There’s so much I could say about Thanksgiving. It’s kind of gross, Obama jolly jolly for the cameras, pardoning a turkey while Native American protesters (and their supporters) are being water-cannoned for protesting the destruction of sacred sites and danger to their water supply. It serves to remind that the image of Native Americans and Pilgrim colonist/invaders feasting together hides a bloody truth.
I think the tradition of dedicating a day to giving thanks is worth celebrating though. And although some argue that the ‘true meaning’ has been bastardised into a festival of over-consumption, I also see many Americans making expressions of gratitude. That can’t be a bad thing.
Practising gratitude – having daily rituals of being grateful, like writing down three things you are grateful for, or meditating on people you are grateful for – has demonstrable positive impact on people’s lives. It’s taught by psychologists and coaches to help people manage depression and anxiety and research shows that it can have long lasting positive effects on the brain.
The world is a genuinely scary place right now but those of us in the West mostly have so much to be grateful for. We take education for granted. Most of us have good health and expect to live to old age. There is plenty of everything. Maybe if we turned off the TV news or our Facebook feed once a day, and focussed on all the things we have instead of fretting about who might take it away (it’s the government and the rich people. Always) we’d feel a little better. I realise one of the way I am extremely privileged is I am safe. I am safe in my home. I am safe at work. I live in an area of very low crime, with safe roads and waterways, and little pollution. I don’t see armed police of soldiers in the street when I go out. I don’t live under the daily threat of bombs. Although the world is scary, right now, I am safe, and I am grateful for that.
This week I have been so grateful for the many lovely people in my life. The men I live with, the people I have seen, the people I have chatted with online and on the phone, the work colleagues who are generous in their support and their good humour. My mad family whose intercontinental Christmas lunch planning group has been one of the highlight of me week.
I am grateful to all of you who have listened to me and encouraged me, and inspired me and made laugh, not just this week but all the time. I know I don’t tell you enough.
Here are some things you can do to exercise your gratitude muscle.
Write thank-you notes. Make it a habit to express your appreciation of someone’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day.
Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for.
Meditate. Focus on what you’re grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.) while you connect with your breath.
Be grateful for you. I learned this at a wellness course, and it’s surprising to realise how rarely we thank ourselves. Don’t forget to thank yourself for all that you do, and to delight in your best efforts.
Taking the time to count your blessings also encourages you to enjoy the things you have, to indulge in the commonplace luxury of spending time with friends or relaxing in your own backyard. Let’s enjoy life!