To All the Giants, Whose Shoulders We Stand On

November 15, 2019

By Jennifer Takács

What is gratitude? Harvard Health Publishing defines gratitude as “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible.” I was recently reminded of the power of gratitude during Derek Tangredi’s keynote speech at the Bring IT Together Conference in Niagara Falls. After listening to his transformative experiences at Wilfred Jury Public School, I was inspired to reflect on the benefits of gratitude in my own life.

A Short Exercise in Gratitude

One way to practice gratitude is to think about an important relationship in your life and the ways in which your life has been enhanced as a result of the individual. Forbes contributor Karlyn Borysenko, writes “practicing gratitude is a mindful act of focusing your energy and attention on the things that enhance your experience, rather than on the things that detract from it.” By training our minds to focus on how someone’s actions have enhanced our quality of life, we learn the practice of positive association. Furthermore, it enhances our ability to be empathetic as we make connections to authentic emotions experienced as a result of the actions of someone else. When we are deliberate and genuine in our appreciation the results can be powerful.

While I am fortunate enough to live amongst a community of giants, there is one in particular who has significantly shaped the woman who I am today — my nagymama (the Hungarian word for grandmother) Jolan Takács. Shortly after WWII, when Soviet influence extended throughout Hungary, my nagymama, her husband and their two small children emigrated to Toronto, Canada. Today, at 91, she is the oldest (and sharpest) member of my family, and can still make the best walnut mocha torte I’ve ever tasted.

In reflecting on my relationship with my nagymama, many different memories and reasons to be grateful came to mind. The two that stood out to me the most and that have contributed to my own personal growth are shared below.

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My nagymama and I at my Bachelor of Education convocation.

  1. Through the fortunate gift of travel at a young age, my nagymama helped me foster a natural curiosity and fondness for experiencing new cultures. My early exposure to travel outside of North America was a result of the generosity of my grandparents who often financed trips that my entire family would go on. I spent hours on the beaches of Cartagena, Colombia chasing my sister and marveling at the brightly coloured buildings. During sixth grade, I had my first vacation without my parents. My grandmother pulled me out of school for 3 weeks and off we went to explore Budapest, Hungary. These early experiences in interacting with and learning about different cultures prompted me to explore my own cultural identity and cultivated an appreciation and respect for diversity that has extended throughout my life. To date, I’ve lived on 3 different continents and travelled to over 27 countries (and I’m not even thirty yet)!
  2. My nagymama taught me the true meaning of resiliency. In a letter to his son, Albert Einstein once wrote “It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.” The concept of balance that Einstein suggests is something that I identify with. Every individual conceptualizes balance differently; however, in a world dominated by materialism we have learned to emphasize the bad over the good — what we don’t have over what we do.
    My nagymama never once subscribed to the ideals of materialism — even before I was born. In fact, if there was one person who I could count on to see the upside of having nothing it is without a doubt my nagymama. In spite of many horrific traumas, for example, losing her daughter at a young age to a car crash, she has always found a way to share her appreciation of the world around her with others. In her constant practice of resilience in the face of adversity, she has taught me how to find balance by giving to others. When I encounter challenges, whether personal, academic or professional, I keep moving along on my metaphorical bike, regaining balance through paying it forward. At times it requires grit and mental determination, but I remind myself of my nagymama, who in her most vulnerable moments, shows grace and spends time building up the happiness of others. I am humbled.

Cultivating Gratitude Daily

The practice of gratitude can be done in numerous ways. The key is to find an approach that works for you and to spend some time reflecting. If you’re someone interested in incorporating a gratitude practice into your daily routine here are a few things that work for me:

Set aside 10 minutes or more for some guided meditation. In the digital age, it’s easy to connect to great mindfulness apps and meditation can be done in a number of ways (on your commute, when you wake up, while your taking a shower — the list is endless). I personally use buddhify which has an upfront cost of $5.99 and an impressive number of guided meditations. My favourite time to incorporate meditation is right before bed as it’s usually when my anxieties surface the most. buddhify categorizes meditations based on settings, moods and even training in meditation techniques.

Start a gratitude ritual. How you approach this totally depends on how much time you want to devote to the activity but typically my ritual is to have a conversation with my roommate/cousin about our successes and opportunities of the day. Through this process we are able to analyze our perceptions of events and get a second perspective that we may not have thought of. For us it’s important to focus on framing the negative experiences as opportunities to learn. As my cousin would say — embrace the uncomfortable.

Pay it Forward. There’s nothing that brings a smile to my face like sharing my thankfulness with others. Something as simple as incorporating a genuine statement of appreciation in one daily interaction is a great way to start. Since beginning my role at Hackergal, I’ve transitioned into commuting to work on public transit. It amazes me every day how helpful and sweet the TTC drivers are and how much unnecessary negative energy they navigate. I’ve made it a habit to sit closer to the front of the bus, and when getting off to let my driver know just how much I appreciate their work. As we drive straight ahead into winter depression, remember the everyday Giants — and appreciate them.

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