Photo by Kitsilano Neighbourhood House
My parents used to encourage me to say thank you. A lot. When I was given a gift or present, after someone helped me in a store or checkout line (regardless of whether the “help” was particularly helpful or cheerful), in the classroom to my teachers, and when someone did anything for me, cooked dinner, helped with my chores, etc. Sometimes the results of this enforced gratitude were more robotic than sincere—but nonetheless, being polite, saying thank you, became a habit.
And my parents often took their say-thank-you lecture one step further. “It’s not enough to just say thank you,” they’d insist. “You have to feel thankful.” It sort of annoyed me. How the heck could I feel something I was being forced to say? But as my childhood and teen years progressed, I started to realize that speaking the words did focus me on what I was truly receiving and make me feel genuinely appreciative.
It wasn’t until I was an adult, however, that I learned of the notion of thankfulness or gratitude being a practice. Merriam Webster dictionary defines practice simply: “to do something again and again in order to become better at it: to do (something) regularly or constantly as an ordinary part of your life.”
Thinking of thankfulness as a practice made absolute sense to me. I absolutelywas more grateful when I took time to voice my appreciation to people or in prayer. And the more I acknowledged the beauty in the world and the abundance of ways I was helped and provided for, the better I got at seeing even more things to be thankful for.
I’m still growing my practice of thankfulness, of course (I suspect we never fully arrive!), and I’ve noticed other benefits of gratitude. Being thankful, and forcing myself to note and articulate things I’m grateful for, goes a long way to banish feelings of entitlement and self-pity. It’s easy to see all the things we perceive we lack, but when we flip our thinking and intentionally list the things we have and that people give us, materially or spiritually or whatever, it becomes almost impossible to not have a change in attitude. Being grateful doesn’t automatically remove hard times or change sad or terrible experiences, but it does help you cope because you see the good and the positive that coexists with the difficult. The Yang in the Yin, if you will.
So in that vein, here are just some of the things I’m incredibly grateful for: family, friends, food, health, home, books, nature. . . .
My list may seem obvious, perhaps—but sometimes it’s those “obvious” things that we forget to think on particularly and to say thank you for specifically. They can be the easiest to take for granted, and I don’t want to take anything for granted.
I regularly challenge myself to make lists of things I’m grateful for. The contents always change. Sometimes I make large sweeping generalities, like I did above. Other times I focus on the tiny details that sometimes get overlooked, so not family as a whole, but each individual person, then the unique particulars of their personalities that I so appreciate. Not nature as a massive entity, but the way frost forms crystal designs on golden leaves early the fall. Not food in one big gulp—but the first sip of coffee, perfectly creamed, when it hits your waiting tongue.
So I learned my parents were right, and I’m thankful for it. Saying thank you is important, but feeling thankful is even more so. May you always have eyes to see the good around you, and the willingness to do so, no matter how difficult it sometimes seems. And have fun! Taking the time to notice, really notice, all the things you have to appreciate is a joy-creating exercise.
p.s. To all my American friends, happy Thanksgiving in two days (and every day, of course)!
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