Thursday is Thanksgiving, a national holiday. I feel ornery writing about it. In this moment there's no feeling of appreciation. In fact, I’m filled with resistance! Gratitude is not a faucet I turn on and off. Suppose I’m grumpy. Should I force myself to feel gratitude?
An article in Psychology Today says,
“Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude. Gratefulness – and especially expression of it to others – is associated with increased energy, optimism and empathy.”
It makes sense. Docs also say gratitude improves sleep quality and builds higher levels of antioxidants and good cholesterol. So being thankful can mean fewer colds and less heart disease... pretty good incentives.
Just checking inside me again… still not happening… I feel peaceful and comfortable, but no gratitude!
Thanksgiving began in 1621, when the early settlers graciously invited Native Americans to dinner to celebrate their first corn harvest. Is gratitude as simple as being thankful for good fortune or abundance? Is it more than breaking bread at a dinner table… even sweet-smelling, warm-from-the-skillet corn bread?
Could it simply be natural to feel grateful? When you think about it, the basics are pretty easy:
- Look for something to be grateful for.
- Find it.
- Appreciate it.
Okay, let's try it... hmmm, look for something to be grateful for. Survival seems a good place to start. Is anything in the immediate vicinity life-threatening? Are any lions or tigers approaching, saliva dripping from their bared fangs? No. I'm safely writing on my iPad, not too warm, not too cold, not too hungry, not too full, and still... not too grateful. Yikes, this is an exercise in futility!
I just got it. Real gratitude isn't a contrived some-time event. It’s so constant it's visible. As kids we’re taught to say “thank you” whenever feel-good things show up: a helping hand, an act of kindness, a casual compliment. Saying “thank you” makes us notice the specialness of simple, every-day happenings. We develop an automatic appreciation habit…so automatic that we lose track of its frequency, just like the pinging from our smart phones when texts arrive. Each ping is like a note of gratitude.
Ping, the sun is shining.
Ping, the water tastes fresh and cool.
Ping, a falling leaf brushes my cheek.
Ping, a tail-wagging dog.
Ping, a parking space.
Ping, a message from you.
When gratitude is real and not forced, it becomes the "underpinging" of our lives.
Thanksgiving is an opportunity to bring gratitude from the background into the foreground. It’s a holiday dedicated to giving verbal hugs of appreciation to everything and everyone that matters to us. And it comes with health benefits.
But if, like me, you don’t feel grateful in the moment...wait for it...