To a three-year-old, there is nothing better than bubbles in the park. My daughter, Lucy, and I were at the playground last Spring, when our friend Jenn and her son, Jackson, came through with the ultimate party-starter: a bubble wand. Jenn waved the wand and filled the air with shiny, watery globes that wobbled along in the warm breeze. Even though Lucy’s a big girl who can swim and play piano and write her numbers, seeing her shrieking and giggling and running after bubbles was a good reminder that she’s still my baby.
But then disaster struck: Jenn’s wand ran dry. As the last bubble popped, Lucy’s smile faded and her shoulders hunched. She stomped over to me and looked like she was going to cry. I asked was she okay and she somberly reported that the bubbles were gone. I gave her a consoling pat on the shoulder, but asked if she’d thanked Jenn for bringing bubbles in the first place. My daughter looked at me like I was insane and her frown deepened. I told Lucy to go thank Jenn. She moped, but walked over and said thank you.
“You’re welcome,” Jenn said, with a smile.
Lucy’s face brightened. A bit later she was running around with Jackson, giggling like the bubbles never left.
That moment taught me the healing power of gratitude. Being grateful is not about having good manners or just being nice, it’s about making yourself whole. My daughter’s sadness wasn’t simply about bubbles. The pain of her need had lead her to feel anger and alienation toward someone who had shown her kindness. Not only had she lost the bubbles, she had lost the connection. The pain wasn’t released until she recognized the kindness, which strengthened her connection and helped her release her need. After she gave thanks, she could feel close, feel loved again.
A child without gratitude is a child in torment. Always wanting, never being able to appreciate the gift of the present moment. In the same way, joy is only possible when we show gratitude to those that help us, even in small ways. Bombarded in our daily lives by guilt, shame, and fear, witnessing and testifying about the kindness and blessings we receive takes hard, heart work. But our connection to other people, to ourselves, and even to God, depends on our ability to give thanks. All of us deserve to realize how much we should be thankful for. All of us.