01 November 2022

The Gift of Gratitude

"Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts."

--Henri Frederic Amiel

Hurricane Ian was a Category 4 storm with 155 mph maximum sustained winds, a 12-18 foot storm surge above ground level, and 18 inches of rain (1-in-1000-year amounts in some places) that came ashore near Cayo Costa in Southwest Florida on the morning of 28 September 2022. NOAA reported that Ian tied the record for the fifth-strongest hurricane to strike the United States.

Hurricane Ian (C) NASA
The reports from survivors have this in common--grief for loss and gratitude for life.

Ralph and Brenda Palmer's electricity was restored in their mobile home park in Fort Meyers, Florida. That made it possible to survey their property and discover a home likely beyond repair. "You can't save everything my children tell me, but it's my life, and it's gone," Mrs. Palmer says to an A.P. reporter nearby. Then she begins to cry.  

"I'm glad to be alive," said 81-year-old Punta Gorda resident Susan DiGregorio. She had planned to evacuate, but the person who was to help her leave had COVID-19, and DiGregorio weighed the risks and decided to stay.

During the height of the storm, she heard aluminum screaming as her roof was ripped off. After that, she said she made peace with death.

"I'm glad to see the sun," she said Friday. "I'm glad to hear the birds that made it through the storm." 

Florida Emergency Management reports at least 127 deaths, mostly from drowning. Power has been restored to all accounts on the mainland that can receive it (from peak outages of 2.6 million accounts across the state). Core Logic estimates $40 to 70 billion dollars in losses, insured and uninsured property. In addition, Governor Ron DeSantis says that the power grids in Lee and Charlotte Counties will likely have to be rebuilt.

What's harder to assess is the blow to victims' mental health. That toll could mount for years.

What is gratitude? 

Psychology Today defines gratitude as an emotion expressing an appreciation for what one has as opposed to what one wants. 

"The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person's life, said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis. Professor Emmons, a leading expert on the science of gratitude, underscores the health benefits. "Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide." 

According to Pew Research, large majorities of the adult population regularly feel an ongoing sense of gratitude. In addition, Pew discovered that appreciation is found among those with and without a college degree; it is shared by individuals up and down the economic ladder, with higher levels of gratitude more common among highly religious people than those who are not.

Amy Rees Anderson says gratitude is a gift. 

"The gift of gratitude is something we already possess and can learn to discover better," she writes. Her conclusion? "This gift is available should you wish to see it, take it, and cultivate it." 

How can individuals lose everything and be grateful? 

After experiencing a natural disaster of this magnitude, having a sense of normality may take a long time--if ever. Relocating or rebuilding are questions facing thousands of residents. Interviewed by media outlets in hard-hit areas, Floridians in their 70s and 80s say that starting over may be impossible. Their retirement dreams are now washed away with their belongings. Separated from their communities and churches, these retirees are homeless with no place to go.

Fortitude is not evenly distributed. Therefore, some individuals will have to have an oversupply of courage and compassion to help families, friends, and neighbors get through this tough time.

Gratitude begets generosity

As of this posting, the Florida Disaster Fund has raised over $50 million, with more coming daily. From children collecting change to Charles Schwab's $5 million gift, the U.S. and the world are responding to the needs of people in Florida and Puerto Rico from Hurricane Fiona.

Fort Myers Beach, Florida (C) ABC7 

More than money, hundreds of trained volunteers are providing food, water, and shelter to those affected by the storm. Along with these necessities, workers offer hope to upended lives.

The U.S. is a generous country.

Post-pandemic charitable giving in America hit record levels last year. In 2021, $484.85 billion was given to charity based on reports from Giving USA. That's a 4% increase over 2020. However, adjusting for inflation, donations remained flat. 

Who gave?

  • Individuals: 67%
  • Foundations: 19%
  • Bequests: 9%
  • Corporations: 4%

The top five recipients were religion ($135.78 billion), education ($70.79 billion), human services ($65.33 billion), foundations ($64.26 billion), and public society benefit ($55.85 billion).

According to Lake Institute, pre-pandemic, a person's attendance at a house of worship was the single best indicator of overall charitable giving. Those who attend regularly, 3 to 4 times per month, at least, are 3 times more generous than those who attend less frequently or not at all. 

Investing in personal relationships and being worthy of other people's trust is the cornerstone of development.

For the future, philanthropy advisers, BWF, recommend courting high-net-worth individuals; being clear on the charity's distinctiveness when providing services; making sure there's a robust digital presence to communicate the need--and providing an easy way for individuals to respond. 

And remember to say thank you.

People want to make a difference, invest in organizations with strong leadership, and know those funds are being used for their intended purpose. 

Results are the best receipt you can give a donor.

Fully conscious of the moment

In a report from WLRN Public Radio, Sarah Meckley and her daughters survey what's left of possessions inside their Fort Myers home. They're saddened by the material losses but know scores of Gulf Coast residents don't even have a home to return to. 

Meckley and her adult children, Annabel and Abigail, don't complain.  

"All I can say is my two emotions are a sense of gratitude for our community and an overwhelming sense of being overwhelmed," Meckley said. 

That sentiment sums up the resilience of those who survive the worst Mother Nature has to give.  


© Bredholt & Co.