I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude. In November – and at Thanksgiving – it comes up a lot. Of course. This makes sense. Especially to children, we want to encourage being thankful at Thanksgiving; that’s the essence of the holiday.
It bothers me too though: this hyper focus on gratitude at Thanksgiving and in November. There is no time of year better than another for this. There is no timeline on gratitude. I believe people should feel grateful throughout each day, every day.
I think what really cemented my motivation to write this blog entry was the email I got on Thanksgiving that said, “Once a year we get the chance to be grateful for our families, friends and every little joy that comes to us each day.” While I definitely understood that the person who sent this to me wanted me to feel special and wanted me to know she was thinking of me – and I definitely appreciate that – I had to restrain myself from writing back to say, “It’s NOT only once a year! It’s NOT only today!”
I feel like every time I talk to people about gratitude I’m preachy. I don’t mean to be. It’s hard for me to talk about gratitude without feeling like I am up on my soapbox using too many clichés. “It really can be life-changing,” I hear myself saying. (…groan…) “It’s a practice. I keep a gratitude journal every day.” (…eye roll…) I mean, really? What am I saying? Whenever I get going on this topic, those listening are always polite; they nod along and they are gracious. I am not always sure my message is being received though.
And I do understand. I am often skeptical of things other proclaim as “life-changing,” and sometimes when people say things like, “It’s a practice,” I wonder what does that really mean?
Well, I can only say about gratitude that it truly is both for me. (And it probably goes without saying that Oprah feels the same way. You can watch her talking about it here – particularly the minute beginning at 1:02 until 2:00.) As Oprah says, “No matter where you are in your life, if you can be grateful for what you have, you will begin to see that you have more.”
When I am going through my day being conscious about feeling grateful and being open to the positive, the way I interact and the way I perceive what’s happening around me changes. I know this for sure. Some days this is easier than others. I am not sunshine and roses all the time. I think I am a happier person overall though because gratitude is a priority for me. A friend told me she recently saw a billboard that read, “Thankful people are happy people.” I agree.
I have kept a gratitude journal for many years; I think since college. Sometimes I write the same names or items each day, and other times, I note specific occurrences that happened that day. Sometimes it’s a mix of both. Sometimes I don’t write. Occasionally I go days without writing, but the routine of keeping a gratitude journal is part of why I say I have a gratitude practice. Knowing that at the end of each day, I will likely write in the journal ensures I am open to noting and feeling gratitude throughout the day. During each day, there are moments where I feel instant and heartfelt gratitude. I know I don’t always capture all of these moments in writing later, and that’s okay. It’s really about being conscious and aware of the good things happening around us and feeling grateful for them as they happen – regularly, daily, consistently. Arthur C. Brooks sums it up nicely in a recent New York Times op-ed: “The prescription for all of us is clear: Make gratitude a routine, independent of how you feel — and not just once each November, but all year long.”
As I said at the beginning, I have been frustrated about this recently. I think the main reason is because I feel a lot – too much – of what I see, read and hear is not representative of grateful hearts. So, to compensate – and because I feel like I’d be counterfeit otherwise – I’ve tried to up my own game when it comes to gratitude. The other day I walked outside and it was raining. My first thought was “Ugh, it’s raining AGAIN,” and then immediately I said to myself, “Change your thought! I am grateful for my big (and pink!) umbrella that I got for my birthday last year and that I am holding at this very minute.” And then my next thought was gratitude for the person who gave me the awesome pink umbrella I love. Thoughts like this are fleeting, but they are important. They are important because they change my frequency, and they redirect me. Grateful thoughts change my energy, and that means the energy I share with others changes.
It is not always easy to think a grateful thought, but it is always possible. And I believe life gets better when I do – for me and for those around me.
Images in this post were retrieved from oprah.com on December 3, 2015.