Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian readers!
If you're not in Canada, you may be confused right now, especially if you are American. It's quite simple, really.
Thanksgiving is traditionally centered around the harvest - we give thanks for nature's bounty. At least, that's how it started, as I understand it.
And in Canada, the harvest comes earlier than in the USA, by virtue of us being further north and having a colder climate. That's really the only reason our Thanksgiving is celebrated a month earlier.
But it's always struck me as a bit sad, that so many of us need a special day to remind us to acknowledge how blessed we are.
Studies show that people who get in touch with feelings of gratitude on a daily basis have better quality of life, both physically and mentally. I share several links at the bottom of this blog that will help you explore both the benefits and the ways you can implement a daily gratitude practice, and I hope you'll check them out.
Incorporating gratitude into your daily life doesn't have to be difficult, or time-consuming. Here are a few suggestions, based on practices I've implemented in my own life. I hope you find them helpful.
1. START your day with gratitude. Before you even get out of bed, as you lie there after waking up, focus on one thing you are grateful for about the coming day, or about your current situation. It could be as basic as, I'm grateful for waking up under a warm and cozy duvet. Or, I'm grateful for my kitty/doggie who reminds me it's time to get up in the morning. Or, I'm grateful for the wonderful aroma coming from the coffee maker that was pre-programmed last night. Or, I'm grateful for the lovely sunshine streaming into my window/the rain pattering on the window that nourishes my garden. Or... you get the idea.
2. Write it down. Taking some time each morning (or evening) to free-flow your thoughts on paper is a great way to get in touch with your feelings, and process what your brain has been analyzing in the background. Part of my daily journaling practice is to jot down a few things that come to mind, for which I'm thankful. When I go back and read prior journal entries, it brings into focus how truly blessed I am; it's a great reality check for those times when I'm feeling sorry for myself, or when things aren't going my way.
3. Imagine your life WITHOUT. It's easy to just throw a few platitudes onto the page - I'm grateful for my health, my job, yada yada... If we don't actually ponder the alternatives, we tend to take these things for granted, even as we pay lip-service to gratitude. Take a few moments to really sit with the thought about what your life would be like if you didn't have those things, whatever they are. Make it as vivid as you can, and if it's true for you, think back to a time when you actually didn't have those things. When you were unemployed. When you (or a loved one) were ill. Or any other circumstance of lack. How did it feel, in your gut? How did you feel when the ordeal was over?
Using our imagination to re-create the experience of living without those things we currently take for granted, can bring our feelings of gratitude into sharper focus, making them stronger and more real. Don't be surprised if this exercise makes you cry; if it does, you're absolutely doing it right!
4. Pay It Forward. When we feel gratitude for what we have, whether it be physical possessions, relationships, or our personal circumstances, we are naturally motivated to be more generous to others. That, in turn, creates a positive cycle of reinforcement; helping others makes us feel good, which increases our sense of self-worth and gratitude, which leads us to want to give back even more.
If you're having trouble getting in touch with feelings of gratitude and thankfulness in your life, try starting with this step. Doing something for others, without expectation of anything in return, pays dividends beyond what you could ever imagine. If your self-worth isn't depending on their reaction to your "good deed", you can feel good about it even if they don't react, or if their reaction is negative. The key here is your intrinsic motivation for the deed.
5. Live intentionally. As you go about your day, take a moment, now and then, to just sit in your current reality. What do you notice? Even if you're in the middle of a mundane task, what's really going on? For example: as you wash the dishes, focus on the feeling of the warm, soapy water on your hands. Focus on getting every last speck of food residue off the plate, getting it squeaky-clean and rinsing it so it sparkles. Conjure up a feeling of gratitude for clean and sanitary dishes, for hot water, for the time spent caring for yourself (and your family, if applicable).
Any moment, throughout your day, can be turned into an opportunity to feel gratitude. Whether it's talking with someone on the phone, cuddling with your cat or dog, going about your daily routines, or working on a project, stopping to savour a moment in the experience brings us back in touch with the magic that is all around us in our lives, and to which we are so often oblivious.
Thanksgiving is one of my favourite annual holidays, and yes, it's important to take this time to focus on how blessed we truly are. But if we capture that positive energy and incorporate it into each and every one of our days, just think how much better our lives, and the lives of those around us, will be!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Links on the topic of gratitude:
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