Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thinking About Gratitude




I have been thinking a lot about this topic throughout the Autumn and given that this is the American Thanksgiving and I have many American friends, it seemed like as good a time as any to talk about it.

Gratitude.

The idea for this blog post was reinforced last week when I was working on my Remembering Kennedy post and I ran across this quote:

As we express our gratitude,
we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words,
but to live by them
John F. Kennedy


I don't know if Kennedy himself came up with those words, or just a really fabulous speechwriter, but no matter - those words called out to me across the years.

I have been guilty in life of not being as grateful as I might be for what I have.  Sure, I thank God for my family and friends every night, especially for my children, but sometimes those prayers and thoughts of gratitude become rote exercises in our lives; we say them, but do we think about them?  More importantly: do we live them?

However, this Fall seems all about my learning to be thankful - the online course I've been doing with Brené Brown, meditation, my writing.

We write about clothing and decorating and the books we read and the movies we watch, but those things are all made by people (well some may be made by machines, but I am not particularly smart when it comes to those things so I am going to gloss over that! I am after all the person who thinks the TV has fairies in it...) and not simply the designers and the writers and the movie makers, but people doing the physical work of creation for us as well. 

I was unpacking Christmas things last night and while my items are imbued with the memories of my family and the Christmases where these items have served as silent (or not so silent - hello to my Mother's crazy wide-mouthed bass that sings Christmas carols that is the most god-awful thing but will always get to stay as it reminds me of her!) sentinels to our good times, but I thought of the people who made them first, the people who drove the trucks to get them to the store, the people who worked in the shops where we bought them.

Yes Virginia, there is an Indy Claus..


It is human, I think, to be thinking and planning ahead.  It is human to want the new "thing" - I mean Adam and Eve wanted that shiny new apple and if they'd hung around The Garden of Eden long enough they would have been scoping out the new Apple Computer for sale by that Mr. Snake Guy - but all things have a cost and if we start to look at the world around us as the magical place that it is, it starts to change our perspective. 

Deepak Chopra says that if you are always thinking of the past or thinking of the future you are living in a dream world.  The only real thing is right now.  By the time you read these words I will be off doing something else altogether.  Learning to be in the present and enjoying the present naturally leads to gratitude.  And if you are not in the place this year to feel that gratitude (and believe me I have had times like that too), the most important gift you can give yourself in the next year is to try to find some way to get your sense of gratitude back.  Baby steps.  Maybe you are just grateful for your lungs that help you breath.  Or that somebody invented dark chocolate and red wine.  Those are good places to begin.



This practising of gratitude is starting to make a huge difference in my life.  It is not Pollyanna-ish - it is actually a gift that we can give ourselves.  Now when I am waiting in line at Starbucks for my tall decaf cappuccino, I am looking at the whole enterprise in wonder - isn't it amazing that I can pop into my local bookstore and these people are just waiting to serve me?  And it may take 5 minutes to get my coffee, but I can take that time to breath deeply and look at the shiny machines and wonder how if the guy behind the counter minds wearing a hair net.  And then my cappuccino comes and it is excellent and I am warm and feeling lucky indeed.  And it makes my interactions with them friendlier and more personal and that can only be a good thing.

I wish I could say I was born feeling grateful as I ought to be - I was not.  I have suffered my own share of "the grass is always greener" and I will struggle with that for the rest of my life I guess.  But I am making progress and that progress is making me more joyful and content.  I think of people I know who are naturally filled with gratitude; they are my teachers.  I read once that the comedian Jack Benny was like that: every sandwich was the best one he'd ever had; he was always filled with wonder.  One of my good friends, G, is married to a man who is like that.  He makes me just gloriously happy to be around him because he is always so pleased and happy for others (and for himself and he should be - he's married to G!).  Cultivating gratitude in our lives is a gift for ourselves and a gift for others - I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't want to be around G's husband.

I have a friend who recently took an amazing trip.  The destination was the original motivator to go; the journey was the gift and he accepted the gift with gratitude.    Through his pictures of life in a very different place, I not only got to see this world, it also helped me be grateful for the life of potential and choices within which I live.

