31 Oct The Practice of Thanks
Thanksgiving is the best holiday.
There. I said it.
And yes, I am well aware of the rather problematic history behind the day itself. For more on that, fellow history nerds should check out https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/us/thanksgiving-myths-fact-check.html. But I digress.
99% of my Thanksgivings have been spent with my mother’s side of the family. The day is reliably filled with delicious things to eat, football games, the traditionally required family baseball match, games, and lots and lots of Miller Lite. But, to a person, everyone’s favorite part of the day is the grateful circle. Before a bite is eaten, every single person gathers in a circle, holds hands, and shares what they’re thankful for from the past year. It’s where I announced my pregnancy, where little ones grow ever taller each year beside their parents, and everyone gets inevitably misty-eyed.
But, I think we can all agree that waiting for one day out of the year to reflect on the things we’re grateful for just isn’t enough. Gratitude is unique in that it’s not like a battery that can be used up. Gratitude begets more gratitude. Too few of us, myself included, don’t approach gratitude as a meaningful practice like we would, say, exercise. If we’re honest, we treat it more like that friend we adore being around, but who we just can’t seem to make quality time for anymore.
So, what to do?
Here are some practical ways to incorporate a practice of gratitude into our lives. Some of these things I actually do; the others are things I personally aspire to.
The journal: Write down 10 things you are grateful for today and try to do it as many days as you can each week. This falls into the “I do it” category. Now, I hate to say “do it EVERYDAY” because, if you’re like me, the word “every” makes you want to check the heck out because it’s hard to commit to anything but breathing and eating everyday. So, give yourself the space to say, “It’s ok, this is something for me, this is not for anyone else and I don’t have to prove anything” and then do it when you can. Ideally, I start my day from a place of seeing possibility where my default might be to see implausibility. I can honestly say it’s had a really great impact. It is also merely the first half of a bigger journaling practice called Start Today which you can learn more about here: https://vimeo.com/351695428.
Thank you: People liked to be thanked. It’s as simple as that. Ideally, in hand-written form with a dang stamp on it. Can’t muster that? Good news! Thank you emails count too! Who have you had a helpful interaction with lately that made your day better? Remind them that their seemingly insignificant action actually meant a lot to you. Trust me, it will change their day. And probably yours, too. Giving thanks has a verb in there remember? Give. Heck, maybe even thank yourself sometimes. Thank yourself for the great choices you’ve made so far. Thank your debt for purchasing things you wanted to get. Become an awkward fountain of thanks for 24 hours and see how it feels.
Giving money & time: What is gratitude without action? A few years ago, I was a member of a church that left a lasting lesson in giving my money away. I remember the pastor saying that every time he wrote a check to something that wasn’t for him, it was a heart check. It was a way to check in and loosen the natural but strong grip we tend to have on our cash. Money, in many ways, is seen as power. And no one likes to give up power! But I have made giving a practice. So, where there was a twinge of doubt or fear, there is now a wave of gratitude. Gratitude that I have way more than I need and that I get to hopefully be a small part of softening the hard edges of this world for someone else.
Stargazing: Ok, I know this might be weird, but hear me out. I think a core aspect of gratitude is somewhat spiritual. Entitlement and gratitude can’t really coexist in the same space. If you think you’re where you are 100% on your own, well, I don’t know what to say other than you should probably apologize to all the friends and family who have had to put up with you. You are where you are thanks to many forces that have nothing to do with you at all. It’s both humbling and scary. Sometimes, when I get caught up in the maelstrom of life, I take a moment and look up when it’s dark outside. I am reminded of how very small I am. I look up and see these tiny bits of light that burned billions of years before my time and will continue after it. Suddenly, the fact that I didn’t land that dream client or that I have terrible allergies doesn’t seem all that important. I’m just grateful to get this chance to take a crack at being here.
Unfortunately, gratitude just doesn’t come naturally for most of us. Just like running or biking, it’s an exercise. Your gratitude practice is an exercise for your soul.
So tell me, what have you experienced this very day that made you thankful?
And how are you going to translate that to the actions of gratitude?