First off, this will not be a curmudgeonly tough-minded rant where I rage rage against how commercialize things are at this time of year and how “Black Friday” is starting earlier and earlier, so much so that it is now encroaching more and more onto Thanksgiving Day’s turf. (Although that is all true, it’s just not where I’m going with this.)
Nor will this be a glib positive-thinking post about being more grateful.
This will be a more tough-minded tell it like it is no holds barred post about why we–about why any and all of us–should be more grateful and appreciative, and how to get there.
And if this posts makes you feel guilty or “bad” for not being more grateful, then good: better feeling guilty and bad now rather than regretful later when you can no longer do anything about it.
The Problem with Thanksgiving
My hang-up with Thanksgiving—and with holidays and celebrations in general—meaning with Christmas, with Valentine’s Day, with birthdays, with wedding anniversaries, with Memorial Day, with Veteran’s Day, et cetera—is that they are one and done once a year one occasions.
And they shouldn’t be. They really shouldn’t be.
These holidays—and the values and virtues and character traits they encourage—deserve better. They deserve much more. They deserve to be(come) deeply internalized and deeply held/cherished beliefs and values.
And doing so requires something more than a one and done (and commercialized) approach.
“Giving Thanks” – by Gina @ http://professionsforpeace.com © Professions For PEACE
For me Thanksgiving is more than one day;
It’s a feeling, a knowing, and a way
Of living with gratitude all year long,
For life and a world where we belong.
I believe there are no accidents
I am grateful for my circumstance.
Constant lessons to foster my growing
Ever new ways to increase my knowing;
Helping me learn how to know what is real
Helping me know how to show what I feel.
In spite of the chaos I see I still find
I am grateful to be on Earth at this time!
I enjoy understanding new information,
That helps me along with my transformation
Into someone ever more fully alive,
And rich with belief of the pure light inside.
I know I have so much to be thankful of,
And I show my thanks by expressing love;
Life, Love and Light are some of my blessings
All year long I am grateful for these things.
To internalize something requires practice—doing something over and over again until what was once foreign and difficult has become easier and more natural—second nature.
Being thankful for one day is just a start. The twelve days of Christmas—reviving that tradition—would be better. A wedding anniversary month or a birthday month or The Thirty-one Days of Christmas or Thanksgiving would be even better (Ramadan lasts 29 or 30 days). The 365 Days of Christmas or Thanksgiving Year would be best.
The goal is internalizing what these holidays *really* mean.
And that can’t be done by just a one and done approach to life.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” – Cicero
Gratitude / appreciation is a virtue, and as such it represents a very deliberate and systematic approach to life. Which means that gratitude / appreciation is much more than a feeling or a welling up of the heart. It’s about seeing—about how we see—and training and encouraging ourselves to see things—situations, people, relationships—in a certain way. Gratitude is about how we perceive and how we think about what we encounter. Seeing that what we have, seeing that even though we might not have everything we want or the best of everything, what we do have is more than many people elsewhere have, that it is enough, and that what we do have is something that we can and ought to be grateful for if we appreciate it and get beyond our constant craving.
“Otherwise” – Jane Kenyon
I got out of bed
on two strong legs,
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
“Calm Before the Storm” – Mary Baine Campbell
(Appearing in Ideas, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1998)
Between the Brattle and the bookstore
A hundred yards of wet brick pavement
Fancy with yellow leaves: I wore
A red jacket, carried a red umbrella
Had a little fever, had a little cough
Was alive, passed a newspaper box
Saw no wars in the headlines
Had no bad news from the doctor
Not yet, was alive, was in love
Had waterproof boots on, it was only
A few yards to the bookstore
On an autumn night, the bookstore
Full of good books and yellow light, I was
Still alive, there was no evidence
Of terminal illness, there were no wars
In the headlines, I have always
Loved the fall the beautiful dead
Bodies of the leaves scattered
On the battlefield of earth and my own
This is the essence of “carpe diem”—not living recklessly and leading a life of unquiet desperation where one tries to check every item off one’s self-indulgent bucket list, but rather being grateful, appreciative, counting one’s blessings, remaining cognizant of one’s blessings (even in the midst of difficulties or ennui or dissatisfaction), developing an attitude that allows to better focus on our blessings, all the while remaining mindful that life is uncertain, and that we all are fragile.
