As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, we are busy ordering turkeys, making pumpkin pies, and bringing out the holiday dishes. Even if you are not hosting the festivities, you likely have already begun stressing over the December holidays which officially begin once the Santa float reaches Herald Square at the end of the Thanksgiving day parade. With the busiest time of year about to begin, let’s pause a moment and focus on something very important. Gratitude.
What is Gratitude? Simply put, it is an expression of appreciation for the things in our lives that are valuable and meaningful to us. It is an affirmation of all the goodness we receive. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude brings contentment and happiness. It has also been shown that gratitude leads to less stress and a healthier life. Who doesn't want that? Plus, when calm and happy we are better equipped to deal with any shopping triggers that may come our way. So what can we do to recognize and increase our own gratitude?
Everything wonderful does not need to be big. Find small things that bring you joy such as a sunny day or your favorite song on the radio. I am grateful each morning when I wake up and my back feels good! I also find joy in a quiet moment to sit and drink my morning coffee or afternoon tea. When you start thinking about all the little things that make you happy your gratitude will become bigger than you realize.
Focus on the good not the bad.
It is easy to obsess on all that is wrong, all we don’t have, and all the overwhelming aspects of our lives. We tend to overlook or take for granted the things that go right and all the good we do have. We need to practice pushing away the negative “stuff” that invades our minds. Practicing mindful meditation can help with this. When you feel yourself slipping down the slope of negativity, brace yourself and redirect your thoughts. This includes catching ourselves when we start comparing ourselves to others. No one is perfect...everyone has flaws and problems of their own. Comparing only leads to despairing, so let’s make a conscious effort to stop doing it. As for over shopping? Be grateful in the times when you succeed in not succumbing to the urges. And the times when you could have done better, be thankful that you recognize your mistakes and are trying to change. Negative attitudes can impair our progress and can even push us to give up our attempts to improve.
Make a gratitude list
Take a moment to jot down on paper everything that is going right in your life. List all the things that bring you joy. This list will come in handy as a reminder on tough days. When you are struggling to avoid a shopping urge, you can reference the list to point out everything you already have that does not require you to “make another purchase”. You can also ask others in your life what they are grateful for. You may get ideas that you had never considered or had forgotten. Plus, sitting around with friends discussing what we are thankful for is far better than sharing our latest complaints.
St. Francis of Assisi said “For it is in giving that we receive”. Serving others brings happiness to ourselves. We find greater purpose to our own lives and become more aware of all that we do have. This in turn provides more satisfaction than a mindless shopping spree. There are so many ways to help others in your community. You can volunteer your time at shelters, help deliver meals to the elderly, get involved with a local outreach program or church program. There are also other very simple everyday ways such as holding the door for someone, taking the time to chat with an elderly neighbor or someone who may be lonely, or sometimes just being there to listen to a troubled friend. There are so many opportunities, big and small, where we can make a positive difference in the lives of others and in turn make a difference in ourselves.
Show gratitude to others
Of course it is always polite to say please and thank you, but let’s go beyond that. Let’s make an effort to let others know when we appreciate them. This past weekend at Sunday mass, the vocalist sung the closing hymn, God Bless America, so beautifully that my eyes filled with emotional tears. The kids and I had walked halfway toward the exit doors before we realized my husband was not with us. We stopped to locate him and found him up front talking to the singer. He took the time to thank her for sharing her talent with us all, and let her know how much pleasure her singing gives to others. Let’s all go out of our way to let others know we appreciate what they do…let’s spread gratitude everywhere…it’s easy.
Be grateful every day
Whether it’s first thing in the morning or right before you fall off to sleep at night, think about your day and all you can be happy about. Creating a daily habit to focus on what you are grateful for and all the good that you have in your life will calm you, improve your overall outlook and motivate you. Being grateful provides us the inner fuel to keep us hopeful and working toward our goals.
Bishop James Faust once said, “A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness.” We all have the ability to be great in our lives and we can begin by simply recognizing and appreciating what we already have. When we have gratitude for our lives and all that is in it we will become less jealous or judgmental of others and also kinder and more appreciative of ourself. Focusing on the positive and releasing the negative thoughts leaves more space inside us for happiness. This Thanksgiving holiday let’s celebrate everything in our lives and learn to continue the “feeling of gratitude” each and every day of the year.