With the Thanksgiving holiday just around the corner, I’m hearing a lot about gratitude and being grateful. I think it’s great that we have a national holiday with the purpose of giving thanks. In our busy lives, it’s sometimes hard to get the time to think about all the ways in which we are fortunate. We begin to take things for granted as they become part of our daily lives, and we don’t see how amazing our modern lives are. We also forget to appreciate the people around us who support us and care for us and show us how to be loving by being so loving to us. And we forget that most of these wonderful things in our lives are small and happen quickly, so we let them pass by without even noticing that they did, and we would notice them mostly if they didn’t happen and we felt them as a loss.
The real reason that gratitude is so important is that it allows us to have a deep understanding that we have all the things we need in this moment. It allows us to feel connected to each other and the world around us. It allows us to feel loved and secure, and it allows us to give that to others. This changes how we make decisions, how we live our lives, and how we engage with the people in our lives. We do all of this from a sense of knowing that we are whole and our needs will be met instead of from a place of wanting more and never feeling fulfilled.
As a practice, gratitude can be a great way to call attention the wonderful things that happen in our lives every day. Many people start a gratitude practice and tell me that they list the same 3 or 4 things every day, and they’re usually the big things: a nice house, a good job or salary, important and fulfilling relationships, relative health, or just being alive. Those are all wonderful things to have! The next step often involves an event that occurs, and adds to the things one is grateful for, such as a raise in pay, a health scare that turned out well, an encounter with a person who was very helpful, or a new opportunity of another sort. We express gratitude for that, and begin to see more opportunities around us that we can be grateful for.
The next step involves looking even closer, and may require a magnifying glass because this is where we begin to see the little things, or at least the things we don’t tend to notice. They’ve always been there, and they’ve been a part of making our lives wonderful, but we don’t see them because we have actually come to expect them. Gratitude for these things is often the most rewarding, because by noticing them, we notice how our lives really are exactly as we would wish them to be.
I’ll give you an example. I was driving home from work the other night in the snow. We were driving slowly, and I was cursing the traffic because I really wanted to be somewhere else – almost anywhere, really. At one point, I was able to stop myself and I started my gratitude practice, thinking about all the things I had to be grateful about. I started with a car that runs and has heat and gets me where I need to go. Then I started noticing that despite the terrible weather, other drivers were being considerate and kind to those around them, and I was grateful for that. I had good music to listen to, and dinner was in the crock pot and would be ready and warm when I got home. I have the enviable position of doing work that I love, and had had a great day. I had a warm house and family to go home to. Suddenly that long drive wasn’t so bad. My mood lifted, and I could feel myself relax and smile. The ride home took just as long as it would have otherwise, but it was incredibly more enjoyable.
I encourage you to practice gratitude. Write down a few things you’re thankful for each day or speak them into an audio diary. Do it every day for six weeks – every day – even if you don’t feel like. See if you notice a difference. Chances are you won’t notice anything right away, but keep trying. I think you’ll love the results!