Every Thanksgiving, we talk about gratitude. And as we sit down for the annual feast, many families go around the table and say something they’re thankful for. But when we think back to our loved ones’ most poignant gratitudes, they aren’t those rote responses of “family” or “this beautiful meal.” (Although those are certainly worth appreciating!) They come from the Great Grandma who is grateful for a quick cuddle with her great granddaughter, the child who expresses heartfelt thanks for a blue crayon, or the college student who is just so damn happy that midterms are over.
I mentioned in my post about gratitude practice that we try to say one thing we’re thankful for at every dinner – not just on Thanksgiving. In addition, I’ve also been doing Rachel Hollis’ Last 90 Days, part of which is to list 10 things you’re thankful for every day. And between those two things, I’ve been learning that life’s smallest blessings are often what I’m most grateful for.
Becoming More Mindful Of The Good
As a writer, I think I’ve been gifted with a heightened ability to notice details and remain present in them for a second. The sun’s platinum shimmer across rippling water. The teasingly deadpan look Scott gives me when we’re stifling laughter at James’ misbehavior. The butterfly of my son’s chubby hand landing on my shoulder before he tells me he loves me.
I think we’re all thankful for these moments, but I process them a little differently because I’m always looking for material and writing it down. When I struggle to find my 10 things to be grateful for, I merely have to consult the notes app on my iPhone. Without fail, I’ll find something really wonderful sandwiched in between “hummingbirds maneuvering furiously in a miniature dogfight” and “orange-hatted construction worker doing a smell check. (which he failed.)”
It’s a great argument for the value of writing down what we’re thankful for. While I was doing that anyway, the lists I’ve created as part of The Last 90 days are some of the most meaningful things I’ve journaled about this year. Many times I use my journal as a place to vent, but juxtaposing gratitude with my problems helps me put them into perspective. For example, on a day when I had an upsetting interaction with a friend, I also was thankful for the 15-year relationships that have sustained me through some of my darkest moments, a thoughtful conversation I had with Scott, and the continuing benefit of the college education my parents gifted me free and clear. How could I possibly stay bothered by one conversation when I have all of that?
Starting A Gratitude Writing Practice
I’ve always failed when I tried to start a gratitude journal, likely because I made it too much of a thing. I would buy a separate journal – inevitably something with a pinterest-y quote embossed on the front – then struggle to write a coherent paragraph for two or three days before throwing it in my bedside drawer and forgetting about it. A few months later, I’d find it and feel guilty over another failed attempt at self-improvement.
But when I found all those notes in my iPhone, I realized I already had a gratitude journal of sorts – it was just jumbled up with everything else I was thinking. So if you want to use writing as a way to be more mindful of your blessings, then I suggest looking at it as a writing practice as opposed to a separate journal.
Here are 5 suggestions for getting started:
- Write it as you see it. Jot down what you’re thankful for in real time in the notes section of your phone. Then, at the end of the day, transfer them into your journal at the beginning or end of anything else you’re writing. Don’t worry if they’re total non sequiturs. This is for you. It doesn’t have to follow any particular structure or even make sense.
- Try a nightly list of 10. This is the best good habit I’ve picked up from The Last 90 Days, and I look forward to doing it every night. If you find yourself stuck, try to think back over the minutiae of the day. What did you have for dinner and did the smell of it make you happy? Did you have a minute to enjoy the sunshine on your shoulders, or a snuggle with a pet or child? Did someone say something nice to you? Did you witness or experience an act of kindness?
- Don’t judge or edit yourself. The things you write down don’t have to be deep or meaningful. Having a rare evening to yourself to drink wine and watch trash TV is worth recognizing and appreciating! So is the fact that there was less traffic on your evening commute, that you won your tennis match, that your kid actually sat through dinner without flinging food across the table, or that your dog’s bout of explosive diarrhea has finally ended. If you’re happy about it, it’s worth being thankful for.
- Feel free to repeat yourself. It’s fine if the things you’re thankful for are the same as they were yesterday, or last week. Watching the news often makes me grateful that I don’t share the same hardships as so many other people, so the fact that I live in a safe neighborhood, can send my child to a good school, and am educated all routinely make the list. The things you’re most grateful for will often keep popping up. Let them. The point is to keep your blessings top of mind, and repeating the biggest ones does exactly that.
- Don’t overlook the outside world. It’s easy to feel like the world is going to hell. But within those terrible stories, there’s often someone fighting for positive change. Be grateful for that person. Whether it’s first responders on a wildfire or a neighbor who organized a clothing drive, recognizing people who do good makes the world feel a little kinder. And I think we could all do with a side of optimism this Thanksgiving.
Have a happy and safe holiday, everyone!