Several months ago, one of our fellow UCC churches in New Jersey asked if I would be willing to lead their annual men’s retreat this October. At the time, they were unsure what theme they wanted to explore but would contact me again over the summer to begin planning the weekend’s agenda.
When they got back to me in July, they were no longer searching for a theme. They unequivocally wanted to explore the concept of “Hope”. They had sensed a clear struggle on the part of their members to maintain a sense of hope in the current tumultuous political and social climate.
After several weeks of research and reflection, I proposed and then carried out a program for them based on approaching hope as a spiritual and psychological skill- not something we either have or don’t have, but instead all have an innate disposition toward to varying degrees. That disposition can be improved and maintained through the development of other habits. It is an understanding of hope as a by-product of other life practices.
Of those habits, one of the few which showed up on nearly every piece of research I came across regarding people who were evaluated as being generally “hopeful” was gratitude. Hopeful people tend to be people for whom gratitude is a consistent life practice.
So as we enter the month of November - the month of Thanksgiving - I invite you to try a little experiment on yourself. Each day throughout the month, perform a practice of gratitude. Make a list at the end of a day of the things you are grateful for from it. Send an email or note thanking someone, whether it is for something recent or long ago. Make a donation to a charity, school or other organization in the name of someone you are grateful to for something that made a difference your life.
Then, at the end of the month, see if you haven’t become a more grateful person. And because of that, a more hopeful one as well.