“Say ‘Thank you.’”
“Huh? OK. Thank you?”
“No, no, say it like you mean it.”
“Um. … Thank you!”
“Good job. Always say thank you.”
This simple exchange between a parent and child is familiar to many, whether from the perspective of a father or mother, or the son or daughter. But in this exchange, the child learned how to say, “Thank you,” not how to be grateful.
“As a father, despite sometimes falling into this kind of exchange, I want our children to do more than say, ‘Thank you,’” said BYU–Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe III. “I want our children to say it like they mean it and to actually mean it. I want my children to not only say, ‘Thank you,’ but to be thankful.”
Similarly, Heavenly Father desires that each person develops and demonstrates genuine gratitude and reap the blessings that it brings.
During a devotional on Tuesday, Feb. 22, President Kauwe and his wife, Sister Monica Kauwe, spoke to students gathered in the Cannon Activities Center on the BYU–Hawaii campus in Laie, Hawaii.
The benefits of practicing gratitude are numerous and increase over time, President Kauwe said. “Some of these benefits include relieving stress, creating more positive emotions, strengthening social relationships, sleeping better, being more physically healthy, lowering the risk of depression and maintaining higher self-esteem, among many others.”
President Kauwe quoted from President Russell M. Nelson’s November 2020 message on gratitude: “I have concluded that counting our blessings is far better than recounting our problems. No matter our situation, showing gratitude for our privileges is a fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual prescription.”
When he pondered this quote, President Kauwe thought of the ocean and one of the most challenging types of fishing, fly-fishing for ‘o’io, or bonefish, on shallow ocean flats. Between the fish’s silvery, reflective scales, the white sand and the wind-chopped surface of the water, the fish are practically invisible.
A tool that makes all the difference is polarized glasses, which work by filtering horizontal light out while allowing vertical light through the lenses, which removes much of the glare and clarifies the image. President Kauwe said: “Without them, you could easily walk past and spook a dozen bonefish without even realizing they were there. With them, you can see the opportunities to catch fish despite the glare created by the sun, wind and sand.”
Counting blessings is like putting on polarized glasses, he said. “Through the lens of gratitude, we can clearly see the privileges that we enjoy — the blessings and opportunities all around us, even in the toughest conditions. Gratitude allows us to see happiness and satisfaction through the glare of challenging life events.”
Cultivating gratitude takes some effort. President Kauwe suggested “setting aside a few minutes each day to enjoy the world around you, writing a thank you note, consciously smiling more often, calling your parents and other family members, not gossiping, and helping your friends see the positive side of their lives. Perhaps try a short, mindful walk around campus or the temple grounds, taking care to note your gratitude for what you encounter, think and feel along the way.”
One of President Kauwe’s favorite ways to cultivate gratitude is to express it in a “thank you” text. “If at any time I have a thought of gratitude for someone in my life, present or past, I send them a text and say it.”
Gratitude makes one aware of his or her privileges. President Kauwe said: “You may sometimes be reminded to ‘check your privilege.’ This is not cause for offense. It’s an opportunity for each of us to reassess our lives through the lens of gratitude.”
It also motivates one to follow Jesus Christ’s example and increase desire and capacity to demonstrate that gratitude to God and one’s fellow beings, he said.
Cultivating gratitude shouldn’t grind one down or create a burden of guilt. “As we seek to cultivate gratitude we should avoid comparisons, we should be sincere, we should ensure that our efforts are practical and sustainable and we need to accept all progress, even if small, as success,” President Kauwe said.
“Seeing life through the lens of gratitude gives us a clear view of our privileges, their source and the resulting stewardship. This knowledge allows us to see through the glare of the world and find joy in our own blessings and the blessings that others receive. It allows us to thrive temporally and spiritually amid our challenges.”
Strengthening one’s foundation
During the last 18 months, the Kauwe family underwent a major transition when they moved from Utah to Laie during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day felt difficult and uncomfortable.
“Despite that discomfort, the Spirit confirmed to me that this is where our Heavenly Father wants us to be,” said Sister Kauwe.
The Kauwe family has since been able to adjust to their new life in Hawaii. “In a time when it has felt like everything our family knew was changing, we have been able to find stability and strength in our activities, love for each other, and love for our BYU–Hawaii ohana,” Sister Kauwe said.
She recognized that the students have gone through or are going through similar uncomfortable, disorienting experiences. She said: “I assure you that things can and will get better. A strong spiritual foundation is the key.”
Sister Kauwe based her remarks on President Nelson’s 2022 New Year’s Day invitation to build one’s spiritual foundation, in which he wrote on social media, “This may involve setting a specific time and place to study the scriptures, praying more often, making temple worship a bigger priority and letting God prevail in all aspects of your life.”
By studying the scriptures daily, one builds faith and testimonies and learns to recognize important doctrines and principles that guide one’s life, she said. Scripture study “is essential to our eternal salvation. We need to be guided by the words of the scriptures and the words of the living prophet and apostles.”
Daily personal prayer helps one make righteous choices each day. “Through daily prayer we also come to know Heavenly Father better and we can feel His great love for us,” she said.
Covenants made in the temple strengthen one’s spiritual foundation. Sister Kauwe said: “As we visit the temple often, we are reminded of the promises and blessings we receive there. Make temple covenants your goal and strive to live worthy to enter His holy house.”
One can let God prevail in his or her life by “striving to keep our covenants with God and by seeking revelation from Him,” Sister Kauwe said.
These four suggestions from President Nelson seem easy, but each person will fall short at one point or another. “And that is why we have a Savior,” Sister Kauwe said.
“Repentance is part of life and it is how we learn. The Lord is asking for our best effort. If we are striving and giving all we can do to do what’s right and honor our covenants and commitments that is enough for our Savior. If we are honestly trying to improve in our weaknesses and shortcomings on a continual basis, then we can be happy with ourselves and know that our Savior is happy with us too.”