[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]If the only prayer I ever said was “thank you,” that would suffice. – Meister Eckhart [/mk_blockquote]
I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving day yesterday, filled with family or friends, plenty of good food and some time spent reflecting on the blessings that fill your life. I deliberately waited until today to wish you a happy Thanksgiving, because I’d like to propose a change in perspective. In addition to setting aside a day each year to specially notice and to celebrate all the good gifts with which you’ve been graced, why not follow the advice of the wise folks at our local Lutheran church and make Thanksgiving a lifestyle?
After all, there is no better way to create contentment, an open-hearted and open-handed way of being, and a feeling that you have all you really need than to count your blessings every single day. It can’t possibly be a coincidence that every faith and spiritual practice that I know of offers gratitude as a key element to living a fuller life.
On a good day, a day when things are going your way, when you got that promotion or won a contest or received a sweet letter in the mail, this is super easy to do. Not only is it easy, but it will leave you with such a profound sense of good fortune that it is almost impossible to resist the urge to share it with others. Whether this is done by way of scattering smiles and kind words wherever you go, or by making an out of the blue donation to a charity you believe in or by taking time out to help a friend or even a stranger in need, your sense of the richness of life will only increase with each act of generosity.
On a bad day, a day when things aren’t going at all your way, when you had a fender-bender, or the dog got sick or you’re just feeling blue, this is a little less easy to do. But on days like this, the practice of counting your blessings is even more powerful. For even on a day when it feels like everything is going awry, there are blessings to count. The warm sun on your face as you wait for the insurance adjustor to arrive. The fact that you have a vet who you trust implicitly. The presence of a friend or neighbor or therapist or priest who is ready and willing to let you cry on his shoulder. The knowledge that tomorrow will be a new day (it always is) filled with new possibilities and new hope.
Gratitude can be counter-intuitive. It almost goes without saying that when you’re frustrated or even angry with someone, finding something to thank them for is typically not a knee-jerk reaction. That said, digging deep and doing just this (even if all you say is, “Thank you for your time. I don’t think this is the right moment for us to figure this out.”) can diffuse the situation – both between the two of you and within yourself. By expressing some gratitude, you give the other person the gift of not having a temper tantrum in their presence or at their expense. At the same time, you give yourself the gift of some time to cool off and to better see possible options. You get the chance to live more like the person you want to be.
Gratitude can give you a surprising infusion of strength. When you’re being challenged – even to the point where you’re certain you’ll fail – gratitude is, oddly, the answer. Looking back on life, I suspect you’ll find that your challenges have made you who you are. While hard to do in the moment of your struggle, remembering this can help you rise to meet your current challenge. Taking a deep breath and saying an inner “thank you” for the chance to work at the edges of your abilities, the opportunity to stretch yourself in ways you never dreamed of stretching and the occasion to grow and change can give you the staying power and even inspiration to see your way through whatever you’re experiencing.
Gratitude can flip your perspective. When your children are irritating you, making a little list of all the ways they make you smile can entirely shift your mood. When your to-do list at work feels endless, a moment reflecting on how fortunate you are to have your job can help you see the forest for the trees. Even when you don’t feel grateful at all for your situation, gratitude is the answer. If your child has been diagnosed with a chronic illness or your parent is sinking into dementia or your friend’s marriage is disintegrating it is possible to find something to give thanks for. Even if these things feel tiny, as if you’re grasping at straws – possible advances in medicine, the loving caregivers at the care center where your dad is now living, the support your friend feels from his church – refocusing on these small blessings is enough to brighten even the darkest moments just enough that you can take your next step.
Living a life of gratitude is a choice and it can take some practice. Honestly, it can take some hard work. But, as we all know, the more we practice anything, the more natural it begins to feel. And when we’re talking about something as life-changing as creating a grateful life, I think we can agree that it’s easy to choose to do the work.
[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”16″ align=”left”]If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily. – Gerald Good[/mk_blockquote]