By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
For some, it is a daily practice. For others, it happens once in a lifetime —when it is almost too late.
The way we practice gratitude, or thankfulness, can shape our emotions and values, according to countless self-help books and even our most hallowed spiritual and religious organizations. It can also bring about lingering regret and solicitude—if done too late.
For this edition, and in preparation for Thanksgiving, Northwest Asian Weekly asked a variety of community members the same question: “How do you practice gratitude?”
Their emailed responses varied over the wide range of human emotions and inspirations.
Galen Kawaguchi, 51, an accountant/CPA, practices gratitude through immersing herself in nature through her long runs. It is a way to appreciate that she can still remain active and energetic in middle age—and drink in the nourishing power of the earth and its fecund manifestations of life.
“As I have moved officially into middle age, I feel immensely grateful for the ability to continue the activities that bring me joy,” she wrote.
“I express this gratitude on a regular basis by taking the time to get out of the city and into nature, where I can run, listen to the sounds of the woods, breathe in the fresh air. I show my appreciation by taking the time to notice the small things: the moss on the trees, the sun glistening on the wet branches, the scent of the pine needles and wet leaves.”
For Charlize Sow, 10, practicing gratitude is about nurturing ties with people by simply and frequently saying thank you—or by gift-giving. Quiet acts show sincerity of heart and purity of spirit.
“To show gratitude or appreciation,” she wrote, “You can say ‘thank you,’ ‘I appreciate it,’ you can give hugs, you can give presents and gifts.”
For her sister, Chloe Sow, 14, practicing gratitude is about persistence in seeking to understand others. She wants to find ways to honor another person’s kindness, such as the right gift to bestow upon those she loves or to whom she is grateful.
“I believe little things matters,” she wrote. “Always remember to show your appreciation, e.g. a simple gift, or a small action (like a hug) will do.”
“It should be something that shows that you cared about what they did for you,” she added.
C.C. Tien, 91, president and managing editor of Chinese American Forum, has practiced gratitude his whole life after living through the Japanese occupation of China and observing the vicissitudes of war. He has promoted mutual understanding between China and the United States, facilitated peaceful trade between the two countries, and nurtured Chinese culture and community here in the Pacific Northwest. Honored throughout his life with various awards for service to the community, including the 2019 Asian American Service Award bestowed by the Chinese Institute of Engineers (CIE), he sees practicing gratitude as informed by purity of heart.
“On practicing gratitude, it could be small or large,” he wrote.
“Small is personal and one time. Large could be your parents and the community that is for a lifetime.”
“I always try to give back and more with thankfulness in my heart,” wrote Tien.
Matt Bealle, a handyman, practices gratitude by noticing and appreciating selfless kindness—kindness that is given without even being asked for.
“I practice gratitude by recognizing what other people do for me and do for society that I don’t request. I appreciate it by saying, ‘Thanks for all you do’ and give them a warm smile, and possibly a warm hug or a firm handshake,” he wrote.
He also practices gratitude through humility, by becoming a follower of other people’s goodness.
“And I try, through my own actions to other people and towards society, to reflect my appreciation for their efforts by following their example,” he added.
For Chien-Heng Chou, a professor of Physics in Taiwan, the practice came too late. For his entire life, he saw his father as stern and restrictive.
“Walking the street, he would look like a military officer,” said Chou. “When he would pass by the armed military police headquarters, the guards would automatically salute him.”
In fact, his father was an engineer, but he had escaped to Taiwan from China with the Nationalist regime in 1949 and had lost almost everything to war and hardship. When his father was dying, and in the hospital, Chou was surprised by what his father asked him.
“I still remember that my father asked me if I love him,” he wrote.
“I told him I will never forget what he has done for me. And no matter what, I would not forget, forever, how he took care of me so kindly when I was a child,” he added.
And in remembering his departed father, he practices gratitude by acting like a father to his younger brother, filling a father’s role.
When a leader of Taiwan’s military succored his younger brother, Chou had to think carefully about how to respond. To offer a gift, or some crude form of thanks, would have been deemed rude and indelicate, and could actually have done more harm than good. But still he wanted the officer to know how vital his help had been to his younger brother. In the end, he had to refrain from any overt and excessive show of thanks. But his words were carefully chosen—and deeply sincere.
“I know that sometimes, it is just impossible to give someone a reward,” he wrote. “The reason is that that person’s help is so vital, that you can’t even measure the value of that person’s help.”
“One of the highest ranked officers of Taiwan’s army helped and protected my young brother,” wrote Chou. “I could not give him any reward, I just told him I would copy his good will to help others.”
Sometimes a memory is all it takes.
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.