I tried this yesterday when I went to the grocery store.  Normally, I don't like the grocery store; it is big and overwhelms me with the selections.  I only had to get a couple of things, but as I walked the aisles, I focused on how amazing it was that there were these many choice - that you could have red, white or green chai tea, caffeinated or decaffeinated.  Really - could you want more?  And people delivered that tea there and stocked those shelves with that tea and someone invented the machine that let me check out all by myself.  It was quite miraculous, really.

I think that for many people in the past, the remembrance of gratitude was reinforced by the church (of course, for others, the church had the opposite effect!) and that in 2013, we are looking for ways to feel connected.  The world is a big place and we sometimes feel small.  But by practising gratitude and kindness we are able to break down that vastness that separates us from one another.  Not only when we are face to face, but across the miles as well.



On this fine Thursday (and Happy Thanksgiving to my American Friends!), I thought I would leave you with a quote by Brené:

I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness - it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude.


I am grateful to day for all of you, whether you leave comments or not - you are ALL important to me!
Have a happy Thursday and say safe out there!





 

27 comments:

  1. And I'm grateful for you Wendy for your incredible posts!....always informative, interesting, sensitive and humorous. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks Anon! That is really kind!

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  2. I've been on the go a lot lately with not as much time to comment, but I've read when I could. That was a very nice post! So funny that I was just listening to someone marvel about the grocery store (warm honey for the coffee! etc) and I observed that I steel myself before I go in with my list (recent trip had a list 3 pages long for Thanksgiving week food/guests/etc), it is like doing battle for me, but here she was taking time to smell the roses in there. I have work to do, need to slow down or something! Have a great day!

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    1. Cate - I am with you girl! I am guilty of the same thing but it is quite amazing when you do it!

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  3. Well Happy Thanksgiving Wendy! When I slow down and pick my head up I am always grateful. I do believe God gave me life and continues to give me blessings everyday. You have been a wonderful introduction to the blogging world, which I started a bit over a year ago. I am grateful for your generosity, sincerity, humor, and love. My prayer for you is to breathe…feel not only the present but also His presence. Much love.

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    1. Enjoy those beautiful babies of yours, BB!

      And breathing is a good thing!

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  4. Hello Wendy, this one brought tears to my eyes. I am grateful that we are friends, that I get to see you on Wednesday mornings and that you share your life with us,through these posts every day. They always make me smile, warm my heart....or today tear up. xox G

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    1. Aww thanks Ger! You know I love you and Ben!

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  5. Ha, I have been known to ask Starbucks to remake my drink three times! And I abhor those devilish self check out machines, I'm not sure that I'm very good at gratitude for every day things and serenity in the supermarket is never going to be achieved for me but that aside, what a lovely post and what a lot to think about, I'm having one of those 'I am so happy days' today, the ones that come for no reason whatsoever. Now, that in itself is a reason to be cheerful and grateful, sort of an ouroboros of happiness really!

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    1. I love those days - they are the best and always wish I could bottle them!

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  6. This is so in line with what I was thinking today, and it is very eloquently said! I struggle with living in the present due to a mixture of circumstances, but sometimes I manage to see what's in front of me and the world in its entirety really moves me. Am I turning into an old sap? I am grateful for you and your journey, since I feel that we have been tackling this "soul searching" mission at the same time (and even together at times!) your zest for life inspires me, and makes evey day a little more pleasant. Thank you for enerouslysharing your life with s, and to remind us to stop, look and appreciate!

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    1. Thanks AB! Well if you are an old sap, I am an ancient one!! I love it that we are travelling this interesting path together - it is always easier to do it with friends, isn't it?

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  7. Thank you for such a wonderful post on this special day. You have a gift of putting into words how I feel most days (the grocery example is spot on). I look forward everyday to your posts which always make me smile. Your good heart I can feel in your writing. Gratefulness and kindness, we can never have too much of that. Thank you for reminding us.

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    1. Thanks so much Marie! I do think we all learn from each other and pass it on!

