“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it” – William Arthur Ward

I saw a hand-made poster with this quote on it everyday while I worked at a public high school in Michigan. This flimsy poster hung on the cheap painted brick of our mailroom, staring down the decrepit coffeemaker.  Although I had the simple sentence memorized after my first week of work, I would re-read the sign each time I needed to nuke my frozen enchiladas or Papa John’s leftovers. Being in an environment with pervasive encouraging messages, such as a high school hallway or graduation ceremony, tends to leave me feeling desensitized to inspiration—overloaded with various life philosophies to “do better.” And yet, this poster had my attention. Each time I looked at it I would see it from a slightly new angle, pondering how it applied to my life.

After the quote had been sufficiently burned into my mind, I had a critical realization. Much of my energy in my relationships-to my family, my friends, my partner, and my coworkers- was focused on the day to day experiences that we were sharing. I realized that I had neglected to reflect to my dearest and most important people what was in my heart.  I had no idea how my life was about to change when I decided to live by this simple idea: focus on and express your gratitude.

This probably sounds easier said than done! How can I focus on gratitude when I’m failing my classes, broke up with my ex, lost my job, ETC! It not only sounds impractical, but scary too. Expressing gratitude asks me to say OUT LOUD the softer feelings inside of me that I don’t express. This may be because I assume the other person knows how I feel or because it would be uncomfortable to actually say it. It is not easy to be vulnerable, to continually try to reach new heights of honesty and exposure.

Yet, living by this philosophy fundamentally changed the quality of my relationships and my daily mindset. It asked me to stop, reflect on the people I see every day, and make a point to tell those people what they mean to me. Focusing on gratitude entails giving some credit to others for their influence in your life. It can be uncomfortable at first. Being vulnerable is something that we need to train for, and work up to, just like a marathon.

This quote stands out to me because it asks me to be myself, to be humble, and to be honest—all difficult things to do.  Everyday that I came into the mailroom and soaked in the essence of this quote, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy reflecting on the love, laughter, and meaning that my closest relationships give to me.

So, I ask you this: When you read the quote, who pops into your head?