Every day is Thanksgiving
So tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the American holiday that is so unfortunate for turkeys. Thanksgiving is a traditional time for pausing and giving thanks for all that we are grateful for.
I briefly considered creating a little list of some of my reasons for thanks and posting the list here. I changed my mind after realizing that for every item I put on the list, I would be omitting a thousand other items and implicitly suggesting they were less important. Therefore, I decided to not have a list at all.
Instead, let me advocate making every day Thanksgiving.
There was a time in my life when I easily fell into a persistently cynical, negative mood, and thought happiness and gratitude were for chumps who didn’t realize how crappy the world was. I would often feel angry about some injustice in the world, or some injustice done to me. I would wish I had more stuff or were smarter.
I realized that this attitude was not helpful, so I tried changing it through reasoning, but the results were never long-lasting. Negative emotions would pop up and create a cycle of anger, envy, resentment, greed, etc. I never experienced an overall sense of harmony and acceptance and gratitude.
Happiness and gratitude
Things started changing when I started reading about happiness and positive psychology.
But one of the few sources that really got me on a path of permanent change was a deeply personal, accessible, and practical book by Tal Ben-Shahar, “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment”, published in 2007.
One of the practical suggestions by Ben-Shahar was that of maintaining a gratitude journal regularly. I thought, OK, this sounds cheesy, but I’ll give it a shot. So I got some blank notebooks, and every day before going to bed, I would write down five thoughts of gratitude that I had genuinely observed arising in myself that day.
Years later, I am still writing in my gratitude journal every day. When packing for travel, the first thing on my packing list is always my gratitude journal. I’ve almost never missed a day of writing in my gratitude journal. The couple of times in the past years when I missed a day were when my life was obviously in considerable disorder and just recognizing my omission was enough to get me back the next day. Yes, I write in my gratitude journal even when I have what seems like a really terrible day, because there is always something that could have been worse.
Completely unexpectedly, this simple ritual, the gratitude journal, slowly began to change my life. The changes were subtle but real. Just being aware that there is so much good going on in life, even when it is terrible, keeps me from ever sinking into the kind of depression that I was prone to in my younger days. My negative emotions became more controllable, and my overall outlook on life is positive, and instead of just taking for granted all that is good, I have reset myself so that I appreciate what is good.
What goes into the gratitude journal?
You might be wondering what kinds of things I write about in my gratitude journal. As I mentioned, I simply write down what really comes to mind, relatively spontaneously. Some days I have a lot more exciting items rushing to my mind, and other days I have to struggle to find five. I just happen to always put down at least five, for the sake of regularity, and for the sake of deepening my search for little things that I might not have been conscious of during a day but maybe I could appreciate more fully.
A few random shorter examples from my gratitude journals of the past years:
- Made decent butternut squash and navy bean soup! First time really.
- Got in a lot of walking today as exercise and mental relaxation.
- Got a haircut from Joe.
- It was a peaceful, sunny day.
- Jim Weirich was great at the Pittsburgh Ruby presentation.
- Had the last red tea bag in the can, refreshing and awakening.
- Tasty beef fajitas by Abby for dinner.
- Had time to catch up on emails with (long-distance) friends.
- Made up with Abby after argument.
- Shoveling snow today was not too tedious.
- Someone had extra water for me on the hike.
- Nothing seems permanently broken after my big fall.
- Still sick, but feel better than yesterday.
- Caught up on sleep last night.
Given my gratitude journal, every day is in a sense Thanksgiving, but I think something is still missing. I am now considering changing things up with the gratitude journal, because sometimes I take the easy way out and repeat myself with similar items that, yes, matter a lot to me, but are a bit mundane. The gratitude journal is like tweeting. I would like to write longer essays giving thanks. On my to-do list for the blog!comments powered by Disqus