Giving Thanks: Keeping the Attitude of Gratitude Alive Past the Holidays
This Thanksgiving marked many firsts for me and my family. It was the first celebration of any kind since I moved to my new home (only three days earlier!) It was also the first Thanksgiving that my aunt and uncle were hosting in their new house, and the first major holiday my boyfriend, Nick, and I were celebrating together. The fact that he was still speaking to me after two days in a moving truck was reason enough to give thanks!
Nick and I had managed to unpack and clear out enough space in the kitchen to spend the morning cooking. We lovingly prepared a veggie loaf, mashed cauliflower and pumpkin fudge from scratch!
All vegan and gluten-free for me!
We took our dishes, loaded up the trunk and made the 20-minute drive to my aunt and uncle’s house. There were 18 of us in total. A small and intimate affair by my family’s standards.
My aunt had a beautifully decorated table set up in the back yard, overlooking the river. It was 75 degrees and sunny.
Perks of living in Florida
My nieces were chasing my brother around the lawn, Nick was helping my cousin fry one of the three turkeys (a vegan’s worst nightmare,) my uncle was busy in the kitchen and the rest of us were eating, drinking and being very, very merry.
My cousin, Kendall and I began to set the table. We were trying to remember if the knife or fork went on the right (it’s the knife,) when Kendall turned to me and said, “I just felt a drop.”
We turned back towards the house and in an instant, the skies opened. It was a mad dash back inside. We all gathered around the glass doors, dripping wet, and watched as the rain soaked our table, chairs and centerpieces.
We exchanged a few glances and then sprung into action. Living room furniture was pushed aside. We ran back out into the downpour and grabbed chairs, tables, even the centerpieces!
Can we just stop for a moment to ackowledge how my cousin manages to look like a supermodel while moving a table in a rainstorm???? Me: not so much.
My aunt ran in with armfuls of towels. We moved, we dried, we reset. We laughed. A lot.
Within minutes we were gathered inside around our table enjoying some great food and even greater company.
After dinner, once the rain had stopped, we moved back outside to sit around the fire-pit. We were remarking on the perfect moonlight and I had just found Orion’s belt in the stars, when my uncle asked, “Kate, on a scale of 1-10, how would you rate this Thanksgiving?”
“I’d give it an 8.5-9.”
“Wow, that’s a high score!” my uncle said. My aunt asked, “What would have made it a 10?”
I thought for a second, but couldn’t come up with anything. “I’m not sure.”
I recalled the events of the day. We had fun and excitment. We had teamwork and laughter. We had love and appreciation. We had a perfect blend of old traditions and new beginnings. We had great drinks, delicious food, and most importantly, we had family. What more did I want? Maybe it was a perfect 10!
Over the next few days I kept thinking about it. Sure, there were many things that I could have asked for. Having the whole family there. Having dry shoes. Having made a better dessert (the pumpkin fudge, was NOT a hit.) But the truth is, in that moment sitting by the fire with my heart as full as my belly, there was absolutely nothing missing.
I felt truly grateful. I was grateful for all of it. The rain. The wet hair and feet. Snuggling with my mom. Holding my nieces. Watching my boyfriend bond with my family. Putting on an impromptu fashion show with my cousin. Cleaning the kitchen. Joking with my aunt. Saying goodnight and going to my new home.
Gratitude. It’s what Thanksgiving is really about. If you are lucky enough to celebrate with food and family that’s a bonus. But the day is about giving thanks. I’ll be honest, true gratitude is not something that has always come easily to me. Being grateful is a skill that I continue to practice.
Studies show there are numerous benefits to practicing gratitude, both physical and mental. Expressing thanks on a regular basis can help to reduce stress, improve sleep, boost immunity, and promote increased feelings of happiness in general, just to name a few. All the more reason to adopt the attitude of gratitude for the other 364 days of the year as well.
For most of my life, my default setting has always been to focus on whatever is missing. Whatever is not going right. Whatever needs to be fixed. I thought this was a helpful quality. I thought this is what kept me motivated to grow and improve. In fact, it was this way of thinking that instinctively kicked in when asked to rate the day. There was a small voice in my head that told me “Well, it can’t be a 10, because nothing is ever perfect.”
This mindset is what has prevented me from being fully present with the things that I do have. The things that are going well. The things that are already perfect, if I just allow them to be.
It may seem silly, but this year, what I felt most thankful for, was my ability to be grateful. Truly grateful. I’m thankful that I was able to sit in a beautiful moment, and couldn’t think of a single thing missing. My wish is that, next time I am asked, I can automatically see every moment as the perfect 10 it is.
Like all skills, the art of gratitude takes time and effort. Sometimes it comes easier than others. These are my personal favorite practices to keep the spirit of gratitude alive long after the last piece of pumpkin fudge is eaten.
1. Rampant Gratitude (AKA “Gratitude on Speed”)
This is exactly what it sounds like. I do this whenever I find myself in a negative headspace or complaining about all the things going wrong. I start listing off as many things that I am grateful for as fast as I can ( my mom, my dog, my coffee, my slippers, my new candle, my best friend, my electric toothbrush, my cozy blanket, my blender etc. etc.) I like this because you can do it anywhere. In your head, out loud, or on paper.
BONUS: Grab your gratitude journal, set a timer and see how many things you can list before the alarm goes off.
2. Positive Focus (Grab a Partner and Play)
This is one of my new favorite games! First, find a partner. Face your partner and start by declaring “Positive focus” and then say something positive about your day so far. Next it’s your partner’s turn to say “positive focus” and something positive about their day. Keep going back and forth for as long as you can.
NOTE: Be patient with your partner! As I mentioned, gratitude takes practice and sometimes it’s hard to see the positive right away. I’ve been playing this with my mom lately. The first time we played she couldn’t come up with anything. Finally she said, “Positive focus: It’s perfect weather for the chiminea, but ours is broken!” We are still practicing!
3. Gratitude List with a Twist
When I first started keeping a gratitude journal I found that I kept listing the same things over and over again. There was a lot to be grateful for; family, friends, health, a nice apartment, cool roommates, a good job, etc. etc. I would write the same things day after day without really connecting to a deeper feeling of gratitude around any of them. Whenever I find myself going through the motions of gratitude, I mix it up a bit. Instead of listing a bunch of things, I focus on one thing and instead write out a list as long as I can for all the reasons I am grateful for it.
BONUS: I really love using this practice when it comes to the specific people in my life. I’ve taken to buying blank cards, and instead of keeping these lists hidden in my journal, I write a note to someone that I love with all of the specific reasons why I am grateful for them, then I pop that baby in the mail. Yes, the real mail. With a stamp and everything.