At least in the U.S., this is a week where we celebrate all we are thankful for (or at least it is supposed to be). In our modern world, I believe it is easy to take WAY too much for granted. Hey, I’m completely guilty of forgetting all my blessings and letting the silliest stuff steal my joy.
Since all y’all (correct Texas grammar) are perfect, I’ll just list some ways I can consistently fall short.
The microwave took a WHOLE two minutes to make the popcorn and it didn’t even pop ALL the kernels.
I needed to remember the other ingredients to the recipe, but the wifi in my grocery store is terrible. Is it too much to ask that a message from SPACE be delivered instantly?
The store was out of whole bean coffee and only had the ground stuff.
The dryer took too long to dry my clothes so I had to wear something else.
My iPhone 13 had to update AGAIN, and like totally in the middle of me listening to a podcast.
Okay, I’ll stop. I’m starting to want to punch myself in the face, 😛 .
Gratitude does not come naturally. Humans are biologically WIRED to seek out problems because we lived tens of thousands of years without a Walmart, IKEA, or Amazon. Being able to spot every problem possible (real, potential, or imagined) literally meant the difference between life and death.
Now that the whole “being devoured by wolves” thing is, by and large, handled, our brains still haven’t gotten the memo.
But seriously, how many times do we find ourselves complaining or even frustrated over the silliest things?
I cannot be the only person who gripes about forgetting to buy enough salsa. Maybe I am. Judge all you like.
Thankful People are Happy People
When I first decided to become a writer, I wanted to set my story at the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. What did I do? I drove to the Ferrari dealership and
took hostages made friends who could teach me about the world of racing.
Which was a really cool experience. I was able to meet professional race car drivers and ask questions. The one bit of advice that stood out to me had to do with how to win. Obviously, one has to FINISH the race to win. Kind of a prerequisite. Yet, what is an ever-present danger? Hitting the wall.
To combat this, drivers train to always keep their eyes where they want to go. Look at the wall and you hit the wall. Race car drivers learn that if you want to cross the finish line, always keep your eyes on the finish line.
Where the eye goes the mind (and car) follows.
This is VERY true in life.
We live in a consumer culture that is designed to sell us stuff. How do they do this? They tell us we don’t have enough. We’d be happy if we had a bigger house, a better car, a thinner body. Whether it’s Netflix or Instagram or Aunt Sheila, we’re continually fed a nonstop diet of the million ways we are not enough, how we could be better, and how much happier we’d be if only ______.
In short, modern Western culture is designed to keep our eyes on the wall. And then we’re mystified why we keep falling to pieces. This is why focusing on what we have that we are THANKFUL for can be so critical for mental, emotional, and relational health.
If all we see is where our partner or kid or family member messes up? Soon, that’s ALL we’ll see. When we fail to ever recognize all the things we do right, that we accomplish, where we shine, and only fixate on how we fall short? It won’t take long before we’re an emotional wreck.
Life Can Be Hard
Before we talk more about gratitude…
Not too long ago, I wrote a post about toxic optimism called Optimism Overdose: Sometimes Life STINKS. At the time, my FIL was in hospice. Not long after that post, he passed away. Life can be uncertain. There is genuine pain, suffering, and grief and it is equally important we recognize these emotions and feel them as well.
When we fail to authentically experience the negative emotions, they can manifest as depression, neuroses, physical pain, or chronic illness.
That said, I recall a (now) funny story about when I first decided to become a writer. I’d love to tell y’all it was an amazing time, but far from it. In 2001, I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy and had to resign from a very good-paying job. My health was shattered, and my ego was in whatever is worse than the toilet and lower than the gutter. I lost my apartment, most of my belongings, was unable to drive…and had to move in with my mom.
And So It Goes…
One day, I was lying in bed and my mom asked if I was depressed. In a rare moment of clarity/honesty, I said, “No. I am angry, disappointed, jaded, bitter, and generally pissed off that I’ve failed so badly at life.”
The funny thing about that? Once I OWNED those feelings, I actually felt a lot better. I’d identified what was genuinely wrong and could then work forward from there.
Now, please, do not take this as a sweeping generalization for all forms of depression. This was merely MY experience.
But even the great Carl Jung said:
I understand there are times it is genuinely hard to be thankful.
I’ve lived many holiday seasons where I didn’t know if we’d have food, or was struggling to pay the bills, get a job/keep a job, grieving the loss of yet another loved one, trapped in the Jerry Springer family get-together from HELL. In fact, for me, the holidays have a lot more bad memories than good (though been working on that).
So I GET it.
Yet, I think when life feels as if it is caving in, that we just can’t take one more step without shattering, that is the time we need gratitude the most.
Thankful for Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving seems to be the middle child of holidays. Halloween is fun and glitzy and exciting. Christmas is shiny, has merch and movies and parties and gifts…and oh yeah, there’s Thanksgiving.
Hey, do we even have decorations for that?
Christmas is this magical time, and we often hear how we need to keep Christmas in our hearts all year long. Well, that is a great idea, but we would be wise to keep Thanksgiving there, too.
We have all kinds of ways to be thankful and many things to be grateful for that we might not even notice. The next time you go to complain, I challenge you to think of the blessing that inconvenience really is. I do this myself when I hear complaints and grumblings coming out of my mouth. YES, it is corny, but just roll with it.
I’ll show you what I mean…
Flipping the Script
I am thankful for all the laundry I have to do, because it means I have clothes to wear.
I am thankful for the pile of dirty dishes, because it means I didn’t go hungry.
I am thankful for the big electric bill, because it means my home has lights and heat.
I am thankful for the car that needs all new tires because it means I don’t have to walk miles and miles to get what I need.
I am thankful for that parking space waaaaayyyy out in the back, because it means I don’t have to park in a handicapped space. I’m able to walk.
I am thankful for the closets that need to be cleaned out, because it means I am blessed with plenty.
I am thankful I can’t have a Christmas tree because it means I have cats who break things, get fur all over my favorite outfits, puke in the middle of the night and ONLY on carpet. And seriously? This is why we can’t have nice things!
Wait, I WAS going somewhere with this.
Oh yes. They are cute and love us a lot…and are cute. And I also don’t need to take down a tree and put away a bunch of ornaments.
I am thankful for the split ends I have, because it means I haven’t lost all my hair to chemo.
I am thankful for the Christmas cards I need to send, because they could as easily be funeral announcements.
I am thankful for the traffic snarls that catch me, because the body the firemen pulled out of the fatality accident could have been me or someone I love.
I am thankful for my wrinkles and gray hair. Old age is a blessing denied to many.
I am thankful for my giant food bill, because it means I have a healthy son (who doesn’t have a stomach, he has a SINGULARITY).
Being Thankful is a Habit
As I mentioned earlier, we aren’t wired to be grateful. Having an attitude of gratitude is very counterintuitive to our human nature.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and thankfulness are NOT natural. These are all qualities we have to be mindful to practice enough to make them habitual. And it is REALLY easy to backslide.
I am definitely thankful for all of you who bless me on this blog because it means y’all are willing to bless me with the most precious resource you have. TIME.
I’m immensely grateful you guys give to freely to me. You guys are the bright spot to each and every day in my world and the world around you. It is such an honor and privilege to serve you.
I love hearing from you!
What are you guys thankful for? I’d like to hear your comments (which I am super especially thankful to get, by the way). Do you have any struggles or stories you’d like to share? I can’t be the only one messed up 😛 .
And to show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Now I gotta go brine a turkey, and am THANKFUL I have to cook because it means I have food and family and friends. Have a fabulous holiday!