I’m going to let Thanksgiving be the kickoff for a new year filled with gratitude! I can’t imagine a better way to prepare for a new year than looking forward with gratitude. I suppose it’s more common to look back in nostalgia, but that only leaves me longing for something that is no longer. Somehow that seems like a waste of emotional energy that can better be used to recognize, feel, and express thankfulness for what’s happening all around me.
Approaching each moment with a posture of gratitude keeps me focussed on the amazing strength and courage the universe provides to meet each challenge. That recognition then becomes a spiral of feeling more confident, powerful, calm, peaceful, and humble which in turn provides me with more joy and, of course, gratitude. If that spiraled out of control, would it be such a bad thing? I think not.
Science is even getting behind this idea. Studies by psychologists Dr. Robert A Emmons of the University of California, Davis, Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, and Dr. Martin E. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania have shown that the positive effects of practicing gratitude include: Feeling more optimistic and better about life, exercising more, and making fewer doctor visits.
Taking a quick look at daily news stories, online rants, and statistics on child abuse and domestic violence, it is easy to see that we are in need of healing in our family units. The pain we suffer at home often spills over into our workplace. Before we realize it, our entire worldview can quickly become jaded, pessimistic, and dismal.
Even the healing process requires that we walk back through sadness, grief, loss, and rage in order to let it go. How can we possibly feel grateful in the midst of open wounds?
Here’s the deal. You don’t have to feel grateful to start the process. You just have to PRACTICE gratitude. I’m not saying this because I read it somewhere. I’m saying this because I’ve felt the power of this practice by filling journal after journal with lists that I struggled to generate while caught in a cycle of grief.
I started with the intention of writing 5 things I was grateful for every day. Some days I could only come up with 3. Often, 3 of those things were the same as the day before. I know this because I recently reviewed a series of these journals before throwing them away. I felt both sad at how I had felt and joyous about how I feel now.
What I learned in the process is that even the tiniest amount of gratitude changed my focus in a positive way. The other thing I learned was that when I could find a way to be thankful for something really painful, I had found an emotional place from which to begin to heal that pain.
Healing requires having the courage and fortitude to sit and fully embrace the fear, anger, sadness, loss and other difficult emotions that hold us hostage until they dissipate for good. Coming to these moments with gratitude helps makes this process more tolerable.
For instance, I am grateful that I believe I am competent to achieve a goal even when I must push past feeling unprepared, afraid, or inadequate. This belief for which I’m grateful comes from the years of events like: Having to hang onto the saddle when my parents sent me galloping down the road on a full-size horse by myself. I was 18 months old. Being sent to round up the cows when I was 5 and hardly bigger than the dog I took with me. The cows acted as if I wasn’t even there, but I knew if I didn’t get them started toward the barn, the danger of the punishment I would receive was greater than any danger those cows represented. Being the delegated baker of cakes for my family to give away when I had just entered elementary school. By then, I knew how to use a mixer and the oven so I was in the kitchen alone. This was not all bad. I enjoyed baking. Getting up every night to take care of my crying baby sister because the adults in the house didn’t seem to hear her. At least by then I was 13.
While I am grateful for the skills and feeling of competence, I have had to grieve the lack of a childhood and wonder what it would feel like to ever feel carefree. (I also have a lingering sense of danger because typing this would be considered talking out of school and the consequence of such a breach still feels frightening.)
Because I began sharing this with a statement of gratitude, the feeling of loss and danger quickly dissipate and I’m left with a feeling of accomplishment and joy that I left high school after 3 years to begin college, raised two amazing sons, was able to pay for their college education, started two businesses, successfully operated one of them for 24 years while building the other one, earned a pilot’s license, built and maintained computer networks, and am slowly finding the courage to reveal where I began.
Whew! I’m also grateful to Brené Brown whose work reminds me that gratitude will help me get past my current feeling of vulnerability. To that end, I am grateful this post is done and for the chance to begin a new year with gratitude as its focus.
If you feel you can’t possibly begin to practice gratitude, let me leave you with this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”