Giving Thanks Without Thanksgiving
I won’t be having a “Thanksgiving” this year. I didn’t go to any Friendsgiving meals, either. I’ve been traveling for work and fun for the last few weeks, and tickets back home were significantly cheaper if I opted to spend my Thanksgiving night in the air rather than around the table with my family. And while I’ll miss the yams and stuffing and definitely the pumpkin pie (I’m going to track down a slice or four somewhere), I’m finding comfort in the fact that over the past few years, I’ve developed a gratitude practice that allows me to be thankful for something—no matter how big or small—every day; not just on one appointed day throughout the year.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the notion of a holiday where family and friends come together to acknowledge all we’re grateful for and spend time together. Despite all the historical and racial injustices that surround the holiday, I love the core idea of setting aside time to be thankful. That’s why I appreciate that Thanksgiving has expanded beyond just a day for many people into a gratitude month. But I’ve found so much fulfillment, comfort and clarity in extending that day or month into every day and every month.
I know the term “gratitude practice” can seem daunting. On top of all the other shit we have in our lives; all the other practices, chores and obligations, do we really even have room—or time!?—for one more thing? It may be tempting to want to contain our gratitude into one day (or month), to save it for those thank you cards after the holidays and special occasions—to dole it out in limited quantities like there’s not enough for every day. But I assure you, there is.
And I also hear you. When I first decided I wanted to mindfully practice gratitude—that is, to consciously focus on things in my life that I am grateful for, on a regular basis—I thought it had to be some grand affair. I thought I had to make a list of a pre-determined number of things to be grateful for every day. At one point, I even used a template for my gratitude lists that separated the people, things and moments I was grateful for. And every night, I’d force myself to fill them in—three in each category. And while that is a beautiful idea, the notion that every night I’d have three people, three things and three moments I appreciated; and something that in an ideal world I’d love to do as a daily routine, in reality it was hard. Notice that I used the phrase “forced myself”. That’s so counterintuitive to the whole concept of practicing gratitude. You shouldn’t be forced –by yourself or anyone else—to be grateful for anything. If there’s any coercion involved, it’s not true and authentic gratitude. It’s list checking, expectation meeting, people please, lying, etc. etc. So, after a while, I decided to be a little less rigid in counting my blessings and made just a simple list of three things I was thankful for every night before bed. That soon evolved into just thinking of three things I was thankful for—which I then loosened up even further to so that I was soon just thinking of whatever I was thankful for that night, even if it was just one small thing.
I read somewhere that if you can’t think of something to be thankful for, just be thankful for the fact that you’re alive. Many nights that was all I could find for my gratitude list. Other nights, the list seemed endless. I stopped judging the things on my list, the length of the list and even whether I got to the list at all.
What I noticed was that I was still building a practice. I was remembering, on a daily basis, to be aware of things I was grateful for. At the end of yoga classes, thanking myself for all I do for myself; feeling deeply appreciative when a friend sends a nice text; reminding myself how grateful I am to be an aunt of such a smart and playful little boy. What I realized about a gratitude practice is that it does take work—just like any practice, you must build and continuously strengthen those muscles—but it doesn’t always have to feel like work. Rather than forcing myself to compile lists or document all the things I’m thankful; or to save it all up for one day, I found that I can live a life of gratitude. And for that, I am grateful.