Researchers have found that when we think about someone or something we truly appreciate, and experience the feeling that goes with the thought, we trigger the parasympathetic or calming branch of the autonomic nervous system. With repetition, this pattern bestows a protective effect on the heart.
When you send out positive vibrations, you receive the same back from others. Showing gratitude passes positive energy from one person to another. It can positively affect someone’s day, week, or entire life. It also brings us happiness, which is healthy. Gratitude is a universal experience and has been a component of many religious traditions for centuries.
Not only is it a desirable virtue, but an essential element to wholeness and well-being. When I was a young man in the army I experienced an act of generosity that forever changed my life and how I treated other people. I was on a weekend pass when I decided to buy myself a used car. I saw a small black Austin that took my breath away.
It was perfect. It had room for four. It would be cheap to run. I decided to buy it so I sat down with the manager to conduct my first meaningful transaction. The car cost $300 and I only had $50. “No problem,” the manager told me. “Fifty dollars is enough to start.” By then, I had all kinds of pictures in my head of me having fun with my new car.
He brought out the papers for me to sign to borrow the other $250 from him. When it came time to sign, he asked me where I worked. I told him I was a soldier stationed at Camp Borden. At that point, his entire demeanour changed. He took the papers back. “I didn’t know you were a soldier,” he said. “I cannot offer you any financing.” Naturally, I was distraught. Nothing I could do or say could change his mind.
I left his office and hitchhiked right back to camp. I went into my barracks and sat on my bed. I must have looked very dejected because Duty Sergeant Jack Vart asked me, “Why are you back at camp when you have a weekend pass?” I told him the woeful story of the car.
He left and came back a few minutes later. “I’m off duty,” he said. “I’m driving back to Barrie so come on and we’ll have a talk with the manager of the used car lot. I’ll see if I can put in a good word for you.”
At that point, I would have grasped at any straw. I thought I had exhausted every avenue, so I really had nothing to lose. When we got to the car lot, Sergeant Vart told me to wait in the car while he went in to talk to the manager. He returned to the car several minutes later and told me the man had changed his mind. I went in and the manager had all the papers ready to sign. “I’ll make an exception in your case,” he told me.
I drove that car for over a year and I cannot tell you how much happiness it brought me. One day after I had paid the car off, ahead of schedule, I received a letter and a copy of the agreement in the mail. When I read over the agreement, I saw there were actually two agreements. The first agreement had my signature on it, and the second one had the signature of Sergeant Vart. Until that moment, I had no idea he had actually provided his personal guarantee that I would pay for the car.
He had assumed all the risk. I still get goose bumps thinking how he trusted me enough to put himself on the line for me. What’s more, he didn’t’ even tell me he had done it. I am forever grateful for Sergeant Vart’s support. Today, if I can help someone through an act of trust, I do it. It just goes to show that you can change a life with an act of kindness.
Who’s Packing Your Chute?
There’s a famous story about gratitude that involves Charles Plumb, a US Naval Academy graduate, was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After seventy-five combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb parachuted into enemy hands. He spent the next six years in a Vietnamese prison. He now tells his story to people throughout the United States.
One day, he and his wife were sitting in a restaurant when a man at another table said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Nam from the carrier, Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!” “How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb. “Oh, I was the one who packed your parachute,” the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. “Yep, I guess it worked!” the man laughed. “It sure did work,” Plumb said. “If your ’chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”
That night Plumb thought a lot about the man who had packed his parachute. He kept wondering what the man might have looked like in uniform. “I wondered how many times I might have passed him on the Kitty Hawk. I wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘good morning’ or ‘how are you?’ or anything, because you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.”
He thought of the many hours the man had spent at a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, meticulously weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each ’chute. Did he realize he held a man’s life in his hands each time he packed a ’chute? Now Plumb, a motivational speaker, asks his audiences, “Who’s packing your ’chute?”
Showing appreciation, he feels, brings magic and blessings into the lives of those we meet.
How many times have we heard about people in the depths of despair who find their lives unexpectedly changed because of the kind words or acts of a stranger? What about people who felt inspired to achieve remarkable goals because a stranger showed appreciation?
As an unknown author wrote so poignantly, “To the world you may be just somebody, but to somebody you may just be the world.”
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It will look like this: The Universal Experience of Gratitude