I know, it’s a little cliche to talk about gratitude on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, but I truly believe in the transformational possibilities of gratitude. First of all, there’s brain science behind this truth - researchers have found that gratitude — intentionally expressing thanks for a positive experience — is linked to an enlarged capacity for happiness. It's also possible to slow down hedonic adaptation by continuing to reflect on and appreciate the events and circumstances that changed your life (Healthline.com).
Hedonic adaptation. Insipid destroyer of happiness. Have you heard of it? This is the phenomenon where I might want something so bad - from new shoes to a new house - and once acquired, my joy in the achievement diminishes pretty quickly. When I can be intentional with my gratitude, I’ll love those Blundstones for a lot longer.
I’ve written here before, that I can sit at my desk and start to write about my gratitude for my post-it notes, and my colored pens, and my travel trinkets, and the photos of my children, family, and friends, and suddenly my veins are flowing with the milk of human kindness. My head and heart feel as one, given enough focus on gratitude.
Along with the great food, I think the spirit of gratitude is the reason I love Thanksgiving. I love planning the menu and finding new recipes to complement our traditional standbys. I love the argument about rolls - I will never serve rolls. If you want ‘em, you better bring ‘em. Same with mashed potatoes. I mean, I love mashed potatoes, but I can make them any day of the week - so no, not on Thanksgiving. But somebody always makes them, dammit.
In my family, I cut out leaves from construction paper and pass them out to everyone to write what they are grateful for. I hang them on a branch - our Thanksgiving Tree and then after dinner, groaning with full bellies, we pass them out, read them aloud and try to guess who wrote which one. I love the gathering and the talk and honoring that we have so much to be grateful for.
I am particularly fond of exceptional stories of gratitude, where gratitude made a noticeable difference. My dear friend had back surgery last winter. Remember last winter before there was a vaccine? She had to go to the hospital for complicated back surgery where doctors would operate on one side of her and then flip her over and operate some more. It was serious and complex and she had to go alone, because, well, COVID. Her husband literally dropped her off and she entered the hospital to begin this surgical odyssey all on her own.
She was scared, and to prepare for this ‘adventure’, she consulted a book recommended to her - Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster by Peggy Huddleston, all about asking for and receiving help and love. This book by a nurse goes way beyond gratitude - it’s all about the difference that gratitude and various mind/body techniques make in healing. My brave friend took the lesson to heart and showed up at the hospital expressing deep gratitude to every single person that she met leading up to her surgery.
Starting with the person that registered her, she said, “I’m so grateful that you are here today”, right up to the curmudgeonly, no-nonsense nurse that put the anesthesia mask on her face, she said the same thing, and included that they must have so much love in their hearts to do this work. To a person, she startled everyone she spoke to. Faces softened, smiles blossomed and armor was lowered in her wake. Later, her surgeon told her that he thought her healing went as well as it did because of her incredible attitude. I have no doubt that as I am writing this, there is a hospital employee somewhere who is telling this same story about my incredible friend. To this day, when she talks about this experience, she is radiant. That’s transformation. That is the power of gratitude.
Back in the day, my kids’ dad worked with a coach who assigned her students the task of writing 1000 gratitudes in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. At the time I thought that was a bit excessive. I mean, come on - a thousand gratitudes? But now, I see the beauty in that assignment. To write a thousand gratitudes, you have to get way beyond your gratitude for your kids, your home, your family, your pet friends. When you write a thousand gratitudes, you get to the point where you are writing about salt and ink and electricity and toilet paper. All the things that we take for granted all day every day that make our lives work, wind up on the list. Gas, notebook paper, wifi, curtains, sheets - all of it. Nothing gets to go unnoticed.
Amy and I were talking about this practice and for next week’s blog, we’re each contributing at least 25 things that we’re grateful for. You, dear reader, will most definitely be on this list. But we want you to join in - we’re inviting you to contribute whatever you might be grateful for too in the comments section next week. So spend this week thinking and writing down what you’ll put in the comments next week. Just close your eyes, and imagine that we are out here offering a vessel for you to deposit your gratitude. Breathe into it and just allow yourself to swell with the feeling.
We hope your holiday is filled with people you love, exceptional conversation, joy, and really good food. Let gratitude fill you.
“You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight.” –Elizabeth Gilbert