“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” – Eckhart Tolle
“Appreciating and valuing appropriately all of the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for abundance and true mental health.” – Me
Being grateful is not about having just a few sporadic “kairos” moments, going through the day beleaguered, angry, stressed, unappreciative, cranky, moody, unhappy, what have you, and not being able to wait for the kids to go to sleep so you can unwind with a glass of wine or a beer and curl up next to your spouse or zone out to the TV. To be living like this is not to be living: it is to be missing *much* of what is important.
Being grateful—carpe diem-ing—means not losing the plot and sweating small stuff. It means not getting sidetracked by the little things. It means choosing the better part. Because one day, things will be otherwise (as in *will* be otherwise).
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Practice, Practice, Practice
Gratitude is many things: it can be a feeling, but really it is much more than that: it is a virtue, an attitude, a state of mind, a systematic approach to life and a way of living, a way of perceiving events and situations and relationships and people, a way of thinking about what we see and encounter. Which means that it is ultimately an ability or a capacity—something that can develop, something that can be enhanced and deepened with training, with taking it up and practicing it as deliberately and as systematically as one would any new discipline or pursuit or hobby or sport.
Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
One day of giving thanks and being grateful just isn’t enough to create the habit, not to mention the character trait.
“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” – G. K. Chesterton
If your life is good, great, decent, okay, even just passable, then this is a great time to begin cultivating a habit of seeing things in a more grateful and appreciative way. First of all, developing a habit of being more appreciative will help you become a happier person as well as a nicer and kinder person to be around. And just as importantly, if not even more so, it will allow you to not miss the blessings in life that you have around you, the good and meaningful things and people in your life that you might miss if you were being unappreciative, self-absorbed, grumpy, irritated, negative. Also, being grateful and appreciative will lead to less regret later—again, this is what carpe diem / seizing the day is really all about—not living in such a way now that when we come to die we are filled with regret and realize that we did not truly live. No one on their deathbed wishes that he or she had worked more, played with more fancy toys, bought more stocks or real estate, et cetera. What the vast majority of people at the end of life wish they had done more was love more, cherish their family more, live with greater courage and clarity (yes, maybe see a few more places, jump out of an airplane or two, but family, love, service, compassion, leading a more spiritual and evolved life with top the list), listen better and more often, live less selfishly, numb themselves less, et cetera.
“[S]ome things don’t matter much—like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? . . . The whole problem with people is they know what matters, but they don’t choose it. The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters.” – Sue Monk Kidd, abridged from “The Secret Life of Bees,” pg. 147.
What We Have
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie, abridged from her book, “Gratitude: Affirming the Good Things in Life,” pp. 3-4.
Gratitude is dependent first of all on actually seeing what we have—not what’s missing, not what we don’t have, but actually seeing what we have, seeing what’s right in front of us or what’s all around us—and then valuing (or appreciating) it properly.
“Deprived, negative thinking makes things disappear. It turns good things into less or nothing. It can prevent us from seeing what’s good in our lives today, and it can stop the good stuff from happening. We become so focused on what we don’t have that we fail to appreciate all that we do have. Grateful thinking, on the other hand, turns things into more. It allows us to appreciate and take care of what we have today. Gratitude allows us to make something out of almost nothing, instead of making nothing out of something.” – Melody Beattie, abridged and adapted from her book, “Gratitude: Affirming the Good Things in Life,” pp. 4-14
Many people seem to live ungratefully, they live as if life goes on forever; they’re like children, never satisfied; they’re always wanting more and more, striving for this, working extra for that, living for some future where they will have it all, and in doing so they seem to miss out on so much of what they have now. They see nuisance, annoyance, sources of irritation all around them. They don’t smile or laugh. Either often or deeply. The kids are messy. People drive too slowly. There’s too much traffic. The house is too small. There’s never enough time to get things done. We need more of this or that. And so it begins. Ungratefulness. When that level of dissatisfaction and non-appreciativeness, non-thankfulness becomes chronic in a person, it’s as if that person has a disease. Nothing–or hardly anything–ever seems good enough. The half-empty glass appears three-fourths empty. Life and relationships are painted black and bleak. Whatever they have they don’t appreciate or take care of. Everything is a potential cause for complaint or irritation. Such a person has (little to) no perspective. Life has no value. They’ve lost the plot.
