The last Thursday in November is Thanksgiving Day, a holiday I wish we celebrated in this part of the world (and not just as the eve of Black Friday!) Here’s my take on giving thanks, gratitude and the practices we can adopt to enrich our lives.
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.“
Meister Eckhart (13th Century Theologian)
Gratitude is an all-purpose antibiotic. You cannot be fearful and grateful at the same time, nor can you be angry and grateful. It is the great dissolver of stressful emotions.
As humans, we experience emotions all the time. Some positive, upbeat and joyful, others are heavy such as worry, frustration, sadness and despair.
For me, gratitude is route one for climbing that emotional scales. We can reach for a better thought, even if it’s the opportunity to learn something in the midst of challenging times.
Ultimately, happiness and fulfilment is the cake we all want to eat.
A key ingredient is always gratitude for what is. If we are not grateful for the current blessings in our lives, future success will feel hollow.
Instead of striving until we arrive at a destination that will only provide a fleeting buzz, we make an attitude of gratitude a way of being. Gratitude is what distinguishes fulfilment from achievement, so we savour what is, whilst remaining eager for more.
The recent boil water notice where I live reminded me to be grateful for the fact that I will unconsciously turn the tap and expect clean water. That is not the reality for millions of people. There is so much we take for granted.
Imagine someone in hospital being told they only have a few days to live. How much would that person give to be able to go outside and feel the wind and rain on their face?
What would they give to enjoy a family meal, walk in a garden, or to be stuck in traffic? We go from A to B with our minds either mulling over something that happened in the past, or worrying about something that might happen in the future, whilst ignoring the gift that is the present.
On 1st January 2018, I took an old container and asked my niece Gemma to decorate it in bright colours. It became my gratitude jar. Every night throughout 2018 I scribbled down something I was grateful for that day and dropped it into the jar.
Twelve months later, I sat crossed-legged in front of the fire, tipped out the contents of the jar and reminisced about everything I was grateful for over the past 365 days. It was the best New Year’s Eve I’d had in ages, a terrific way to bridge the old year and the new.
When you know you have to write something you are grateful for at the end of each day, you are on the lookout, you are filtering experiences through a lens of gratitude and that’s the real benefit.
This year I’ve been using a journal to record gratitude as part of my morning routine. I’ve expanded it to include ‘miracle moments,’ those universal winks, those coincidences, when I get evidence to support the belief, that as the poet Rumi said, ‘the Universe is titled in my favour.’
When we express gratitude it is generally directed towards others. We acknowledge a gift, someone’s generosity, an invitation. Rarely do we direct gratitude towards ourselves. So let’s balance the scales.
Part of my morning routine is to honour a quality in myself. This is an opportunity to demonstrate self-compassion and to recognise a trait or a skill in ourselves that we will usually only acknowledge in others.
What would you like to honour in yourself? Your kind soul, the body that enables you to engage with the world, your organisational skills, your eagerness to do good work, your professionalism, your courage, your friendliness…..
Gratitude doesn’t have to be saved for the big things in life such as health and family. The habit of being grateful starts by recognising that there is nothing too small for you to be thankful for.
Over the last few days, I undertook a simple exercise which I called uncommon gratitude where I noted the little, often inconsequential things in life that bring me pleasure and a sense of gratitude. Here are some of mine. What would be on your list?
Without doubt, noticing the little things over time makes a big difference. Being thankful enriches our lives.
Whilst there will always be plenty for us to moan about, there is usually far more for us to be grateful for, particularly at this time of year.
Who could you reach out to in the coming weeks and express gratitude in a heartfelt way? Perhaps that’s the best Christmas gift to give or receive.
I hope you enjoyed this post, do sign up for my newsletter below to keep up to date with my latest news and if you want to understand more about my thoughts on gratitude then listen to the latest episode of my podcast Your Time With James Sweetman.