I’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving all my life by eating a big turkey dinner and then making myself slightly miserable by topping it off with pie and whipped cream. When I think Thanksgiving, I often envision food, which fuels my body. However, I’ve learned that fueling my spirit with gratitude and thankfulness empowers me in ways turkey and mashed potatoes never will, plus there’s fewer calories involved.
The Thanksgiving holiday was officially declared in the midst of the Civil War (1863) by President Lincoln. Sarah Josepha Hale is known as the Mother of Thanksgiving because she lobbied to create an official day of thanksgiving which she hoped would help unify the nation and reduce tensions between the North and the South. People across the world have long desired a special time to be set aside for thankfulness and celebrating the harvest season. All the major world religions emphasize the importance of spending time appreciating whatever blessings have been bestowed upon us, whether large or small.
Gratitude Is Especially Important When Our Lives Are at Their Worst
I’ve known factually that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, but it has only been in the last decade or two that I’ve truly realized what a wonderful blessing gratitude and giving thanks is to our spirits. I’ve become truly grateful for the opportunity to spend time thinking about what’s good about the world and my life. And I appreciate gratitude time the most when my life is a horrible, painful mess and the world seems to have gone crazy.
I try to take regular thanksgiving breaks in which I allow myself time to focus on the delightful things I appreciate about life. Worries and fears are placed in temporary storage while I count blessings. My personal list includes morning coffee, chocolate, loved ones, kind words, birds, dogs, humorous videos, dancing, singing, sunshine, naps . . . the list goes on and doesn’t include anything extravagant or difficult to achieve. It’s based on gratitude for being, but not for being anything in particular.
Being grateful doesn’t mean worries disappear or we become Pollyannas, oblivious to hard realities and inconvenient truths. It doesn’t mean overindulging in things we’re grateful for – like chocolate chip cookies or an excellent merlot. It does mean being aware that even though much in our lives might be no good, terrible, awful; digging deep and finding that which can light our paths will keep us from despairing. Gratitude is the fuel that empowers us to move forward, especially when times are tough.
I’ve been researching forgiveness for the past 7 years. When I first started, I wasn’t too impressed with studies that showed a relationship between gratitude and forgiveness. Why was that significant? Then I had a very painful experience and became more aware of how essential gratitude is to forgiveness. When I found my mood sinking, my thoughts becoming bitter, and my body losing energy, I found the nourishment I needed to keep going down a positive path through gratitude breaks. I picked a calming place and counted my blessings instead of my worries and hurts. It was a mini vacation away from shame, regret, anger, and resentment. Gratitude breaks can energize us, change our perspective, and provide the lift we need to create new and improved chapters in our life story.
Gratitude Improves Relationships
The people around us are grateful when we take gratitude breaks. Sharing smiles, laughs, and kind words – even for a short time – can improve relationships and change the atmosphere in a home or workplace.
If we really want to go all out with the gratitude theme, we can make a point to tell family, friends, and anyone else we’re thankful for, how much they mean to us. There may be all sorts of things that annoy us about someone, but seeking to find that which we respect and admire can smooth out many bumps in our relationships. Especially if we’re willing to tell the person we’re annoyed with. Would you rather cooperate with someone who appreciates your strengths or someone who constantly reminds you of your weaknesses?
Sometimes the person we’re annoyed with is ourselves, but giving ourselves credit for what we do right may be a better path to self-improvement than scolding ourselves for what we do wrong. And we can work on being thankful for all those things we’ve done wrong because we can learn and grow from those experiences. (I know – that’s easier to say than do.)
Gratitude Breaks Are Like Living in the Moment
Gratitude breaks are like the current advice to live in the moment. We can’t forget the past; we need to learn from it. We can’t forget about the future; we need to plan for it. We can, however, treat ourselves to joyful, peaceful moments in which we simply bask in the delight of whatever brings us happiness.
Take time to be thankful. It’s advice that’s been given to us through the centuries and throughout the world. Gratitude enables us to see the light in dark situations and empowers us to face our worries and fears with courage and hope. Giving thanks is like letting the sunshine come in and clear away the dark clouds that inevitably appear from time to time, leaving us with a rainbow of possibilities and brighter days.