Gratitude: 2016’s Word of the Year

January 4, 2016 Rachel Hutchisson

It’s a new year, so that must mean it’s time for reflection.

I guess it makes sense how endings, followed by beginnings, naturally push us to hit rewind and replay what went well…and what we actively seek to leave behind. Alas, with all that happened in the world in 2015, all that left us bruised but resilient, I can’t say I am sad to embrace this new beginning, this opportunity to start afresh.

That’s what was on my mind as I made my way through the final week of 2015, with my mind clear, rested from the break but not yet ready to gear up for a return to work. You could say it was a time for clarity.

If you know me, you know that I spend a lot of time thinking about philanthropy. My work and life are intertwined, driven by a core belief that “good is for everyone”—and that good (in all its forms) DOES make a difference in a world filled with hardship. Given this, you will not be surprised that I found inspiration that last week of the year from a book I had somehow missed but was destined to find.

The Altruistic Brain: How We Are Naturally Good, published almost exactly a year ago, was written by Donald W. Pfaff, PhD, a professor in the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at The Rockefeller University. This book explores how our brains are, truly, hardwired for good or as, Science magazine put it, “the biology and neuroscience of human prosociality.”

Interesting, isn’t it, how right when we seek new inspiration—are open to it—something happens that we’re uniquely ready to absorb or learn from?

That’s the only way I can explain why I hadn’t run across this book before, why it presented itself to me as I was reflecting on 2015 and thinking to the future. I hesitate to say that I was formulating resolutions for the year, but the timing was certainly right to send my musings in that direction.

I can’t explain exactly how I got from one to the other, but thinking about being neurologically designed for good landed me thinking about a related idea—being grateful. In a world that can be so hard, during a time that can be so stressful, in communities that can demand so much from us, it is easy to be focused on the doing, the need, the gaps, the flaws.

Which brings me to those resolutions that are so popular at this time of year. Aren’t they usually self-focused, centering on the ways we see ourselves as deficient? I’d like to suggest an alternative, focused on what I am adopting as the 2016 word of the year—Gratitude.  And the alternative is this. Instead of adopting resolutions about what we eat, drink or how much we exercise, why not be guided by being thankful? Why not be outward in what we resolve to do as a way of improving ourselves inwardly?

How? For me, I’ve resolved to help people I am grateful are in my life. People who I am uniquely able to help, who will bring me joy through their success. There’s a layer of detail under this idea, of course, that I’m going to keep to myself (the specifics of who and how and through what actions) but suffice it to say that I am resolving to take on an orientation that allows me to better see and experience gratitude…and respond in ways both small and large.

We are wired for good! Isn’t that a great headline for this new year? The very idea makes me feel hopeful for all we can and will accomplish in 2016, how we will grow, how we will walk through this world and leave it a little better. I hope to see you on the journey.


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