit down with a piece of paper and pen or pencil. You can try to do it in your head, but it won’t be as effective. Take the time to put thought into your response to each question. Try to stretch your brain a bit.
First, write down the names of people who have helped or added to your life in some way. You don’t need to write their full name, just what you would call them. This could include your parents, grandparents or other relatives, your friends or teachers. Try to include everyone you can think of who has helped you or benefited you, big or small. This list will be fairly long. Consider that you would not be who you are or where you are if these people had not been in your life.
When you’ve exhausted this list, write a list of people you’ve never met who have added to the quality of your life. This list could include inventors of things you use every day, like electric lights, cars, heating and cooling systems, television and radio, etc. It could also include the founders of our country and our democratic system of government, as well as the soldiers who have defended it. This list could go on forever, so just include the people or categories of people that come to mind in a few minutes.
Finally, make a list of those people who may have hurt you, but who did also contribute to your life in some positive way. This might include that abandoning parent, who did at least give you life. Or it could include an unkind teacher, who did teach you something of value. This may be the most difficult list, but it is important. Like it or not, we sometimes owe a debt of gratitude to even those we don’t like.
When I finished this exercise, I felt a renewed sense of connection to mankind. I am who I am because of so many. I owe so many a debt of gratitude. I think you will as well. You may relate to the words of Walt Whitman, who said, “I am large – I contain multitudes.”