We all belong to the world in concentric circles of relationship — some more distant and others close, some with people different from us and others with people more similar. Living within this web of connectedness can bring us the greatest of joys and the deepest of challenges. The preferences, patterns, and habits we have learned can both build relational bridges and create great divides. Much of how we operate in our relationships can be unconscious and beneath our awareness, and so we go through life feeling perpetually “at the effect of” others, rather than intentional and effectual.

Photo by Gerd Altmann

Our lives and our relationships are well-served when we can lift our unconscious patterns into the light of day, embrace our shared humanity and vulnerability, and allow gratefulness to lead us into new ways of being and relating. Always, the domain of relationship offers fertile ground in which we can learn about ourselves, one another, and life as a whole. Deepening our capacity for presence, perspective, and possibility in our relationships can transform our experience of our interconnectedness and therefore life itself. And expanding our capacity for connectedness matters hugely — the future of our species and planet depends mightily on our ability to extend ourselves with compassion to less familiar others and to cooperate in nourishing the vitality and accessibility of the common good. Recognizing that we are in relationship with our larger human family and our Earth in every moment no matter what we are doing, we are called to consider relationships in their widest possible arc.

Gratefulness supports us to experience deep appreciation for the blessings of our vast web of relatedness. Becoming present, we practice opening our awareness to all of the ways in which we are already interconnected, interdependent, and inextricable from one another. We offer a humble bow to the people on whom we rely simply to be alive, to be well, and to enjoy any of the comforts we might enjoy. Those who deliver our mail, build streets, make clothing, grow food, develop medicines, and the millions of other gifts of love and labor on which we depend. We bow to the lines of lineage of which we are the manifestation in this moment. This web extends back into time to embrace all the relatives and ancestors who made sacrifices, made choices, and made love in order that we would be here now. And this web extends forward through generations that will come after us, impacted by every choice made and not made by our global collective. Finally, we offer a grateful bow to the constellation of deep ties we have with people in our lifetime. Whether we are actively in connection with them in this moment or not, they still hold us and we hold them. It is a matter of the heart. These networks of interconnection are some of the greatest sources of meaning and meaning-making in our lives, and they warrant being held with our most humble and generous regard.

A benevolent cycle of reciprocity is a powerful energy exchange to nurture.

Photo by Gerd Altmann

Typically, when we think of being more grateful in relationships, we focus on trying to remember to express gratitude for the things that people do for us or give to us that we appreciate — the unexpected kindnesses, the perfect gesture of support, the thoughtful gift, the fabulous meal. Getting better at offering this kind of gratitude is surely a worthy aspiration: A benevolent cycle of reciprocity is a powerful energy exchange to nurture. There is endless counsel these days to guide us in how to get better at thanking people, with research to back it up. We might simply remember that whenever we express thanks to someone for something, the more detailed, timely, and sincere the better — both for ourselves and those we seek to thank. May we all strive for this depth of gratitude. The more we experience and express appreciation for more people, the more all of us will benefit.

In addition to practicing our “thank yous,” a grateful orientation invites us to focus on approaching our relationships with great fullness of heart, without anything having been done to necessarily benefit us directly. Cultivating a deeper recognition of gratitude for the existence of the people in our lives, not so much to them for something tangible they have done or given, is a different type of focus. While this distinction between to and for could seem slight, it speaks to a truly significant difference in approach — one that is grounded in poignancy, vulnerability, and perspective. We recognize that the people in our lives are true gifts for both us and the world as a whole, impacting us in ways that we can scarcely fathom. Poignancy recognizes that the presence of people in our lives is a blessing in this moment that could always be otherwise…and someday surely will be.

Not taking people for granted is a foundational commitment in how we live gratefully in relationship, and the sentiments we use to honor people may be slightly different in how they are both delivered and received. Coming from a grateful heart:

  • We acknowledge the fact that people have endless opportunities and options about ways that they can share their time and hearts. “I am grateful you choose to be connected with me…”
  • We recognize that people are distinct from who we are, individuated by who they are always in a process of becoming. “I am grateful for who you are…”
  • We affirm people and help them know that they are seen for how they move through the world. “I am so grateful for the ways you…treat strangers, the ripples of joy you leave in your wake, the creativity you bring to everything, the integrity of your choices.”

Ultimately, every bit of gratitude that we can feel and express in our entire web of connectedness is worthwhile.

Photo by Gerd Altmann

While relationships — if we are fortunate — will offer us many gestures and moments for which we can express gratitude, the most meaningful grateful expressions come from our differentiated and deeply tender hearts. We indicate our full capacity to notice and truly see the other — this happens best with some perspective and an abundance of available attention — both vital and challenging to come by. We share a form of cherishing embedded in the recognition of the magnificence of the other, not simply steeped in the ways that we might benefit from them.

Ultimately, every bit of gratitude that we can feel and express in our entire web of connectedness is worthwhile. There is so much goodness to be gained and given when we generously cherish the many gifts we receive from relationships in our lives, in every way that we can.

In the spirit of gratefulness, may we remember to drop into the great fullness of our own hearts and find ourselves able to tune more deeply into the hearts of others. May our interconnectedness and inextricability keep us compassionate. May perspective keep us humble. And may our capacity to recognize, appreciate, and acknowledge the true blessings and gifts of all others grow more luminous and generous every day.

Kristi Nelson

Kristi Nelson

About the author

Kristi Nelson is our Ambassador for Grateful Living and the author of Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted. She served as Executive Director at Grateful Living from 2014 - 2022. Her life’s work in the non-profit sector has focused on leading, inspiring, and strengthening organizations committed to progressive social and spiritual change. Being a long-time stage IV cancer survivor moves her every day to support others in living and loving with great fullness of heart.