Keep Thanksgiving in your heart all year.
Every year at Thanksgiving, people sit down to enjoy a meal with their friends or family. This day is not only a celebration of our history, but also a day to give thanks. Some families share a tradition in which they go around the table and announce what they are most thankful for that year. It’s a lovely tradition. But why are we doing this only once a year? Gratitude is important in our daily life for many reasons, including better sleep, expressing more positive emotions, feeling more alive and compassionate, and even improving your immune system. Yes, gratitude improves your immunity. Being thankful affects your mind, body, and spirit, yet it is a HIGHLY-underutilized tool for personal growth.
Trust me when I say there is no judgement when I discuss our lack of gratitude. I spent years with a woe-is-me attitude in which gratitude barely even made it to the Thanksgiving table. Once I finally realized I needed to get over my damn self, I decided to start focusing on how grateful I was for certain things in my life. I started by noticing all the amazing people I surrounded myself with. This made me recognize that some of “my people” were not so amazing. Out they went. I need to feel thankful for the people in my life, not exhausted. Then I began paying attention to my resources, of which I had and have many. Becoming aware of areas where I should be showing gratitude, helped me grasp the other small instances I needed to acknowledge as gifts in my life. This was all an evolution, something I needed to practice to even remember doing.
I didn’t stop with me once I noticed how much I enjoyed being grateful. I told me kids one night, we are doing something new. Every night before bed for the last couple of years we now list at least three things we are grateful for. Our “three good things” has become one of my most favorite parts of the day. Some days the kids think of MANY things to be grateful for and they are so excited to go over them. Some days it is harder. Just like for big people, there are struggles for the littles too. BUT it is against the rules to announce less than three good things, so we discuss and I learn about my children and in the end, we find three things to be thankful for. When we get desperate, we defer to their after dinner treat which is most often ice cream. Who’s not grateful for that?!
Teaching my kids to be grateful is one of the things I am most proud of. Because I am divorced and have mommy guilt (ex-Catholic, I can’t help it), my kids get many things they ask for. They are also spoiled with love and attention. So it’s my duty to teach them they are privileged. We talk about kids who don’t have necessities, let alone iPads. I remind them every night before bed to give thanks, not just once a year.
Even if you read this amidst chaos, drama, tragedy, or just an all-around shitty day, please don’t look at this and think, but I don’t have anything to be grateful for. You do. And some days it might feel like laying in your bed at night is all you can appreciate. But that’s something. Some people don’t have beds. It takes practice to look at life in this way but I’m here to help. Here are some things I can share that have been helpful to me in my gratitude practice:
- Make a plan. What is the best time of day to give gratitude some attention. Maybe you like to get up before your kids to have some quiet in the morning. You are refreshed in the morning so this may be a good time. Maybe you like to take a solo lunch break to get away. This could be a great time to journal your thanks because you’ll come back to your afternoon feeling more positive. I like to give thanks at night before bed. It allows me to review the day and go to bed with my head in a positive space.
- Open your eyes. Look around you and make note of what you can be grateful for in your immediate environment. At the start of this practice, you may need a journal to help you focus. As this becomes a habit you may be able to set it aside, but in the beginning writing down very specific things (I am grateful today because my spouse made dinner) helps you really notice what you are thankful for.
- Include others. Involving others in your practice not only makes you accountable, but can be wonderful for relationship building. Trust me, my kids NEVER forget their three good things at night, and the conversations that are sparked with this every night are more valuable than you can imagine. Tell people how grateful you are for them, and why. Write a letter, use the telephone, or sit them down face to face. Tell the people around you this is something you are working on and they may want to join you!
- Spin it. When you find yourself in a situation that is less than desirable, stop focusing on how unlucky you are. Spin the situation so you can see the good, maybe it’s small but even in these circumstances, there is something to be thankful for. Get a speeding ticket? Yup, sucks, I’ve been there MANY times. The last time this happened to me I was initially upset and then thought, maybe this will save my life, maybe I needed this reminder to slow down. It’s likely I did!
Don’t just stop at celebrating gratitude only on Thanksgiving this year. Make a commitment to include gratitude as part of your daily life and watch the blessings multiply!