One year in college I lived in a house where we all ate dinner together every night Sunday-Thursday. Each night we had a ritual of going around the table and listing things in our day for which we were grateful. One housemate always had a long list of things to be thankful for- sometimes to the point that the person next to her would take their turn by saying something to the effect of, “I’m thankful Ally finally finished her list of things she’s thankful for so we can actually eat.” One particularly rough day though no one had anything good to say- in fact no one wanted to even go around the table because we couldn’t think of anything to contribute. It was one of those days where people overslept for a test, computers deleted massive term papers, relationship soured and we all wanted it to be over as soon as possible. We ate in silence those first few minutes, our own concerns weighing heavily on each of us. Ally finally broke the silence stating simply, “I’m thankful we all made it through this day to have dinner together.”
And that’s all it took. One recognition of gratitude; something small we could all hold on to. Suddenly, the energy shifted dramatically in the dining room and we all felt a little better. We started talking about our days, we empathized with one another, we laughed and suddenly we had a whole host of things to be grateful for.
It’s easy to be grateful when amazing things happen. I’m grateful I graduated or my book was published or I found the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. Big things with huge amounts of gratitude behind them. We can easily be grateful for sunsets or a deer walking across our path during a hike or the view from a mountain.
How about in the middle of crisis or pain or even anger though? Things become a little trickier. A woman I know passed away suddenly this week after a horse riding accident. Her family counted the things they were grateful for in moments, not hours or days. Someone cuts you off on the road – driving aggressively and dangerously. Can you be thankful that you were kept safe in that interaction or that the other driver was as well? Maybe you hate your job, hate the direction your life is heading? Can you be thankful to read an article or a book or even a quotation that allows you to feel hope, even for a moment? Your turkey burned, the casserole dish shattered on your tile floor and you’re pretty sure the dog just drank your glass of wine – Can you be thankful this holiday will be the one your family will always talk about?
Martha Beck, one of the most famous life coaches out there has kept a gratitude journal for years. Every night she writes down five things she is grateful for and the whole process takes maybe two minutes. But there’s a catch — she made a deal with herself that she can never be grateful for the same thing twice. Can you pay attention to your life in that much detail?
Some days when I am stuck in traffic or I can’t fall asleep or my brain is spinning with the weight of the details of my life, I try and stop and make a gratitude list of all the things I can think of. They are little things- the feel of the flannel sheets on my bed, the fact I had the exact CD I wanted to listen to in my car when I wanted it, that my car has enough gas that I don’t have to stop and fill up today when I don’t have time. Thinking about those little things are life-shifting for me on a daily basis.
I guess what I am saying is that you don’t always have to be HUGELY grateful for the things going on around you- sometimes you simply can’t be. But if you can find just the tiniest amount of gratitude, as small as a ladybug maybe, it really does make all the difference. Gratitude begets gratitude. I don’t always understand the math behind this- particularly when I am really struggling. What I do know is when I am in pain or angry or frustrated or hopeless, if I can stop and take a moment to be grateful for something no matter how small, my world shifts and I head back on the path towards the person I want to be.
This upcoming week is our week of gratitude. The expectation is for us to be hugely thankful for everything in our lives. That seems like a lot of pressure to me. So I challenge you not to be grateful for everything, but to find those little tiny things in your life that you are thankful for and see how that makes a difference in your day. I bet there is more there than you think.
And because it’s important for me to say this in a concrete way: I am very, very grateful for all of you who read my blog, whether you read every post I write or if you just stop by once to see what I have to say. Thank you, thank you, thank you.