November is the month of “Thanksgiving,” right? I wonder why we set aside just one day per year to recognize and be “thankful” for the bounty we have received.
What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you gave thanks for today?
There’s a thought that should grab your attention! Do you consider yourself a “grateful” person? What if we asked your family and close friends that question? Would they describe you as someone who regularly expresses gratitude?
Ten years ago, I was miserable in just about every area of my life. I was unhappy personally and professionally. I had suffered significant setbacks in both areas of my life. My wife and I had the excruciatingly painful experience of losing our daughter; that loss and other stresses had taken almost all of the joy out of our marriage; I had just filed bankruptcy due to a failed business; I was overweight, out of shape, and struggled to keep up with my 6-year-old son while playing or riding bikes. As I said, I was a miserable person.
As a result of the unhappiness in my life and the rapid-fire sequence of “unfortunate events” in my life, I lived each day wondering what else could go wrong. Most days, or at least most weeks, I wasn’t disappointed and I got just what I was looking for. It seemed to me, and to some of my friends, that I was the guy who had the black cloud hovering over my head wherever I went.
Would you agree with me that it is very hard to be happy when everything is going wrong? Would you also agree that it is difficult to be thankful for anything when you are unhappy with everything? I thought you would.
Somewhere within a reasonable short time period, I was confronted with two concepts that I did not what to consider at that time in my life. The first came in the form of a question: “What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you gave thanks for today?” The second was a philosophical statement: “Happiness is directly linked to Thankfulness.”
To the first, my answer was cynical: “I’d have nothing at all, because that’s what I’m thankful for right now: nothing!”
To the second, my response was “I’d be thankful if I had something to be happy about.”
Maybe you’ve been there, too. Maybe you are there right now. If this is where you are right now, the Thanksgiving season is not something you are anticipating with much joy. I understand. Been there, done that, and have a dresser full of T-shirts!
Fortunately, these two phrases kept reverberating in my head and would not leave me alone. I knew I did not like myself or my life as it was, so I knew something had to change. I decided to do something about it.
I do not remember exactly where I got the idea for keeping a gratitude log, but I decided I would try an experiment. I decided I would write down 10 things I was grateful for every day. In the beginning, I must admit it was much harder than I thought it would be to come up with 10 things every day. I wrote down trivial things like: air, a chair to sit on, my breakfast cereal, etc. I’ll also admit that, while I wrote those things down as being things I was grateful for, I wasn’t really. I was just going through the motions.
About the time I was ready to declare the experiment a complete waste of time, something within me started to change. My lists became more substantive and meaningful. I noticed that it now included things like life, my son, my wife, a new day to try again. I also noticed, in looking over my new lists, that I really was grateful for these things. I also remembered the question that I cynically answered earlier and thought: “I would be very sad if I woke up tomorrow and did not have these in my life!”
Another very interesting change was taking place in my life. I was happier, in a general way, than I had been just two months before I started this experiment. That’s when I remembered the second statement: “Happiness is directly linked to Thankfulness.” Could this be true? Could it be that I am happier simply because I have been expressing thankfulness for what I have in my life?
Over the last five years of my life, I think just about anyone who knew me ten years ago, would agree that I am no longer the same person I was then. Something is definitely different. I am now a “Happy” person. I smile much more than I frown, I laugh much more than I used to, and I wake up every day excited to simply be alive.
I am willing to base 99.99% of the changes in my life on learning to be thankful for what I have! Sure, I want new, bigger, faster, cooler, stronger, deeper, things and relationships in my life, but I am truly thankful for everything I have right now. That is the key!
I am somewhat tempted to claim that my level of happiness with life is higher because I have more successes, both personally and professionally, in recent years, and have not had the significant hardships I did ten years ago. However, I quickly set that idea aside because I am sure my successes have been the result of my change in attitude and gratitude, rather than the reverse.
I came across a beautiful quote by Melody Beattie:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.
According to a Wikipedia article on Gratitude:
A large body of recent work has suggested that people who are more grateful have higher levels of subjective well-being. Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships. Grateful people also have higher levels of control of their environments, personal growth, purpose in life, and self-acceptance.
I believe, based on evidence in my own life, that true Happiness is directly linked to Thankfulness.
So, as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, by all means, enjoy the food and time with family, but let gratitude become the foundation of who you are, not just something you express as an afterthought for having received a gift or blessing. Trust me, you’ll be happier!