A counselor's reminder that practicing gratitude should be honored all-year-round, not just at Thanksgiving.
I really love November. It’s always kind of a blur, the month that kinda gets the shaft between Halloween and Christmas, but it’s honestly one of my favorite months of the year. Here in Texas, it’s finally legit starting to cool off (October is always kind of a hit or miss with fall weather), and it kicks off the holiday season. But another reason I love November is that people start to really focus on being thankful for things. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t knock any reason for people to be thankful, but I think it’s a shame that most of us only focus on this concept because Thanksgiving is right around the corner. I think it’s something that should be practiced at all times of the year.
You see, studies have found that being thankful and practicing gratitude has a HUGE impact on happiness. When I was a teen, I had one of those calendars where it had 365 pages with different stuff on the page each day that you’d tear away. I’d seen them for Word of the Day or Quote of the Day, but this one was "5 Happy Things" (or something of that nature). It was filled with random, little things that you probably don’t think about, but when someone brings it up, you’re like, “ooooh yeah, I LOVE that.” I remember it ranged anywhere from, “kittens,” to “the sound of soft rain.” I didn’t understand until many years later why I loved that calendar so much. It made me appreciate the little things, and look for those things on a regular basis in my life.
I wonder if people think I’m a jackass when they ask me about my favorite ANYTHING. What’s your favorite color? I don’t really have one - I like them all in different contexts. What’s your favorite season? Oh, there are so many different things I love about EACH season.
See, it’s not that I’m indecisive - it’s that I see the value and appreciate the different qualities these various aspects can bring to my life.
Practicing gratitude is something I talk with my clients about regularly. Sometimes I have them journal it; other times I just ask them to simply acknowledge it. Especially when they are having a rough patch. If I’m laying in bed, reflecting on my day, if it’s been a particularly shitty day, I almost always start out my gratitude list with, “I’m SO grateful for my soft, warm bed.” And then it almost always gravitates to, “I’m glad to have a roof over my head, and heat (or more oftentimes, AC) in my house.” Usually, this flows into being grateful for things I know I take for granted on a regular basis. Indoor plumbing. Clean, drinkable water whenever I want it. Readily accessible food. Three kids who love me.
I could choose to focus on the fact that I need to spend about $2,000 in repairs on the 50-year-old pipes in my house (oh, the joys of homeownership!), or the fact that all the food in my house is stuff that’s not exactly my favorite because it’s about time to go to the grocery store again. Or that I can’t get my Nest thermostat to talk to my internet router correctly. Or that currently, potty training is not going well in my house because my two-year-old is NOT ABOUT IT.
But does that bring me joy and satisfaction? Or bring me a sense of peace? Hell no.
I’m not trying to sugar coat my life. I know I’ve got problems that have to be addressed. But that’s not what practicing gratitude is about. It’s about finding ways to “fill your cup” so you’re not running on empty. So you can recognize that at the end of the day, you probably have more than you realize.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good dose of sarcasm and snark for a good laugh. But if we focus on those things, it ultimately wears us down.
If you want to read an incredible story about practicing gratitude, I recommend The Hiding Place. It’s a true story about a family in WWII who helped hide Jews in their family business and eventually were taken to concentration camps. Their ability to find gratitude in such a dark time amazed me.
So in this season of giving thanks, I think it’s the perfect time to start practicing gratitude for the little things. Like I said, I like to practice this before I go to bed, but you can do it at any time of the day. Here are a few things I’m grateful for today:
The feel of freshly vacuumed carpet on my feet
The smell of the first fires of the season
Leaves changing colors