Every year around the November timeframe, I intentionally try to take stock of the little things in life that I am grateful for. Usually, this manifests itself in the form of a daily gratitude post with a list of the things that day I am most thankful for that particular day. Today, for example, as I sit here typing this, I am most thankful for fuzzy warm blankets, in particular a purple blanket my mom got me for Christmas a few years ago that I have dubbed my ‘muppet’ blanket, perfecting my french press coffee, and Hallmark Christmas movies. Although, to be honest, the last one on this list is significantly interfering with my ability to finish writing this post. Oops.
While I love little exercises like this, the last thing I want to do in a post on gratitude is to give you a ‘how to’ guide with a list of exercises for being thankful. Somehow, that would feel a little bit too forced, especially during a time of year when it seems like thankfulness can easily be overshadowed with busy schedules, holiday shopping, and family get togethers. In theory, we know it’s the time of year to celebrate being thankful for friends and family, but in reality we end up to bogged down with events to truly appreciate their presence.
Exercises that promote thankfulness including the daily gratitude posts I mentioned earlier will only go so far to help us feel more thankful. While helpful on some level, they don’t seem to dig too far past the surface, and as a result they can easily flee from our minds as life resumes its busy pace.
Rather, what I feel we truly need is to lay the groundwork to promote a gratitude mindset – a lens through which we view the rest of the world around us. Do you see the difference? Instead of taking a few minutes to press the pause button of life and list a few things you are thankful for before pressing resume, you are giving yourself a way for gratitude to affect the way you go about your day to begin with. It’s less of a moment of gratitude and more of a lifestyle of gratitude.
A lifestyle of gratitude – doesn’t that sound nice? I think it does, but you may be wondering what exactly something like that looks like. Recently my thoughts on gratitude have been heavily influenced by a sermon series I have been listening to on reciprocity – more commonly known as ‘give and take’ behavior. And let me give a little disclaimer here – whether you come from any kind of faith background or not, I think there is a lesson to be learned her for mankind in general.
There is nothing inherently wrong with reciprocity, in fact it is a guiding principle for much of human behavior and interaction. It creates a cyclical pattern of where we both give and take and expect others to fulfill their end of the bargain as well. The problem is that reciprocity can create a trap rooted in expectation that actually leaves us feeling less thankful, especially if we perceive that someone has not lived up to their end of things.
The freedom from this cycle and the sometimes inherent disappointments and frustrations come from changing the cycle to a pattern of receiving and releasing – or in other words giving from the best of ourselves in light of all the blessings we have received and releasing them to others around us, with no expectation of return. Ridding ourselves of the expectation is easier said than done, but it starts with taking stalk of the many things we have been fortunate enough to have and bestowing them upon someone else. This does not just include physical things, it could be our time, our love, a lending hand etc. The key is taking a little bit of what we have and blessing someone else with it.
When you take this mindset and combine it with mindfulness exercises, or intentional time set aside to enjoy the moment, it allows us to break the cycle of give and take and appreciate the things we have been blessed with more fully. This Thanksgiving don’t stop at listing what you are thankful for, take the time to be the reason for someone else to be thankful. I promise you won’t regret it.
Get Fit For It, Beth