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.
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
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: