A Search for Gratitude

As I’ve been pondering this blog the last few days I’ve found myself wondering about how to approach it-spiritually, psychologically, mentally?  Speak about the family perspective of Thanksgiving? Or something more related to gratitude. I’ve always thought of both thankfulness and gratitude as the same thing. But GK Chesterton’s proposition was that “thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” That very much spoke to me, the balance of thought and feeling.

So often at Thanksgiving we are celebrating food, football, and family. In that combination we are actually often only engaged in the thought of being thankful, occasionally feeling some happiness; but, how often is that thankfulness actually imbued with wonder? Wonder generally comes from something beautiful, unexpected, or inexplicable.  This is the key to much of why we likely experience actual changes in our brain when we have a gratitude journal.  Our thoughts of what we are thankful for, combined with the emotion of gratitude, is what causes both sides of our brain to process the experiences. As we cross the corpus callosum of our brain, we are changed.  Try an experiment, think of the most recent experience of a beautiful sunset, a puppy playing, or a special message of love from your best friend.  As you recall this, do you feel joy, relaxed or peaceful, or warmth deep in your heart? Then, as you consider that view, do you begin to think about how lucky you are to have that pup or thankful to have found your anam cara (see an article on anam cara here) friend? There you have it, thought and feeling, building in intensity as you allow the feelings to bubble up and impact you.  The life-changing moment of gratitude.

This Thanksgiving, enjoy the festivities and folks around you, whether solo awareness of others who are in your life or at a larger get together. But in addition to enjoying the day, I challenge you to not simply go through the motions. Instead, take some time to really consider what you are grateful for in life. Use the barometer of feeling gratitude to the point of an emotional reaction of joy, wonder, or amazement. For me it will include true joy in my experience of my new puppy Finley; deep peace that comes from memories of moments with my best friend; and heartfelt love for my dear sisters with whom I am spending this holiday. I want to cherish these thoughts and feelings along with the memories that triggered them. I choose to do as Brene Brown suggests: “[not chasing] extraordinary moments to find happiness, but paying attention and practicing gratitude” in its’ deepest sense.

Take care, and may the wonder of this holiday be yours.

Dr Beth

Thanksgiving Thoughts 2018

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a silent retreat in Tucson. The silence was a gift in and of itself, but the time also allowed me to regain perspective in areas including the gifts in my life for which I’m grateful. I’d been keeping a gratitude journal again for awhile, but that has been done in the midst of the busyness and clamor of life.

John O’Donohue wrote about the blessings in our lives for which to be grateful. The simple yet deep areas that were part of what came to me in the silence:

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,

your health, eyes to behold the world,

thoughts to countenance the unknown,

memory to harvest vanished days,

your heart to feel the world’s waves,

your breath to breathe the nourishment

of distance made intimate by earth.

As I recall last weekend, I realize that being in silence allowed me to be aware of things I would normally miss, which in turn  led to a fuller sense of  gratitude. I took the time to notice and watch the hot air balloons and appreciated their colors and the courage of those in them. I took the time and rather than assume only bees were flying around a planter, I looked closer and realized many of what I noticed were actually tiny yellow butterflies flitting about and how happy I felt in watching them. In listening to the retreat director I became so very grateful for my eyes and vision when I found out that she was going rapidly blind but was slowly learning to find gratitude for other things-friends who helped her, her husband’s arm, the ability to still see a sunset, the richness of her relationship with her son and his family, and audiobooks to continue her love of learning, prayer, and faith development through books.

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When in silence I also found I very much appreciated no social media … a separate commitment I’d made to myself for the retreat and which I found I missed not at all. Was that the “nourishment of distance made intimate” for me as I instead focused on nature, reading, and writing? Perhaps, it certainly felt that way.

At Thanksgiving we are taught to be thankful for fun times with family, football, a large dinner, and friends. I wonder what would happen if we each took 30 minutes to be silent. Might we recognize gifts in our lives, large or small, that we otherwise wouldn’t notice? Would we notice our bodies and the health we have, despite what we do not have any longer? Maybe we would take the time in nature to notice yellow butterflies or appreciate clouds slowly moving through above us, and be amazed at the process of movement that happens when we think all is still around us. We might even take the time to read or write and learn more about what is below our own surface. Or recognize through a picture, odor, taste, or sound the memory of a day in the past full of hope and allow it to imbue our hearts with hope again. Just maybe our hearts would feel a movement and allow it to impact us and notice how a similar time also influenced us this year. And in all of this, it’s just possible we would breathe more deeply, fed by the nourishment of life within and around us rather than just by turkey and gravy.

So here’s my challenge to each of you this Thanksgiving. Take 30 minutes and be in silence. Perhaps before you rise in the morning, after your feast while you take a walk alone, or in the evening before bed. Turn off the TV, put down the iPad, silence your phone. And notice what is around you. In you. What you’re grateful for in your life or your children’s or your relationships. Maybe even just see what comes up as you close your eyes and relax for that time, or meditate. Treat yourself to the gifts of silence to see, hear, smell, or increase in awareness of some lost idea re-found. I would bet you will end your day even more grateful than you might otherwise be this Thanksgiving. Then pick up the phone or pad and tell someone for whom you recognize deeper gratefulness. And thank yourself for this gift of time for you. May you in doing so feel even more “blessed by the gifts you never notice”.

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