Tomorrow is considered a day of “THANKS”: originally marking the first harvest in the New World – a day of coming together to celebrate bounty. Bringing family and friends to the table each year to express our gratitude is a special time, which lends itself to shared moments of laughter and great memories. But, what if this day of thanks turned into a daily appreciation for the good in our lives? What if consistent reflection upon the things you are thankful for could bring you the benefits of positivity we experience on Thanksgiving Day?
“Gratitude” can be seen as just another one of those BUZZ words floating in the abyss of good-living. I, myself, have dabbled in the buzz over the last few years – hoping for a more positive outlook, genuine feelings of compassion and kindness, better sleep and even improved immune health. I’ve started (and stopped) gratitude journals, reaping the benefits of seeing the good in any situation (only to fall back into my normal patterns). Like any habit, the practice of “gratitude” takes true commitment, and it wasn’t until I held on to that commitment for an extended period of time that it stuck!
Personally, my commitment came alongside a devotion to learn how to meditate. The time was right with a good teacher, a helpful app to guide me, and a husband with the same devotion. In fact, my husband’s determination to write down three things each morning that he was grateful for, and three things each night that went well that day, AND my determination to take 15 minutes for myself to clear my mind and be present, rubbed off on each other until we each made both a daily practice. Sure, we might miss a day here and there, but I can say that we now look forward to those moments to set the vibration of our day.
As a child and young athlete, my mindset was one of my biggest strengths. A quote I used to repeat to myself frequently was “Attitude is the mind’s paintbrush; it can color any situation.” I believed it and lived it. It helped me overcome my fears, see the benefits in tough training days, and put a smile on my face. I still believe it, but as life became more complicated and the responsibilities of adulthood and motherhood crept in, it wasn’t as easy to repeat the saying and make a quick change. Overwhelm would often stand in the way. I needed a deeper plunge. The practice of meditation and gratitude have helped me immensely to relax into the current moment (rather than dwell in the past or worry about the future), trust in the process of life, and release energy that is not serving me.
The power of keeping a gratitude journal not only helps with overall outlook, but also during times of transition, or unknown. A great example from my own life is a recent reevaluation of my exercise routine. Those of you who know me, know that CrossFit has been my fitness love over the last six years. The intensity, the competitiveness, and a way to express my gymnastics strengths, while working on new techniques to improve my weaknesses. A few years ago, I saw myself being a CrossFit ninja for the rest of my life. I couldn’t imagine life without it. But, once I turned 35 many signs were telling me to slow down. I’d experienced nagging injuries, a decreased desire to be competitive (with others or myself), an intuitive sense that I needed more time in nature, and most recently, heart arrhythmias.
Athleticism (and the art of human movement) has always been part of my identity and it’s something that I don’t want to let go of. I’ve been afraid that a long break from the routine I’ve known, might squash this identity. I was frustrated and discouraged. But, through daily writings of what I’m grateful for and through the quiet practice of mediation, it’s been easier to look at things in a new light and be open to new opportunities to further strengthen ME: opportunities such as yoga invites at critical times!
I’ve dabbled in yoga for years and I love what I’m able to take away from a great yoga session. But, I’ve always had trouble “fitting it in” and never wanted it to take the place of a CrossFit workout. Recently, I met a good friend of mine and she had just come from a yoga class that left her beaming with rejuvenation and all she gained from it. She invited me to join her next time. While taking a short hiatus from CrossFit to give my heart a break from high intensity workouts, THIS seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something that feels RIGHT, for ME, NOW.
Ironically, the message of the yoga class was on the importance of “GRATITUDE.” The teacher did a fabulous job weaving in the benefits of acknowledging the simplest moments in our life that we can be thankful for. The mental shift that can take place by noting just three things that are going well in a moment of frustration or angst can turn the situation into something great. Was it a “coincidence” that this was the focus of the hour? Maybe. I think it was reassurance that I was in the right place at that right time – grateful for all the little steps that got me to the studio that day.
Through the practice of gratitude, I’ve been able to shift my perspective from “I’m never going to be able to workout again,” and “why me?”, to a chance to illustrate that the twists and turns of life may actually strengthen your identity. Meditation and gratitude journaling have also helped me embrace challenging parenting moments and keep my cool (not always, but more often); embrace the ebb and flow of work towards my overall vision; and embrace a house FULL of people, looking at it as an incredible chance to share love with family and friends rather than added stress.
Like with any habit, just starting can be the hardest part! Here are a few ways you can start incorporating a practice of gratitude into your life.
1. Saying Grace.
When you gather with your family, your friends, or just yourself at the dinner table, take a few minutes before eating to express what you are grateful for. We include our kids in this process and while much of what they express comes out of their mouth with routine (“I’m thankful for this yummy food and a great day”), they surprise me every now and then with something they are truly touched by.
2. Keep a gratitude notebook.
Whether you keep this by your bed, at your desk, or in a meditation spot, it’s a great place to capture new awarenesses and specific moments worth a dab of ink.
3. Keep a family gratitude jar.
This is a great way to unite your whole family’s thanks. Each day, each person writes down something on a piece of paper that they are grateful for and places it into the jar. At the end of the year, you can pull them out and read them to reflect on the “gifts” the year has brought your family.
Life is like a marathon; slow and steady movement, along with a positive outlook, leads to greatness over time. When life feels more like a constant sprint, we fail to stop and notice the incredible moments and beauty around us. I have no interest in running long distances, but this analogy helps me take more time for gratitude and thus be more patient with the journey of life. A six week break from my fitness routine is a very short time in the big picture, and it may lead me to circle back stronger in a new way.
Thanksgiving is a great time to start a practice of gratitude. Enjoy this time with friends and family and even start a Tree of Gratitude, with each leaf representing something you are grateful for. Run your own experiment to see where this practice may take you and those around you! What are you grateful for?