Are you grateful for the experience of yesterday – or just thankful that it’s over? Not everyone is celebrating Thanksgiving (especially not worldwide), but even for those in the US that are celebrating, the holiday season can be a challenge, rather than a time of joy!
For some, it might be a reminder of what’s missing in their lives: while everyone else is posting photos of their family gatherings, they may be alone. The holiday season can be a time of loneliness, isolation and sadness. It might be a time for grief, broken families, or simply the physical distance that creates isolation.
The challenge is to find gratitude and an attitude of thanksgiving in spite of this. Throughout the Bible we find two references:
- a condemnation of complaining, murmuring and grumbling
- an exhortation to thanksgiving and gratitude
- always giving thanks
- giving thanks
- in every situation, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving
- nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving
- give thanks in all circumstances
Science backs the value of gratitude
With more than a decade spent studying the effects of gratitude on the body, our relationships and our mental and emotional well-being, science has concluded that putting thanksgiving into our daily lives builds a better life!
Some of those benefits include:
- saying thank you builds relationships
- it improves your physical health and well-being – for example, the HeartMath project is constantly looking at the effects of gratitude and appreciation on your heart’s cardiovascular efficiency.
- gratitude can improve your mental and emotional well-being, helping you to reduce any toxic emotions, and allowing you to release those feelings and thoughts that are simply passing through
- you can improve your empathy through gratitude, as well as reducing anger and aggression
- feeling grateful allows you to sleep better
- you have improved self-esteem and confidence when you are grateful and appreciative of your own strengths and abilities
- gratitude can even help overcome trauma
Celebrating the mundane
Gratitude and appreciation allow us to acknowledge the subtle pleasures of life. It’s taking a moment to stop and smell the roses, to appreciate the leaves of autumn, and to enjoy the aroma of cooking food. Just breathe the moment in.
When we allow ourselves a moment to appreciate all the things we have been taking for granted, we give ourselves permission to have greater clarity and joy. What is truly important in life?
Take a moment to open your eyes and see.
It’s not always about speaking our gratitude – sometimes it is simply being in the present moment and allowing ourselves to feel it. Truly feel the appreciation for this moment.
Building relationships with gratitude
One of the powers of gratitude is that it can help you rebuild crumbling relationships, helping us to build closer relationships with loved ones. Even in our work or community, gratitude has a role to play in building better relationships.
Being thankful starts with becoming aware and appreciating what another person does and the strengths and benefits that they bring with them. Perhaps it’s as simple as noticing they always put the coffee on in the morning, and appreciating that someone is taking care of that.
When we are grateful, we recognise the value of the other person and the value that the relationship has for us. In turn, we do more for building on the relationship. As they feel appreciated, they begin to feel gratitude in return.
In the long term, gratitude leads to more openness in the relationship, which is essential for problem-solving, as you can trust the other person when a problem arises to work together with you towards finding a solution.
Giving thanks when life treats you badly
But what about when things are going wrong – when it appears that life as we know it is falling apart? Even then, we are called to be thankful and grateful.
Giving thanks in all things – in every circumstance
Sometimes life challenges us to let go of our expectations – of thinking that this is how life is supposed to be – and simply accept life as it is. We wallow in the thinking “life’s not supposed to be like this” and “this shouldn’t be happening to me,” failing to look at life as it is. Without judgement. Without expectations. Simply looking at the present moment as it is.
Not everyone in life will treat you fairly – but I remember years ago telling a friend I was grateful for the “pumice stones” of my life, that had polished me so that I could shine! It’s about learning to be grateful for the opportunity to learn patience and better communication skills.
Maybe this relationship and situation is the opportunity you needed to learn to stand up and speak up for yourself! Consider that it might be time that you stopped living as a people-pleaser, and started to live your purpose. Is this a chance for you to say “no”, and learn to do so with kindness, compassion and yet firmness?
Perhaps this is an opportunity for healing, even breaking lifelong or generational cycles of pain. Life may simply be offering you the opportunity to be the one that says that this no longer runs in my family! It stops here.
I’m not saying it’s easy – but look for the opportunities within the pain.
Giving thanks when you screw up in life
Sometimes it’s not that life has done you wrong – sometimes you are the one that messed things up. Can you find gratitude and thanksgiving in those moments?
We’ve all messed up. All of us fall short!
Whether you look at Elijah, Moses, Peter, David or Paul – all of them failed at some point! And some of them fell flat on their faces! A long, hard fall. Crushed by their own choices.
But can you turn this around and be grateful for the lessons you have learned through your mistakes? Are you willing to be grateful for having choices that lead you to make a decision, even if in the 20/20 vision of hindsight it was so obviously the wrong one?
Notice what you learned about making better decisions. What did you overlook that you will consider next time you are faced with a similar situation?
Be thankful for you had an opportunity to learn humility and forgiveness. Notice the grace and mercy that you have received, and the lessons in empathy that this gives you to give more grace and mercy to others when they make mistakes.
Take a moment and just be thankful for the mistakes and all their deep lessons.
Gratitude when you experience grief and heartache
Sometimes life presents us with an empty chair.
Even this is an opportunity to learn to grieve with gratitude. To be thankful for what was, and all the experience of loving that person. Learning to let go of the person and the expectation of “what should be” to simply accept the present moment of what is.
Life sometimes challenges us to find the little things to be grateful, even within our pain and loss. When you see a happy photo or a reminder, to acknowledge the loss in the present moment – and be grateful for that moment and memory in the past. To acknowledge all that you shared and dreamed.
It’s learning to acknowledge and accept the pain, grateful for the love that you felt and feel – it’s only because you got to experience that love that you are now experiencing the pain.
Sometimes, it’s just being present with the pain that reminds you “I am alive, and so I feel” – and being grateful that you feel, even if what you are experiencing are grief and pain.
Celebrating the wins
Sometimes we lose. But other times we win.
And when you win – give yourself the moment and the time to celebrate and feel the win as deeply as you feel the losses!
There is no guilt in having done your best and having achieved something great for yourself or for others! In fact, feeling gratitude and acknowledging your wins gives you more motivation and confidence!
Even the practice of noting down your wins – feeling gratitude for them as you do it – will help you notice what you have learned on this journey and internalise the lessons. Allow yourself to consider and notice what you had to do in order to achieve this – in fact, where did you go up and beyond what you expected?
Celebrate the skills you have learned that allowed you to achieve this new level, noticing the extra effort you put in that got you to this place.
Make sure that as you do this, you fix in your mind what it takes to win. Doing this will have the following effect:
Work –> results –> gratitude and acknowledgement –> increased motivation –> more work –> better results.
Allow gratitude to give you a hand on life’s journey.
Living in the awareness – gratitude
Being thankful is more than just saying thank you. It is living with an awareness – an appreciation – of the value of what you have.
It starts by looking in the mirror, and becoming aware of your own goodness and strengths! It is being grateful for the difficulties of life that have made you stronger and brought you to where you are today. Take a moment today to look yourself in the eyes – in the mirror – and say “thank you”. Feel it. Allow it to grow.
Take a moment to look at your life, with all the highs and lows, and appreciate what is happening for you and through you. Look at all the ways that life is moulding you – emotionally, mentally and materially. Appreciate all the ways that you have grown.
Look around you, at the people in your life — all the people in your life. Appreciate them.
Savour each moment.
Be present with the Presence of the Divine – acknowledging all that you truly have to be thankful for – each and every day.