Making Thanksgiving— All Year ‘Round
By Sherry Richert Belul
Some of the best moments of parenthood are those first recognizable words that pop out of our children’s mouths. You know: When ma-ma-mamoo shifts into a solid, “Mama” and it’s obvious that his “dee-dee” refers to the fluffy kitty he is patting with pudgy hand. Usually it isn’t too long after those first thrilling words, that we begin teaching our children the dynamic duo, “Thank You.” (Usually parroted in the oh-so-endearing, “tank-you.”)
Ours is a polite society and it doesn’t take long for children to catch on to saying “thank you” when someone offers them something or does something nice for them. It becomes an automatic response. As well, it’s fabulous that our country has deemed the last Thursday in November as an annual day of thanks. Those two things are so wonderful. But they’re actually just the very tips of the great gratitude iceberg.
In my own life I’ve learned that it’s possible to create an ongoing practice for myself and my family that is a conscious effort to bring gratitude into our lives throughout the day, in a variety of ways. I promise you, if you commit to trying just a couple of these practices for just a couple weeks, you’ll experience the magic of gratitude. Because here’s the secret: every single time we pause to express gratitude for something in our lives, we get to experience receiving that thing all over again. When we’re giving thanks, we’re receiving more of what we’re grateful for. Saying thank you instantly multiplies what we have!
Wanna start your own gratitude practice? Below is a “Chinese Menu” of places to begin. These are all simple things that you can incorporate into your day — and suggest to or model for your family. I hope you’ll write and let me know how it goes!
Gratitude lists are the easiest and most foolproof places to begin bringing more joy into our lives. This is what you do: first thing upon waking or last thing before going to bed, grab a piece of paper or the laptop and make a list of ten things you are grateful for in your life. Could be your daughter’s bubbly laugh. Could be that you can walk, see, or dream. Might be having a fridge full of food. Could be having shared a cup of tea with your friend. Don’t think that the items on your list have to be spectacular, like winning the lottery! In fact, the more we can allow ourselves to feel grateful for the everyday things in our lives, the more things we have to be grateful for!
Lists are a great way to involve your family. In our house, before our meals we go around the table once or twice and each list something we’re grateful for. You can also set aside a time before bed or in the morn when your family writes your list of ten things silently together but then share an item or two that you each wrote down. (Or if the kids are small, you can go around in a circle and share verbally!)
Something go your way? Did you get some praise or a raise at work? Find a parking spot at the busy shopping center? Your four-year-old eat some broccoli? You slipped, but didn’t get hurt? Take a moment to offer thanks for these kinds of sparkly moments. Lots of times, I’ll just stop for a few seconds, look at the sky, and whisper “thank you.” Not only does it offer us a chance to truly experience our good fortune, but also I’ve found that it reinforces my desire to look for or create more glitzy situations!
Another great place to introduce gratitude is an unexpected one: when we’re in a snit! It might seem counterintuitive, but when you get to a place in your day where it feels frustrating, depressing, or all-tangled-up, you can take a deep breath, close your eyes, and imagine something you’re really grateful about. Usually for me, I like to think of the last time my son and I shared something really funny or when we’re snuggled in bed and I’m reading to him. Turning my attention to gratitude for something so essential in my life helps put everything in perspective. When I open my eyes, I can more calmly address that computer snafu or the blown-out tire on the car! Sometimes, when I’m feeling really expansive, I’m able to find some gratitude within my fitful situation: “Well, the tire’s blown out, but wow, I’m grateful to own a car.”
Misses are similar to snits in that these are places in our lives where at first glance it might seem hard to find any gratitude. This is part of the magic. Look for times throughout your day when you feel longing or sadness for something you don’t have, then quick-as-a-wink, you can turn that feeling around by feeling gratitude. For me, it might begin like this: “I’m really depressed that I don’t get to see my mom as often as I’d like.” When I notice that “something’s missing” thought, I turn it around: “I really love my mom. I’m so grateful to have her in my life. I think I’ll call her to tell her I love her.” Bingo. I shifted from “something’s wrong” to “something’s wonderful.”
I leaned this place of gratitude from my son when he was three. He was sitting in front of his birthday cake, ready to blow out the candles, when I offered the usual, “Make a wish, honey.” He blew out the candles and I said, “What’d you wish for?” He smiled broadly and proclaimed, “A birthday cake.” Amazing. That moment changed my life. Throughout the days, ever since, I remind myself to wish for things I already have and love. I wish for a witty and fun son. I wish for an apartment in a city I love. I wish for fresh running water. I wish for the ability to do yoga. Watch how fun it is to wish for something and receive it immediately. It’s like having our very own magic Aladdin Lamp!
Gift giving occasions are one of the best ways to experience gratitude. And they’re easy ways to include the family. Here’s what you do: next time you need a special gift for someone close to you, set aside ten or fifteen minutes to just think about that person. Let yourself re-experience all the things you love about them and all the shared times you’re grateful for. Let yourself receive the joy of who this person is to you. Then, on your own, or with your family, create a gift that expresses that gratitude. Maybe you all sit around the table together and make a list of what you love about that person and then present it on a scroll or in a hand-made book. Maybe you decide you’re going to each write a letter that includes your favorite memories of that person. Then you bind the letters or you record video of each of you reading them. Maybe you make a book of gift certificates that are things that person needs: help with babysitting or lawn mowing or computer trouble-shooting. There’s an old Jewish saying, “What comes from the heart is received by the heart.” And the beauty of this is that the gratitude you express in your gift will be received not only by the recipient, but also by your own heart.
Sherry Richert Belul is mom to a witty and wonderful 10-year-old boy. She is also founder of Simply Celebrate and author of Present Perfect: It Really is the Thought That Counts —an ebook that includes dozens of no-to-low cost gifts that are fun to make and full of love. Find her books or sign up for Simply Celebrate’s free newsletter at www.SimplyCelebrate.net. Email Sherry to tell her your gratitude practice experiences or learn about the one-of-a-kind tribute books she makes at [email protected] (Reprinted from Mothersclick.com; 2010)