We have just completed a season of giving and receiving. I hope that meant you were gracious and thankful for what you got, whether you were crazy about it or not. We do not always get what we want, or need or ever thought in a million years would be given to us. Often that is the case, not just on special occasions, but in life. I, like many of you, had it drilled into me at a young age to, no matter what, reply by thanking the giver. If you’re five-years-old and you receive clothes from your Great Aunt Edna instead of the latest toy, it can be hard to make ‘Thank you’ come out of your mouth!
But what about now that we’re all grown up and see the big picture? Can we really be full of gratitude when life hands us something unexpected, or when we’re not ready, or it’s something close but not really what we asked for? I grapple with this dilemma over and over in my mind. I would love to feel grateful and full of gratitude for what I have, what I am, and the possibilities before me, but instead I am too often obsessed with what I want and don’t have. Recently, a memory hit me in the head over the holiday’s that snapped me out of it.
In the past, we had an adult family member who was particularly ungrateful. Each year we would put great effort into finding a present this person would open and be happy with, but no matter the effort, the cost, or the thought, each Christmas present was greeted with comments like, “Why would anyone think I would like this?” or “This color never looks good on me.” or “Maybe I can take it back and get something I really want.” In the beginning we felt bad, and then it became embarrassing and finally, guess what? We just stopped caring whether they liked our gift or not. If our gifts had been met with a kind thank you, we would have been motivated to give even more and would have had a completely different view of them. That made me think, do I want to be like that? Do I want to find fault with every blessing, every situation, and every opportunity that comes my way just because it isn’t what I thought it would be? No I do not. But I’d have to admit, sometimes I have. So how do we come to a place of gratitude? Begin with these three easy steps.
Start with your toes. In yoga class, in order to relax our muscles, we often mentally relax our bodies by starting with our toes and work our way up. Similarly, when I am at a loss of what to be thankful for I start with my toes. Sometimes I am thankful that my toes are warm, sometimes I am thankful my toes don’t hurt, and sometimes I’m just thankful that I have toes! I know it sounds weird but it works, because it’s not that we don’t have anything to be thankful for, it’s that we don’t know where to start. By the time I reach the rest of my body I’ve moved on to much more meaningful subject matter, but it took the toes to get me going.
Control your mind. Keeping negative thoughts out of your mind and replacing them with grateful ones can turn your life around, one day at a time. Our actions and outcomes follow the way of our thoughts. A grateful mind is focused on the best and will bring the best into reality. This is not easy, but the more you do it the easier it becomes and if you do it for at least a month, it will become a habit.
Develop a gratitude system. Whether it is a gratitude journal, index cards, notations on your calendar, or stating what you are grateful for out loud in your car on the way to work; develop a system that works for you and your lifestyle. There is no right or wrong way, some people like to keep a running tab of gratitude and others need to hear it in their own voice to make it real. Do what works and what you will stick with over the long haul, like the rest of your life.
A grateful mind brings us to a place of faith and trust that connects us to creative energies outside of ourselves. As you become more thankful you will change yourself to expect good, and if you expect good you will bring good to you. If you don’t believe it, try giving out good thoughts, words, and body language as you go through a busy checkout line. I have seen an exasperated clerk transformed into a pleasant only because I wasn’t demanding and was thankful as I made my purchases. It works! And I guarantee that if you choose to be grumpy, rude and demanding with others, you will receive it back. Choose gratitude, start today, change your world.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” -Cicero