This article was originally published by The Washington Post by Kristin Clark Taylor.
Thanksgiving is the day that gives gratitude a good name.
Golden turkeys will be admired, platters will be passed. And when it comes your turn at the dining room table to sit up and announce the one thing you’re most grateful for, try not to say the same thing as last year. It might be easy to do a repeat, but that’s kind of cheating.
I get it, gratitude might not be at the forefront for you right now.
Most of us are either preparing food today, preparing to travel — or both. We might be steeling ourselves for high-running family emotions. (Family and politics, anyone?) Tensions are taut just about everywhere, and as family members file through that front door, what often blows in with them is the angst that comes from having lots of folks under one roof who don’t always see eye-to-eye. Somebody’s going to say or do something that upsets someone else.
Gratitude gets crowded out.
But here’s the thing: When things go haywire, that’s when we need gratitude more than ever. My relationship with it has evolved over the years, and today it actually defines my life. I carry it around with me as a constant companion. Many times — particularly during my darkest moments — it carries me.
I need it to survive.
That’s how gratitude is. You have to develop a relationship with it, perhaps even a dependence on it, in your own daily life in a way that is deeply personal and only yours (imagine a fingerprint) — but you have to be able to share it, too, (imagine an outstretched hand).
It’s a two-step process, really: You generate gratitude from within — and in my case, from above — then push it back out into the world.
Simple? Yes. Easy? No. It requires energy, discipline and perseverance. Practiced regularly and constantly, grateful living can become an attitude rather than an action, an instinct rather than an exercise. But it requires a sustained connection. It cannot just be a fling. It cannot just be dragged out and dusted off on Turkey Day.
Thankfulness is much more than a warm-and-fuzzy feeling. It’s a purposeful process that requires a push every now and then to remain vibrant; a gentle shove, from time to time, to maintain its momentum. Left alone and untended, it can get lazy and leave.
When the sun sets on this Thanksgiving Day, try not to allow your sense of gratitude and appreciation to set with it. When you wake up Friday morning, search for new ways to remain committed.
Search for gratitude in new places. Find it in the hidden corners and unexplored pockets of your daily life that you’ve never noticed before. It’s there, I promise — and the darkened corners are often the best places to search. (It’s said that the light of hope shines brightest in the dark.)
Today, I offer up a little platter of tips and techniques that might help. I practice them daily, constantly. They keep me centered.
Some of them might sound a little silly, but I see this as a good thing because although the pursuit of gratitude is serious business indeed, the process itself should be simple and joyful. Smiles should be involved. Laughter should be invoked.
10-Toe Gratitude: Throughout each and every day, I check in with my body, just to whisper a thank-you, to my heart that beats, my lungs that breathe, my fingers that type. During evening yoga (downward dog is the perfect place) I say thank you to each of my 10 toes. Toes work hard and are grossly underappreciated. I love my toes and am grateful to have them.
Similarly, when I’m writing (which is often because it’s what I do for a living), I often pause to touch my wrist, find my pulse, and send a jolt of purposeful gratitude to the blood that flows through my veins. To embrace the very miracles that are constantly unfolding within us is right and necessary. I like to call it vital acknowledgment.
Double-Barreled Gratitude: Some people keep a daily gratitude journal that describes all the things we’re thankful to have (i.e., health, family, fresh cilantro). It’s easy and automatic to express gratitude for all that has been given to us, but what about the flip side?
I’m as grateful for the absence of a toothache as I am for the presence of fresh ginger root in my refrigerator; as grateful for the absence of a desire to drink as I am for the presence of my daughter’s quiet smile. Absence itself has a powerful presence.
If you keep a gratitude journal, try expanding it for a day or two and take the double-barreled route. Create a list that’s made up of two columns, one labeled “Presence,” the other “Absence.” Train your brain to assign value to the absences in your life, too. It will expand your perspective in unimaginable ways.
Kitchen Floor Gratitude: Many years ago, I tripped in my kitchen and twisted my ankle badly. At precisely the same moment my brain perceived the pain, a deep and sudden rush of gratitude rushed in.
As I lay sprawled on my kitchen floor, a miraculous dichotomy unfolded: In the midst of our pain, gratitude can find a home. Translated: My ankle hurts like hell but thank God it isn’t broken.
Brown-is-Beautiful Gratitude: From a very early age, my mother taught me to seek the sacred within the ordinary. I remember sitting in the backyard with my mother one summer afternoon just after a rainstorm, when a brilliant rainbow appeared.
After we admired it for a few minutes, she picked up a brown rock and placed it gently into my little hands. This plain old brown rock is every bit as spectacular as that beautiful rainbow, she said softly. Be equally thankful for both. Tip: Next time you see a stunning sunset, also remember to reach down and embrace the beauty of the brown rock. Be as thankful for the ordinary as you are for the spectacular.
As you sit down to dinner this Thanksgiving, don’t forget that exploring and expressing your own gratitude can be a constant pursuit, not a one-day affair. Not just today, but every day. So seek it. Find it. Pass it along.
We need it now more than ever.