It’s that time of year. My favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is quickly approaching. It’s got it all: food, family, rainy weather, football. And we make a conscious effort to be grateful. I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude lately. It should be a habit, not something we think about only once a year.
Many of us take our gifts for granted, myself included. I have an exceptional family and small circle of friends, a comfortable and beautiful home, plenty of food, and I am fortunate to live in my favorite place on Earth. The list goes on and on.
But sometimes I forget to be thankful. Because gratitude is more than just a feeling of thanks. Gratitude is an action. A verb. It’s the activity of professing our thanks to God for our gifts. Refraining from complaining about what we don’t have. It’s teaching our children and others to be grateful. And it’s service to others in a pay-it-forward kind of way.
It’s been said that the best way to learn something is to teach it.
It can be challenging to teach gratitude to our children – a crucial lesson as ungrateful kids grow into ungrateful adults – when we live in such a culture of abundance. Every need and want seem to be so available, and society tells us that we deserve it all. We’re sheltered in our cushy little bubbles of plenitude and can be blind to the scarcity and lacking that exists.
But it’s important that kids learn and practice gratitude. For younger ones, this can be as simple as saying grace at mealtimes. Older kids, mine included, are usually happy to donate their time at the local church to help out with programs that benefit the homeless. Frequent conversations about what we’re grateful for is another valuable exercise. Tonight, my teens were thankful for sharp steak knives and air. Hey, it’s a start.
Gratitude can feel painful on occasion. During one of those times, a friend suggested that I keep a gratitude journal. I was dubious, but it forced me to realize – even in the midst of the greatest pain – that I have plenty to be grateful for.
We don’t need to look far to see that many folks in the world (including our own communities) lack enough food. Or shelter. They are cold or lonely.
On the other hand, most of us have plenty of food and shelter and heat. We have networks of friends and family that support and love us. An abundance of gifts that we shouldn’t take for granted.
How do you express gratitude? I thank God every morning for the new day. I thank Him each night for my family and providing for me that day. I tell those that I love that I am grateful for them.
More importantly, being grateful moves one towards an attitude of service. When we have the awareness of being abundantly blessed, we want to use those blessings to help others.
Are you blessed with an affluence of financial of wealth? An abundance of time? A valuable talent? Sharing your gifts with others who are not so fortunate is a way to manifest your gratitude.
For me, an important aspect of gratitude involves focusing on today. Of course, planning for the future can be a good idea, but when it turns into worry, it can sap the gratitude right out of your life. Did I have enough to eat today? Is my family happy today? Is it raining today (hey, I love rain)? Thank you.
Sometimes it’s not so easy…
Sometimes life just flat out sucks and you want to throw this whole gratitude thing down the deep abyss of The-Universe-Can-Kiss-My-Ass. All of us have choppy waters that we’re wading through at any given time. Perhaps a job loss or family estrangement. Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one or dealing with a chronic autoimmune disease. Am there; doing that. Everyone is going through something.
Society doesn’t really provide many opportunities for gratitude either. Turn on the television, open a magazine or newspaper, or click on any news site, and we are exposed to a surfeit of reasons to be ungrateful. It seems the media is out to convince us to be as grateful as we would be for a thorn in our big toe.
That’s why practicing an “attitude of gratitude” is so important to exercise during the good times. Making a habit out of gratitude makes it easier to continue during the turbulent times. Because we are called to be grateful even during the tsunamis of life.
And being grateful even during the rough times has changed my outlook on life. Because I truly do have so many things to be thankful for. Focusing on the gratitude and the things I am grateful for have a healing effect during the crappy times.
Eventually, it turns into a cycle. Gratitude allows happiness, abundance and service for others to follow. In turn, gratitude then follows happiness, abundance, and service.
So for now, I leave you with this song of thankfulness from Jason Gray. Be grateful. It’s good to be alive.