Gratitude All Year Long
Happy November! It’s finally starting to feel like Fall here in Las Vegas, and I love this season for multiple reasons–my birthday, Halloween, and Thanksgiving coming up here in the US! Every year I try to remind myself that being thankful should be practiced more often than one day a year or more than just one month or season. Having an attitude of gratitude is something that we should practice all year long.
Now I’ve talked about gratitude on this podcast before, two years ago. And it’s not like these episode topics expire, so of course you can go listen to past episodes (and I encourage you to). But just like being thankful should happen more often, I think talking about it should happen more often, too. Instead of rehashing what I said in episode 003, I’ll share a different angle on gratitude this time.
Having More vs Never Enough
This quote by Oprah Winfrey really made me stop and think. She said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
It reminded me of a scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book/movie. It’s Harry’s cousin Dudley Dursley’s birthday and as he comes to breakfast, he inspects his birthday present pile.
Dudley sneers, “How many are there?”
Vernon, his dad, proudly says, “36. Counted them myself.”
Dudley snaps, “36?! But last year … last year I had 37!!”
Vernon tries to reason with him, “But some of them are quite a bit bigger than last year’s.”
Dudley screeches, “I don’t care how big they are!”
Petunia, his mom, desperately steps in to do damage control, “Now, now, now now, this is what we’re going to do. Is that, when we go out, we’re going to buy you two new presents! How’s that pumpkin?”
That scene is comical and shows how ridiculous the Dursleys are. I’d like to think that it’s an exaggeration of how most kids would respond. But I bet we’ve all had a mini-Dudley moment where we wanted something else even though what we already had was sufficient. A brand name water bottle, pair of shoes, the latest model cell phone … There will always be something bigger, better, fancier, faster, smarter, smoother, newer, and nicer.
Again the quote by Oprah Winfrey says, “If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” What do you think that means? For me, it points out how important our perspective is. If we are always looking around for another thing to make us happier, we will never find happiness. Because we’ll get what we wanted but it’s no longer what we want because now we want something else. We’ll be too busy hyper-focusing on what somebody else has that we don’t. And we’ll end up miserable thinking the grass is always greener on the other side, endlessly chasing rainbows we’ll never reach. Nothing will ever be enough for us. That sounds like a sure way to always be unsatisfied.
But the other part of Oprah’s quote says, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more.” What are your thoughts on that? I think gratitude shifts our perspective so we see the bigger picture wide-angle view of what we already have, what’s going right in our lives. When you focus on those things, you realize how much you already have of what actually matters most. And instead of not ever having enough, you’ll have way more than you originally thought.
Grateful Even When Things Aren’t Great
Here’s another take on gratitude. When life is good, finding things to be thankful for is simple. Being grateful is easy when life is easy. It’s a lot harder to be grateful when things are difficult. When you’re in the middle of a struggle or challenge, you probably don’t want to be reminded, “You should be grateful.” I don’t think that’s useful in fact, I think there are some approaches to gratitude that aren’t helpful. Guilting yourself into gratitude, or being shamed by others to do it, doesn’t make you feel humble, it makes you feel worse. Using gratitude as a way to downplay your struggle, as if it’s not that bad, is gaslighting. I’m also not a fan of playing the “at least” game, as in “At least you have a … (kidney),” or “At least you didn’t … (walk to school uphill both ways in the snow).” Comparing your challenges to someone else’s in an effort to lessen how challenging it is for you isn’t the route I’d recommend to gain perspective. Gratitude is also not a quick fix for solving your problems, nor will it cure mental health challenges. And skipping to the silver lining of the situation bypasses all the emotions you need to process to get through what’s going on.
When you experience difficult moments, days, or more, pair gratitude with compassion. Acknowledge what’s going wrong, why it’s hard for you, and how you feel about it, naming your emotions. AND then identify something going right or good, why you’re grateful for it, and how you feel about it. Practicing gratitude with compassion helps you take a step back, focus on something else for a bit, and gives you space to breathe. The problem will still be there, but the perspective you gain with gratitude may help you get closer to a solution to your problem or give you the strength to get through it.
There is one thing from the other Gratitude episode I want to remind you about, and that’s a Gratitude Journal. I have one, I’ve been writing in it, and I want to use it more regularly because when I do, it really helps me reset my perspective.
Keeping a Gratitude Journal has scientifically proven benefits, including feeling better about your life, getting sick less often, and being able to cope with challenges better–and many others. Now if you want to conduct your own science experiment, regularly write down 5 things you’re grateful for AND why. It’s not just a list of things. By naming what you’re grateful for AND why you’re grateful for it, you attach meaning to that blessing, cultivating a deeper sense of appreciation for it.
So join me in regularly writing in a Gratitude Journal for the next three weeks. Even if it’s not Thanksgiving when you listen to this, you can still practice gratitude. As the weeks go by, see if you notice any changes in your mood, your interactions with others, and how you feel about yourself. My hypothesis is that, if you commit to this, you’ll notice a difference. And you’ll want to keep doing it.
Gratitude Journal Page Printable
To help you with this, I created a “Gratitude Journal” page for you to print out and personalize each day with 5 things you’re grateful for AND why. Print a few pages and make a booklet. Put it on your pillow where you’ll see it, remember to write in it, practice gratitude with it, and believe in it — that’s the important part.
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