Cultivating Gratefulness

‘Tis the season for thanksgiving! And though the culmination of thanks is generally reserved for the third Thursday of November, gratefulness is worthy of integrating into our everyday lives. Of course, I am writing this three days after Thanksgiving, but it just as relevant for reflection as any other day of the year.

There is a plethora of articles exploring the benefits of leading a grateful life. Last Thanksgiving season, Forbes came out with an article re: 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude. On the list include improved physical and psychological health, better sleep, and an increase in mental strength. There’s really no downside to being thankful. Huffington Post also published an article highlighting the neuroscience behind why gratitude makes us healthier. In fact, a Google search for “research on thankfulness” will yield numerous articles, all of which indicate a positive result from this practice.

This leads me to my main point: thankfulness is a practice. It doesn’t happen overnight. Unless you are a naturally positive and thankful person (teach me your ways!!!), I’m sure it’s just as hard for you to count your blessings as it is for me, especially when you’re not exactly in the most positive of situations.

That is why thankfulness is something to be cultivated. We must begin with the seed: the foundation of a grateful mindset. At first, it might be difficult to plant this practice in your daily life, and it might be a struggle to continue watering that initial commitment to be grateful. Some days are so bleak I can only come up with a couple things or people I’m grateful for. The more you keep at it, the easier it becomes to identify the minutiae. The thing about growing anything is that a single seed has the power to yield a hundred, a thousand, a million more seeds; there is overflowing opportunity for growth. Seeds yield abundance, and when we tend to the so-called garden of gratitude (please pardon the cheesiness), the results are overwhelmingly plentiful.  

Every family has its fair share of baggage, mine included. We’ve had our fights, hurtful words, and plain ol’ weirdness. As we process through the lives we’ve led up to this point, we can choose to dwell on the pain we’ve caused and experienced. We can also choose to acknowledge all of the incredible lessons we’ve learned from our parents, our siblings, our cousins, aunts, and uncles, our grandparents, or our children. While the difficult incidents in our lives are important in helping us understand ourselves better, the things for which we are grateful can foster a deeper connection with those we didn’t choose to go through life with (sorry, we’re stuck with them).

When I first arrived home this summer, I wanted to get the heck out of dodge. Sure, I loved my parents and understood that they had made a huge investment in my education, but I didn’t want to live with them again. Yet as they journeyed through my dietary adjustments, talked me through my mental breakdowns re: hi I’m a college graduate and I’m still unemployed and frustrated, and set me to work on helping rebuild the newly christened “veranda,” I became more and more aware of the support and work ethic I’ve received from my parents over the past (almost) 23 years. Instead of dwelling on that one painfully defining fight I had or those several disappointments, I began to consider all the ways my parents had showed me their love throughout my childhood, adolescence, and now impinging adulthood: weekend bike rides with my dad and his affirmation that I’m a strong rider (especially on days I felt like a slug); my mom’s attendance at every single dive meet, choir and a cappella concert, and horse show; their constant commitment to fostering communication and inclusion, which has fortuitously led to my deep connection and friendship with my sister. As a result, I have never felt closer to my family. I understand wholeheartedly how blessed I am to be a Kolb, quirks and all.

This goes for anything, not just our childhood or family life. It’s applicable to that injury you’re working through, a stressful week at work, the uncertainty of a new relationship. I know it sounds awkward and contrived, but finding the thankfulness in difficulty has the power to produce a sense of calmness and overall positivity.

If you’re one of those people like me [insert blonde girl raising her hand emoji], you might be thinking “Leigh, seriously? Get out of here. I’m not that kind of mushy gushy, happy-all-the-time people. This is all BS.” Yeah, well I can empathize. I was there at one point. Probably even sometime last week, too. Sometimes we forget to water the seeds we’ve planted. And that’s okay; we’re all busy people and it happens. Gratitude is ultimately a choice. I see myself more often than not as a pessimistic realist, but by tending to my garden of gratitude, I have noticed the increasing peace that comes with being thankful, and the increasing presence of positivity. You can do it! Seriously!

So here are 5 ways to jump-start cultivating thankfulness:

Write a List

Whether inside your head or on a sheet of paper, write a list of all the things you’re thankful for that come to mind. It can be one. It can be 100. Just the act of thinking of something you’re grateful for does the trick.

Write a Letter*

If writing is your go-to for processing, this is a great option. Expressing your gratitude to someone can be just as powerful to the other person as it is to you. Plus, this thoughtful act can foster a deeper relationship. *Sending is optional, but encouraged.

Plan A Phone Call/FaceTime Sesh

In this day and age, we all have friends and family scattered all over the country and globe. Intentionally planning to speak to or see a friend is a powerful medium for communicating your sentiments. Just like the previous point, it fosters intimacy.

Meditate

Just as you set an intention for yoga practice, set aside time to meditate on a specific item of gratitude. Why are you grateful for this? How did it come about? What makes it so special to you? This act of contemplation is helpful not only in cultivating thankfulness, but also in understanding ourselves and why we value what we value.

Be Thankful for YOU

That’s right; I said it. Find the characteristics you value most in yourself and find space to process that. We are oftentimes so quick to judge ourselves, denying ourselves the grace others would happily impart to us. If we are to live wholehearted lives, we must not skimp on showing ourselves love, but ought to honor the lives and bodies we have been given. Just remember, it’s okay to love yourself; in fact, I’m confident it will lead to a happier, healthier you.

As we head into the 362 days until the next Thanksgiving, let's choose to cultivate the seeds of gratitude so we can experience the many benefits of thriving in a garden of gratefulness.