Shabbat Sermon for November 18, 2022: “Gratitude” by David Liebschutz
One of the many things that Rabbi Weisbrot has brought to our congregation is her weekly “moment of gratitude” as part of the Tefilah. This is a time where we get to share the good things in our life that we are grateful for over the past week.
This practice, which she saw modeled at her home synagogue with her mentor Rabbi Randy Sheinberg, clearly made an impression on her and has likewise, I hope, made an impression upon us.
Given that this is the Shabbat before Thanksgiving, I thought I would take a few minutes to “unpack” why showing gratitude might be a more important practice than just once a week at Shabbat services or once a year at the Thanksgiving table.
In other words, why does gratitude matter and how do we make it a regular part of our lives?
I am quoting from Character Lab, an organization founded about 10 years ago by the social psychologist Angela Duckworth and others to help instill positive character traits in children (and by extension in adults).
When you feel gratitude, you feel a sense of abundance. When you express gratitude —especially when it’s heartfelt — you strengthen your relationships with others. Grateful people are happier and more fulfilled. And gratitude leads you to be nicer to other people: more cooperative, patient and trusting.
Think about how your day or week is going. How many of these things did you do?
- You said “thank you” to someone.
- You did something nice to show your appreciation.
- You can list lots of people and things that you’re lucky to have in your life.
- You noticed when someone helped you.
- You felt a sense of thankfulness.
So, even if I did all of the above, how do we encourage “the attitude of gratitude” in others?
Model it. Talk about the good things that happen to you: “I love this gorgeous sunny day!” Reframe difficulties by highlighting positive aspects: “Work has been stressful lately, but I’m grateful that my boss trusts me with important responsibilities.”
Celebrate it. Acknowledge when someone demonstrates gratitude: “It makes me feel really great when you thank me for what I am doing.” Display thank you notes you’ve received where others can see them. Post Three Good Things on social media.
Enable it. Keep stationery handy for writing thank you notes. At dinner, make it a habit to begin by sharing one good thing that happened that day. Establish a birthday ritual to write notes of appreciation.
And while the Character Lab formula is on its face not especially religious or spiritual or Jewish, I would argue that all of these values are very Jewish and in fact are part of all of our daily practice.
To cite just a few examples even beyond Modim Anachnu Lach that we just recited:
From Modeh Ani in the morning service to the aforementioned Modim Anachnu Lach, to saying the Birkat Hamazon, we are constantly thanking God. Although we are constantly praising God through daily prayers, songs and more, as Jews we must “exercise our gratitude muscles” so that we can become conscious of all the blessings that we have in our lives and their source.
So, on this Shabbat and in the days ahead leading to our national holiday of Thanksgiving, let’s model, celebrate and enable gratitude as Jews and as Americans for all the blessings that we have.
So as promised, what are you grateful for this Shabbat and this Thanksgiving season? Let’s do some “modeling”!