Practicing Gratitude: It's Not Just About What You Say, It's About How You Live

It’s Not Just About What You Say, It’s About How You Live

For the last 2,000 years the Nguni people have lived on the lands of central and southern Africa. Today, the Nguni people are primarily spread across the southern and eastern portions of the African continent.

Given their long and rich culture, oral tradition and hand gestures are an important part of communication within the Nguni nations. The Nguni people speak not just with words, but also with their bodies.

For example, when receiving a gift, it is customary to do so while holding both hands out in a cupped position. According to Melanie Finney, a communications professor at DePauw University, this gesture signals that “the gift you give me means so much that I must hold it in two hands.” 1

The Manner In Which We Live

The gestures of the Nguni people provide one example of how gratitude is not just about what we say, but also about the manner in which we live.

This is an idea that we can apply to nearly any area of life:

  • As an athlete: the goal is not to talk about how fantastic you are as a leader, but to show your leadership by being a great teammate first and foremost.
  • As an entrepreneur: the goal is not to merely tell your customers that you care about them, but to show them that you care by how you run your business and how you deliver your product.
  • As a partner: the goal is not to simply claim that you love your spouse, but to show them your love by the care that you infuse into little behaviors each day.
  • As a doctor or a customer service rep or a middle manager: the goal is not to explain why you’re good at your job, but to make each day a work of art by the way that you do your job.

Our behavior is perhaps the strongest indicator of what we believe and what we value. In the words of John F. Kennedy, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Gratitude is not just about what we say, but how we live.

And so it is true for all of life. 2

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Footnotes
  1. Nonverbal Communication, South Africa by Melanie Finney.

  2. Thanks to Chad Songy and his friend for originally pointing me toward Nguni hand gestures. Also, after this article was published I was notified by a reader that an alternate, and perhaps more accurate, spelling is Ngoni.