Practicing Thankfulness

I wrestle with my attitude towards the world.  There are days when I’m largely irritated by folks I encounter, when I’m frustrated and disgusted or disheartened by the pettiness, dishonesty, cruelty, and selfishness of people.  Then there are days where I should categorize myself among “them,”  when I’m critical or unkind, when I snap at my husband or daughter, when I give another driver “THE BIRD,” or judge myself superior to another parent obviously struggling and failing with disciplining their child.  I often justify my critical viewpoint by telling myself that I’m being honest about the state of the world and it’s inhabitants.  I have been known to bemoan my own position in the world, and to consider it unfair when I am struggling while someone else’s situation in life seems easier, (generally someone whom I’ve deemed as “inferior” in some aspect to myself…yes, my failings aren’t pretty, folks.)

There are those among us, however, who seem to have the grace and generosity of spirit that I often lack.  The warm presence and peaceful bearing of these individuals reminds us that though we ALL suffer, it is our choices and attitude that determine whether we can find the points of light passing through the walls of rubble that can obstruct our hearts.  We can always choose to view a situation with a compassionate and loving spirit.  We can choose gratitude even when there are things that appear to be lacking in our lives.

In an effort to bring appreciation and gratitude into our lives, and counter some of our negative tendencies, my husband, M and I have a few family traditions we have started over the years. Since before we were married, M and I have kept a “happy” journal where we write down the things in our lives that give us happiness.  Though there are gaps of time in our journal where we had forgotten to fill in pages, I feel even what is absent is significant, as it shows we can always return to an abandoned practice of gratefulness.  Our book reminds me that periods of suffering wane and happiness can reemerge into our lives when it has seemed impossible.

Another, daily tradition of ours is one that we began with our daughter V.  Over dinner or at bedtime, we each mention at least one happy moment of the day and one thing for which we each are thankful.  It has been really interesting hearing what makes our daughter happy!  This tradition evolved from my Mother’s Thanksgiving tradition of writing down what we are thankful for on slips of paper and reading them aloud at Thanksgiving dinner.  Another way to practice thankfulness with a kid friendly artistic component is to write things you are grateful for on colorful construction paper strips and connect them to create a paper chain decoration of thankfulness to display during the holiday season.  This project can serve as a visual symbol of how we can construct something beautiful in our lives when we view the world with eyes that seek out moments of beauty, love, happiness, and exhibit gratitude for those moments.

For those of us with an affinity for social media, I share this tradition that my friend has started:  she lists 5 things she is grateful for each day on her Facebook page.  It always makes me smile and reminds me to think about my day with gratitude.

Our worldview depends not only on the elements of suffering and struggle that so often insert themselves into our lives. It also is affected by the active, intentional efforts we make to be grateful.  I know for me, in some of the most challenging periods of my life, it is those small moments that have buoyed me up from a sinkhole of despair, grief, and pain.  In the “easier” periods of my life, when I start to embrace a negative, critical perspective, practicing gratitude is a reminder that generosity of spirit and appreciation are more positive building blocks for a happy life.  I invite you to join me in Thanksgiving today by sharing something for which you are grateful in the comment section.  Please note that I am currently without computer, but will eventually read your comments and I’m with you in spirit (if not online) today.

Today, I am grateful for so many elements of my life that it is impossible to share them all in this space, so I will share only two:

I am thankful for all the love in my life, especially the love of my husband and daughter; they are everything to me.

I am thankful for the beauty of the sun rising over the lake in the back of our house this morning, making the frosted ground sparkle, as the mist hovered over the water behind the shadows of pine trees.  Sharing this quiet scene with my daughter was a brilliant start to the day.

Happy Thanksgiving…

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