Many think of gratitude, thankfulness, as a holiday one day a year to reflect on the things that give us those warm, fuzzy feelings. Celebrating thanksgiving everyday, however, gives us perspectives, appreciation for others and deeper self-awareness when it’s part of your mindset and spirit. It’s important not to confuse self-awareness with self-improvement and self-fulfillment which may diminish the authentic nature of true thanksgiving.
Self-gratification can often be an obstacle to gratitude, why? Because if you’re always looking at how you can make yourself happier, it usually removes a big factor in gratitude: focus on other people. Happiness isn’t dependant on circumstances, wealth or obtaining material things. Some may consider gratitude as having an appreciation for what one has or will receive. Gratitude based on what you might receive will always end in disappointment. What happens if you don’t get the raise? the guy? the deal? the perfect gift? It can be easy to have gratitude for stuff, everyone can admire expensive goods, an all-inclusive vacation or loaded car. Authentic gratitude goes beyond the material things and reaches across the human spirit. Gratitude connects each of us at a spiritual level because it often involves the non-material things of this world: an act of kindness or compassion, a loving relationship, freedom.
There are many ways we can foster an attitude of gratitude every day. Some of these opportunities come disguised as hardship or difficulties at first. Our family was blessed to practice gratitude in a major way 17 years ago when my husband suffered a serious accident and was hospitalized for 3 months followed by a year of rehab. I was 6 months pregnant when the accident happened and he was released from the hospital just a week before our daughter was born. That was an amazingly difficult year, but one that taught me lifelong lessons in gratitude, perspective and receiving without any strings attached. It was a year of gifts to our family, unconditional love, support, meals, prayers even to this day, but most of all it taught me how to receive a gift – freely. It was a beautiful exercise in teaching me gratitude for the things that really matter: relationships and caring friends. It was also an amazing lesson in how I could do the same for others once our situation was better.
Some yoga teachings in my certification classes taught that you should not receive gifts because the giver often has motives and that there will be some kind of “payback” or debt to owe the giver, so you should be wary of accepting gifts. This is in total conflict with my faith and I believe a huge obstacle to gratitude. Can you be thankful if you are wary of the motives of the giver? Our family crisis years ago showed me that there are so many people in the world giving freely, yes some use it to manipulate others. But I choose to give freely and receive freely, no strings attached. The beauty in gratitude is everyone will have seasons where they are able to give more and others when they might be blessed by receiving. Here are some other simple ways you can practice gratitude everyday:
1. Simplify life – the busier you are, the less time you have to look at situations clearly. This is one of my biggest challenges, just because I have a large family with many potential activities. I am constantly evaluating priorities to fit what is best for our family, and also to build in some margin. Busy lives leave no room for grace or interpretation to full scenarios. It can be easy to judge situations and people at face value if you don’t take time to consider what they might be going through: physical or emotional crisis, financial troubles, family conflict. The more you slow down in everyday situations, the easier it is to keep things in perspective. When we see other’s struggles, it reminds us to have gratitude for our current situation and grace to extend that gratitude to others despite their circumstances.
2. Enjoy the present – that’s why it is called so, right now it’s a gift that will not last. If you always look ahead to the hopes of tomorrow, you’ll miss out on the blessings of today: The PRESENT (I know it’s a bit cliche, but really true, right?). It’s good to set goals, but don’t put all your hopes for happiness in the end result, which might not materialize.
3. Judge others less and work on your own perspectives more. How often do we judge people based on what other’s say? Unfortunately, our motives are often selfish and perspectives are distorted to be self-fulfilling. It’s easy to get caught up in repeating words disclosed in trust when the person isn’t there, asking pointed questions could steer the conversation to someone’s assets and preserve their reputation in their absence. Live to build other’s up, especially when they are not there and you’ll sleep a little more peacefully each night.
4. Speak the words of gratitude. Often the words come first and the heart follows. Even if you are not “feeling” thankful, simply speaking thanks or offering a prayer of thanks can be the beginning of sincere gratitude. There is power is spoken words, so say it out loud and tell those you love how much you appreciate them. Gratitude expressed in unexpectated ways can be very healing and nurturing to relationships. Write a meaningful note or send a quick text to that friend you haven’t talked to for a while and tell them how much you appreciate them. Journaling is also an important way to cultivate gratitude. Write down your favorite quotes or bible verses to remind you of what is really important. I’m grateful each time someone takes time to write me a personal note of thanks.
5. Give thanks for the small things. Our culture is very affluent and it’s easy to get caught up in giving lavish gifts and worrying if you bought the right things for those special occasions when it’s the thought that really counts, right? While it’s often the non-material things we can truly be grateful for, we can appreciate the small things that much of the world does not have like a home (shelter), a warm bed, clean water and a family.
6. Put people first, relationships are more important than material things. They are also temporary, so love your friends and family today.
Wishing you and yours a joy-filled holiday season!