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  8. Wendy this was a gorgeous post and I am grateful for it! So interesting that you've been doing this, I realized a couple of weeks ago that I was becoming a real Grumpy Gus, and decided to turn it around by just appreciated the moments and whatever I was actually doing no matter how mundane. Then I was listening to CBC the other day and there was a neuropsychologist being interviewed who was discussing the fact that our brains are in fact wired for negativity (our ancestors needed to pay extra attention to the negatives in their environment to survive)... but we can create new pathways towards happiness (neural plasticity) by paying attention to something good or beautiful and then taking 12-15 seconds to process it, or "install" it in our brains. Interesting huh!
    So that's what I've been doing and when you explained walking around the grocery store, to me it sounds like you've been doing it too. You've given me new ideas because I was in the grocery yesterday and I felt frazzled, I'll try the Wendy Walkabout the next time I'm there.
    Have a great evening!

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    1. I think we do all get grumpy now and then - for me it is usually because I haven't set good boundaries. Or other things! The meditation has sure helped as has the mindfulness, so interesting you are doing the same!

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    2. That's so interesting Dani - firstly because that's correct about negativity for survival (as an aside there are higher rates of paranoid schizophrenia amongst certain countries that have always had tribal infighting, because if you were paranoid you probably had a better chance of surviving). Secondly though, I do think some people are natural optimists and others are not. My oldest child is a natural pessimist (I am an optimist, he gets this from my husband!), and one thing I do with him a lot is to get him to focus on what's gone right in his day, and what was good. He'll dwell on the single minor thing that went wrong otherwise. I feel that by doing this while he's young, it will give him the tools to grow into a happy adult.

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    3. Heidi that's a brilliant technique you are using with your son, what a tool you are giving him... that's mindful parenting right there.
      And very interesting about the link b/w paranoid schizophrenic's and a tribal infighting history, this stuff makes so much sense when we step back and look doesn't it! I find it really interesting.

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    4. Wenders yes I have to set good boundaries and also not get irritated needlessly, I do NOT want to turn into an old Grump!

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    5. Heidi and Dani - I learn something new everyday! I guess we have evolved to be watchful and worried!

      dani - I don't think you could ever be an old grump!

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  9. Hi Wendy!

    Happy Thanksgiving from 68 degrees and sunny California! I'm grateful for the weather amongst other things.

    I've been pondering a lot on gratitude for the past few weeks. We do have so many basic needs met and we forget how hard it is for other people who live in other countries where water doesn't come from a turn of a faucet and light doesn't come on when they want it too. We have it pretty good and I need to be a lot more mindful of that. I think the constant want to buy, buy, buy makes us less grateful for the wonderful things we already do have. For me, in order to be more mindful is to buy less...if we are always buying the next thing, when are we going to appreciate what we already have? My new thinking is to be thankful for what I have because there are so many people who have it worse and would love to be in my place. Great post!

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    1. Wendy, will try and make it for dessert!

      Agree on the being thankful! It is so important and really loving what you have is the key and it can be learned!

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  10. Very well said!
    I am sometimes trying to make everything "perfect" and forget about the little things.

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    1. HI Ina! Sometimes good enough is good enough! Happy Thanksgiving!

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  11. Love this post Wendy, we do have so much to be grateful for, and even when things are really bad in life, grabbing onto the little things and feeling grateful is key. And that might be as simple as savouring a glass of wine that feels well deserved at the end of a difficult day. xx

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    1. Heidi - I think you are right! YOu have certainly had to go to a zen place this fall with the house!

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  12. Sadly I have to report I used to have a more grateful way to look at things. If a beautiful sunny day I think thank God, you lucky girl to have all that you need to enjoy this gorgeous day. If a cold and grey day I think well adds interest to change it up and all the better to do some cleaning up or cozy home activities. If stuck in traffic I think God is probably saving me from some bad incident down the road and giving me another opportunity to practice patience ...

    Thanks for a wonderful post for getting back to the right frame of mind.

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Kindness is a virtue...