Guest Author: Susanne Skinner
“Pay attention. Be Astonished” ~ Mary Oliver
This week I decided to write about gratitude. The inspiration for this topic came from a sermon I heard on the same subject. Accompanying the sermon was the invitation to take one week and chronicle five things I was grateful for on each day. It was a powerful reminder that I used to do this on a regular basis and somehow it had fallen lower on the priority list and become very irregular. I saw it as a welcome kick in the pants to get back on the gratitude train and renew the habit.
First, I searched the phrase “Power of Gratitude’ and found 4,740,000 results. That’s blog worthy. It’s obviously not a new idea, since more than 4 million other people are already writing about it. Let me be one more.
We are entering The Season. It begins at the end of October, with Halloween in the rear view mirror and Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching at warp speed. If you are like me, you are promising yourself that this year WILL be different. You will not get sucked into the mass marketing of these holidays. You will purchase small but meaningful gifts, decorate modestly, not go overboard in the cooking or eating departments and show kindness to small children and animals. This line of thinking will also be the foundation of a blog I am going to write called “Lies I Tell Myself,” but that won’t be for another month.This frenzied pace and my desire to avoid it is a reminder of the real deal—the concept of thankfulness. We’d like to keep this thought way ahead of the gift buying, turkey roasting, party planning onslaught that looms before us and fired by the media. But somehow it falls behind—way behind—the more immediate and insistent aspects of The Season. This year let’s be different. Let’s practice some intentional gratitude.
Gratitude is a powerful thing. Books, blogs, sermons, radio and television talk shows, seminars and self-help programs cover this topic at length. Medical studies show that those who engage in a regular ritual of appreciation are healthier and happier. Posters remind us that what we take for granted other people are praying for. There’s a bottom line here—thankfulness feels good and it’s good for you. In a world focused on material possessions and instant gratification we often lose site of everyday things that make our daily lives livable.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the positive when there is something negative pressing down on us. We lose sight of that which is constant and good when something unexpected or negative happens.
I believe this is still a good time to be grateful. Not grateful for the struggle, but appreciating the struggles we don’t have. A grateful heart helps us see our situation in a way that can lessen the panic, and could open our minds to new paths and solutions. Everything that happens to us is a teachable moment and can serve as a reminder to be grateful. The thing is, we humans aren’t hardwired to be grateful. It’s a skill worth having but it requires commitment for it to become a habit. It’s a feeling, but it’s also a practice.
Many years ago I heard Oprah Winfrey (love her or hate her) suggest the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. The idea resonated so strongly with me that I went out and bought a notebook. I surprised myself by writing in it – not daily as she encouraged me to do, but when something struck me as meaningful. That was in 1998. I still do this, and my journal is full of one liners, clippings and spur of the moment documentation of the joys and bits of wisdom I come across. Sometimes I just write one word – like chocolate. Their value lies in reminding me of the bountiful gifts I enjoy and creates a commentary for me to revisit when I am feeling less than blessed. Oh yes, that happens.
Thirty Days of Thankfulness
This brings me to my idea for Thirty Days of Thankfulness, because if seven days is good, thirty days is better. In the month of November, when we are gearing up to be Thankful for a Day, why not make it thirty days? I am going to write five things each day that I am grateful for. No repeats, no making stuff up, and no limits on what I can say. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.
This is not hard. Things happen to us every day that – if we thought about them – we would recognize as blessings. Here’s the challenge. We need to think about them. We need to be mindful of what is important. You don’t need anyone to remind you of your gifts. It’s your job to remind yourself and this is a great way to do it.
Thirty Days of Thankfulness. Thirty chances to think and then write about what you are grateful for. An entire month of affirmations about what is good. I’m betting once you are thirty days into it you will want keep the habit going. Get your friends to do it with you. Create a ground-swell movement of recognizing and appreciating the amazing things that make up your life. Buy a notebook and get started!
Ten Reasons to Be Thankful
If you need a jump start to your inspiration, here are ten that have been on my mind:
- Thanksgiving leftovers (yep – already thinking about it)
- The red amaryllis bulb I’m going to plant in December
- The leaf blower loaned by our neighbor
- Children who double as IT consultants
- The scent of dried lavender
- My dog curled up next to me
- Baking a favorite pie for my friend Beth
- A visit with my Dad to celebrate his 93rd birthday
- Growing an avocado plant from the pit, just like my mom did
- My electric blanket
If you need some additional inspiration I recommend Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy and the companion Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude, both by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Sarah’s affirmations are simple and authentic. The journal is beautifully blank, and a perfect place to begin your writing.
Slow down enough to experience the special things that occur around you and within you. Gratitude is contagious. The more you experience it, the stronger it grows. Keep the spirit of Thanksgiving alive throughout the month of November and I guarantee you it will remain with you throughout the year.
“Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery. It merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.” ~ Richelle E. Goodrich
AK Note: I’m going to get started early and be thankful that the Red Sox won last night’s World Series game against the Cardinals.