Saturday, November 17, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 17, 2018 - Gratitude is Everything

We get an extra week of the holiday season this year. Thanksgiving Day in 2018 is the earliest it can possibly be, in fact. What’s your gut reaction to that thought? Think for a moment and look back at your very first thought as you read it... So what was it? I know mine was as I wrote it. “Ugh.” Complete with eye roll. The next thought was guilt. Followed by several other quick thoughts, not all of them bad. Some were quite nice.
It’s a sad season for a lot of people. Even the ones who put on a good face or manage to forget their sadness for brief periods of time when distracted by shinier things or bigger hugs. It takes an effort to get into the spirit sometimes. And then we feel guilty for letting others down for not being joyful, joyful on demand.
I’d be willing to bet that it’s a very rare person who feels fully engaged, prepared, and ready to get joyous. We have a complicated relationship with holidays and the way we often choose to spend them. Stressed for one reason or another involving shopping, family relationships, traffic, weather, expense, expectations, decorating outside in the cold, the list goes on.
But I don’t want to think of it that way anymore. It’s not fun. It’s not fulfilling. It isn’t remotely cheerful, joyful, peaceful or silent. It’s exhausting. I’m missing out.
So how do we change the channel on purpose? For anything, not just the time of year. The answer is to think differently, of course, but that’s always easier said than done. Toward what should we redirect our thoughts? Gratitude.
It might be helpful to think of gratitude as a companion. A being with a personality that you sometimes hang out with, sometimes banish. Sometimes forget about. Forget to call. Gratitude is like my mother. She has a phone too, but waits for me to call her. Says I’m too busy and doesn’t want to bother me.
I think gratitude is a lot like that. It loves you no matter how far away you are and is happy to hear from you when you call. But it’s not going to show up uninvited. Invite gratitude in.
It’s actually quite difficult to practice gratitude as a spiritual art, but that is exactly what one needs to do. It’s a commitment to retain a grateful state of mind over all things. Most of us can manage only a few things. The masters can find gratitude even amid tragedy. The point is not as much about achieving perfect gratitude as it is about the importance of striving toward it. Or at the very least, facing in that direction.
I changed my attitude about winter entirely many years ago by reminding myself of all the things I love which accompany the season. Soup, sweaters, snuggling, and definitely the beauty of snow, if not always the coldness of it. But recognizing the beauty of snow helps diminish the cruel effectiveness of the cold. Allowing your body to become flooded with positive emotion literally warms you from within.
I suspect football fans are warmed by their joy of and gratitude for the game when huddled in a cold stadium. Not perhaps as much as beer, hats and hand-warmers, but every little bit helps.
When it comes to our state of mind as the days get shorter, perhaps it’s preferable to our emotional health to make a point of noticing the beauty of the night. The stars. The particular crispness of winter night air. The way that trees without leaves give us an expanded view. Knowing what we know about gratitude, it stands to reason that if we find a way to count our blessings, even around things which so often make us uncomfortable or afraid, the hard edges of our feelings just might soften a bit.
As we proceed deeper into the varying holidays we all differently celebrate, take stock of what challenges you about them. Counteract those challenges with gratitude aimed straight toward the parts which trouble you the most. Write your own antidote and keep taking it. Notice a shift in the way the traffic doesn't bother you quite as much, or the family member who didn't quite get under your skin like they usually do.
Most of what defines our lives comes from the way we choose to think about things. Choose wisely.

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