“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth—and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up—that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
We have to have some sense of perspective when we are looking at things. In order to value something appropriately or properly, we have to look at it with perspective, we have to view it in an informed way.
This would be a good place to start. One of the best ways to learn the true value of something is to think of what life would be like without it, or without someone. It’s easy to get caught up in the messiness or clutter in this or that part of the house, or in how nice it would be to have a bigger house or a bigger bathroom or more closet space, but . . . at least you have one working bathroom, at least you have a roof over your head, at least you have enough clothes that you could use more closet space. That’s the beginning of perspective and thus the gratitude.
“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience.” – Robert Fulghum
And none of the messiness would likely matter should some tragedy or misfortune happen to the mess-maker. When the shite goes down, when a person we love is laying helpless in a hospital bed fighting for his or her life, so much of what we thought we cared about and so much of what, through our actions, we were showing that we thought actually mattered, no longer does. The size of the house? At that moment, utterly unimportant. The clutter or messiness or the person’s lack of punctuality? A complete non-issue. *That’s* perspective—whenever we look at what we have and who we have as if for the last time—when we see people as fragile, imperfect, impermanent, hurt, struggling, and riding on a common train—then we have perspective.
When we don’t see others and ourselves in this way, we’ve lost perspective. And we’re likely falling prey to ungratefulness.
Having *real* perspective–and keeping it up and running in ourselves and in the way we see life and others and ourselves and difficulties–is essential if we are to develop genuine gratitude.
“The sole means now for the saving of the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant into their presences a new organ of such properties that every one of these unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests. Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can now destroy the egoism completely crystallized in them.” (G. I. Gurdjieff, in “All and Everything,” as quoted in Alan Watts, “The Book”)
“The confrontation with death—and reprieve from it—makes everything look so precious, so sacred, so beautiful and I feel more strongly than ever the impulse to love it, to embrace it, and to let myself be overwhelmed by it. . . . Death, and its ever-present possibility makes love, passionate love, more possible. I wonder if we could love passionately, if ecstasy would be possible at all, if we knew we’d never die.” – Abraham Maslow
“Saying thank you is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.” – Alfred Painter
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart
“Thanks” – W. S. Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
- How To Begin Being More Thankful (realtruelove.wordpress.com)
- Happiness (realtruelove.wordpress.com)
- Happy Thanksgiving (2011) (realtruelove.wordpress.com)
- Love, Gratitude, and Perspective (realtruelove.wordpress.com)
- The Learning of Love and Gratitude (realtruelove.wordpress.com)
- Albert Schweitzer on Love, Death, and Gratitude (realtruelove.wordpress.com)
- The Real Meaning of Carpe Diem: The Bus *Will* Stop (realtruelove.wordpress.com)
- Always Do Your Best & The Power of Gratitude (courageandchoice.wordpress.com)
- Pause for a Moment to Give Thanks (professionsforpeace.com)
- “You think this is just another day in your life…it’s not just another day…it’s a gift” …excerpts from the inspirational TED video “Gratitude” (reflectionsfromafriend.wordpress.com)
- More Blessed than Many (professionsforpeace.com)
- My Poem About Giving Thanks (professionsforpeace.com)
- 20 Quotes on Gratitude Through the Ages (professionsforpeace.com)
- Shifting into Gratitude (professionsforpeace.com)
- Gratitude: Day 25 (elenaabrams.wordpress.com)
- Thanksgiving and Gratitude (trishborgdorff.wordpress.com)
- Teaching Children to Be Grateful (letlifeinpractices.com)
- Teaching Kids the Importance of Gratitude (everydayhealth.com)
- 50 Shades of Gratitude (gyatoday.wordpress.com)
- The Problem with 12/12/12, 12/25/12 and Etc. (sunnysideupwithbacon.wordpress.com)
- In the End Only Love Matters (grandeurvision.wordpress.com)