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Make gratitude a family value this Thanksgiving

[ Nov 19, 2013 ] [ by Wendy Dolber ]

Thanksgiving is right around the corner now. Friends and families are planning and gathering for the day. Is it going to be turkey, or goose, or maybe we'll even try turducky! How many side dishes this year? Remember last year we forgot the broccoli! Do we really have to have candied yams and mashed potatoes and stuffing? Who's going to make the pumpkin pie?

Thanksgiving is a time of gathering and feasting together, of watching the Macy's parade and sports on TV. It's the beginning of the holiday season that will slide us through to New Year's Day. A race to the finish line of another whirlwind of a year. And of course, a time to come together to give thanks.

Like the pilgrims did at Plymouth Rock. For the bountiful harvest, as the story goes.

But what if we wash up on the shore of a Thanksgiving facing a less than bountiful harvest, or no harvest at all as we see it. Or perhaps, plentitude is not the problem, but the desert of abundance in our own hearts. Our own lives. So when we go around the table to share what we are grateful for, as some families do — we can't really think of anything to say. Or perhaps we don't even want to think about it.

Does it have to be that way, or can we defeat the grouch that stole Thanksgiving, not only on the fourth Thursday of every November, but each and every moment of our lives?

Valuing gratitude

Do you value gratitude? Do you teach it your children and loved ones? Do you express gratitude whenever you can? Do you agree with Henry Ward Beecher, who said "Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul?" Or are you more in the Francois de La Rochefoucauld camp, who said, "In most of mankind, gratitude is merely a secret hope of further favors?"

If you doubt the value of gratitude, just try saying thank you to anyone for anything and see the reaction. It usually gets people's attention, don't you think? Don't we love it when we see people being glad for what we give? Or glad for anything at all? And doesn't it feel good to be grateful for the smallest things to the bonanzas in our lives? Isn't that multiplied exponentially when we actually express it?

Contrary to what most people may think, getting what you want does not in and of itself, generate gratitude. We are all getting so much of what we want in so many ways. If we stopped to think about all the things we could be grateful for, we wouldn't have time to think about anything else. At the same time, we are all also not getting what we want sometimes, and sometimes we get what we don't want.

We all know people who seem to have everything and aren't grateful. And others who seem grateful for every little thing. What we can know from that is that being grateful is a choice and a decision. What prompts gratitude in one person and not another is not mysterious when we look at how people think about themselves and the world.

For example,

It's impossible to feel grateful when we feel entitled;

It's impossible to feel grateful when we feel cheated;

It's impossible to feel grateful when we feel bitter;

It's impossible to feel grateful when we feel unappreciated;

It's impossible to feel grateful when we feel bad about ourselves;

It's impossible to feel grateful when we don't value gratitude.

But,

We always feel grateful when deserving is not a question;

We always feel grateful when we are glad for what we have;

We always feel grateful when we are humble about who we are;

We always feel grateful when we are happy with ourselves;

Most important, we are always grateful when we choose to be grateful.

Refusing to be grateful

If we value gratitude, do we put conditions on it? Do we say there are circumstances in life beyond which we can imagine feeling grateful? Think about the times in your life that you feel grateful. What happened? Think about the times you didn't. Did you feel yourself holding back? Why did you do that?

Imagine that the value you put on gratitude goes up and down depending on your life circumstances. What is the tipping point for you when you cease to value gratitude? For example, when things are going well according to you, are you more apt to feel and express gratitude? When things tip in the other direction, does your gratitude slide down in value accordingly?

For many of us, the more unhappy we get the less open we are to feeling and expressing gratitude generally. The more worried and anxious we are about our life's circumstances, the less inclined we are to recognize the positive things in our lives. The more inclined we are to anesthetize ourselves to feeling good. While some things may have changed, many of the things we love and value are still there. But when we are unhappy, we are distracted. Our minds are caught up in the urgency of problems we feel we need to solve. We're not looking at what we have, but what we are missing.

It may seem to us at these times — if we even think about it — that gratitude would be out of place, silly, or irrelevant. Even crazy. Especially if it is related to the things we are unhappy about. The fear is that it could be bad for us to be grateful for anything when "bad" things happen. The question we can ask, then, is why we believe it would be bad for us to be grateful? There is no right answer to this question and the answer will be very specific to each individual. For example, the answer might be — if I were grateful, it would mean I didn't care and I wouldn't try to change things. Knowing this gives us the opportunity to question that belief. Why wouldn't we always try to change the things in life that we want to change? How does holding back from feeling glad, or happy, or any other good feeling, take that away from us?

Who is gratitude for?

Gratitude is not an obligation. It isn't something you should do. It isn't something other people should do. Gratitude is something we simply love to feel. In our gratitude we recognize and embrace what the universe freely offers to us. While we enjoy each other's gratitude, it really is for no one's sake but our own.

So wherever you are this Thanksgiving, make it an opportunity to ask yourself what you are grateful for. And if you come up dry, find out what's getting in the way. Would you like to be grateful? What do you believe is preventing you from being grateful? Are there things in your life right this minute that you would like to be grateful for, but aren't? What do you think has to happen in your life for you to be more grateful?

Beliefs about gratitude and happiness are closely aligned. Often the way we think about gratitude is similar to the way we think about happiness. We can't force either into our hearts and minds; but we can create openness by examining and questioning the restrictive beliefs we may have.

Make every day a day of thanksgiving.

Unhappiness is the belief that unhappiness can and will happen in the future.

[ Bruce Di Marsico ]