Gratitude - Find Some
It’s that time of year once again. The holiday season is approaching fast and once it gets here there is no turning back. It can be really wonderful. Food and family. Decorations and the gift giving. Songs and festivities. I know for us, this year will look quite a bit different than holidays past. No family gathering. A scaled down meal and celebration with just our household. No travel. No holiday party or crowded holiday shopping for last minute items. For us, the virus risks are just too great so we have chosen to stay in. And family is quite far away. The more I write about it, the more I begin to feel less inclined to celebrate at all. And it doesn’t feel like I have much for which to be grateful.
So what better time to remind myself - and everyone reading - about the concept of gratitude. Gratitude is all about being thankful for what you have. Everything from the roof over your head to the slippers under your feet, gratitude is for things big and small. And it is for more than just things. The people, the places, your experiences, the thoughts you have that lead you to those experiences - all “things” to be grateful for. But what I have come to learn is that gratitude is much more than just saying thanks or feeling thankful for a moment. Gratitude is a deeper appreciation that produces longer lasting positivity.
Research shows that people who regularly express gratitude are happier, better able to manage their stress, and exhibit generally better mental health overall. Being resilient and looking forward to the future are also side effects reported from people who choose to show gratitude.
Yep. I said choose to show gratitude. And I do not use that word lightly. Research also indicates that gratitude, just like every other emotion out there, is a choice. Gratitude doesn’t magically land in our lap like a beautiful butterfly, rather, we can choose to do specific things to foster it, and maintain it. Having trouble feeling the gratitude? Try a few of these:
1. Put your thanks in writing. The art of writing is not dead. Handwritten thank you notes to friends for the birthday gift, or the neighbor who mowed your lawn, offer tremendous benefits. It feels good to acknowledge the other person for their kind gesture or deed, and the act of writing it down confirms in your own head the gift that you received. A simple and sincere thank you goes a long way to spreading feelings of gratitude in your life and the lives of others. My kids know that come birthday time, we write thank you notes. We are thanking them for the gift. We are thanking them for the thoughtfulness behind the gift. We are thanking them for their friendship. The kids are reminded of the friend, the gesture and the gift all in a simple little note. And those are things to be grateful for.
2. Volunteer. If you are able to help others, by all means, do it. Whether it be time or money, your service and commitment to reaching out to others who could use your assistance offer huge gratitude rewards. You can see firsthand the power of your single act. You might find that by doing good for others, you feel a little better about yourself and the part you have played in lightening someone’s burden, if only for a little while.
3. Fear not the challenges in life. Be thankful for the decisions that you are asked to make, especially the hardest ones. Wouldn’t you rather live a life that includes not only complex and varied situations for you to navigate but the opportunity to make reasoned decisions about them? Many people have few choices, and have no capacity for sorting through them. Difficult things can and will be overcome and represent just a part of a full and vibrant life. Be grateful for the opportunity to do, and decide, and live on your own terms.
4. Be generous with your time and your resources. Not just volunteering, but with your family and friends and even strangers. Sharing your stories, your laughter, your muffin recipes, your music, your shoulder to lean on - brings gratitude to both parties. When we share we are reminded again of what we have and what we can do. Those feelings stay with us and generate a level of awareness about how easy it is to be good, and how good it feels. I do believe that at the end of each theatrical performance, as the crowd applauds to show their gratitude for a great production, the actors on stage are just as thankful for having had the opportunity to share their love for theater with us. Gratitude is easy when all we have to do is share, isn’t it?
5. Cease complaining, comparing, contrasting and otherwise deciding that what you have is somehow less than in any way. What you have is what you have. Period. What they have belongs to them. You don’t have their life. You have your own. Everytime you choose to make an uneven comparison, you diminish yourself. Even if you decide that you have more, it does nothing as far as gratitude is concerned to falsely elevate yourself based on unequal standards. Gratitude is letting others enjoy while always understanding that what you have is equally enjoyable. Who wants to spend all of their time complaining anyway? That leaves a lot less time for showing gratitude, doesn’t it?
6. Think about your life of abundance. Once you find yourself complaining, turn those complaints into affirmations. You might not have everything you want, but you have something that you want. You probably have a whole lot of things that you want, but you forget to think about them when you are counting off what is missing. Living your life with abundance in mind, recognizing what your life is filled with that makes you happy is gratitude at its finest. There is an old Sheryl Crow song that says “it's not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” Preach it, Sheryl. Remind yourself of what you have, not what you are missing.
7. Be present. Live and enjoy the moment. Stepping too far back in the past or into the future is actually not that helpful when you really think about it. If we can enjoy what is right here in front of us, today is a good day. Then we do it again tomorrow, and tomorrow will be a good day. And we just keep on going like that. A whole life of gratitude is built on these smaller decisions that will collect over time. Start with today. The small things. The overlooked things. And repeat.
8. Turn it inwards. Gratitude does not exclude how we treat and see ourselves. It takes practice to readily engage in positive self-talk that elevates us. We somehow find it easier to take care of and thank others than we do ourselves. And it must stop. Show gratitude for what you do, the choices you make, the stumbles you have recovered from, the sacrifices you have made, the legs that keep you moving each day, and the face that greets you each morning. When we are grateful for ourselves we are better equipped to tackle life’s challenges because we know that we’ve got our own back.
This Thanksgiving, despite the changes that our holiday will bring, I will be grateful. For my health. For my family, near and far. For the food at the table. For the hands that delivered the food to my door. For the doctors working to find a vaccine. And for so much more. Join me - and no matter what you end up doing - have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with as much gratitude as you can create.