Gratitude & Thanksgiving

by Melissa Schleicher-Park | Nov 26, 2020
As most things go with stress relief strategies and wellness trends, gratitude is picking up speed and visibility. Honestly, it is about time. In a culture that is often looking for more to spur happiness in place of taking stock of what we already have in people, places and things, gratitude can feel like a naive, goody, goody way of thinking. But just what do we mean when we say “gratitude practice?” Is it as simple as being thankful for certain people, places or things in our life? Or is it something more than traditional thanksgiving?

The notion of gratitude and giving thanks seems to have a very different meaning this year but is of ever more importance. Gratitude can be defined as, “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” This feels like a good definition to work with because it is predicated on the presence of kindness to be returned for kindness given. But in a year where there has been so much loss, division and unkindness, can we take this definition one step further?

Mindfulness meditation and related contemplative practices, teach us to sit with and acknowledge all experiences that arise, even the difficult or perhaps unkind situations in our lives. Gratitude practice, as a form of mindfulness, instructs us to eventually go a little bit further in our engagement with thankfulness and instructs us to show appreciation for and return kindness to unkindness as well. Potentially, changing our perspective on difficult people, places and things from inconvenient to a prospect for learning and growth.

Once again, how do we do this? The places where we begin practicing gratitude are the easier places. The areas of our life that make us smile and are the daily occurrences that help life feel more at ease and joyful. For example, perhaps waking up in the morning and feeling grateful for our favorite warm beverage or the sun shining during the middle of Winter. Starting with the simple things has been proven to help reduce stress, increase connection to life and others and plant the seeds for greater empathy in the form of compassion. Once empathy arises, our ability to see difficulty as opportunity rather than hindrance increase in kind (no pun intended). So the next time you sit on your cushion or in your chair or are having a difficult moment with 2020, close your eyes and call to mind a person, place or thing whom you are comfortably grateful for or has positively impacted your life. See this clearly and notice how the image resonates through your body and emotional mind. The time after that when you sit on your cushion or in your chair and close your eyes, picture someone, something or some place that you struggle with and experiment with feelings of gratitude towards them as well. Notice what arises in your body and emotional mind. As mindfulness teaches us, everything has a purpose and message to deliver. Gratitude can help us clearly decipher the message and add a touch of softness as well. Perhaps, if you are looking for a little kitsch or are inclined towards musical inspiration during this difficult year, think of the eternal song, “My Favorite Things,” from the Sound of Music. Yes, perhaps a little cheesy, but also the most basic instruction for gratitude practice. “When the dog bites, when COVID exhaustion stings, I simply remember my favorite things. And then I don’t feel so bad!”

Happy Thanksgiving!

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