People talk a lot about thankfulness this time of year. I like to see the spirit of gratefulness and good will. I like to know it is alive and well. I also hope it causes us to be reminded to give more than we receive, to be kind to others, and to not get so caught up in ourselves that we are inconsiderate of others. I also hope that we carry this spirit with us throughout the year. We don’t need November to be thankful, and although the message and meaning of Christmas should certainly inspire us and humble us, we should always have that spirit in our hearts. You don’t have to celebrate Thanksgiving or believe in the Christian teachings of Christmas to live a life of thankfulness, wonder, hope, peace or kindness. Personally I celebrate both, and use them as examples because the images are everywhere right now; in our stores, on radios and televisions. You hear a lot this time of year about messages of hope, and about sharing what we have with those less fortunate. It seems this can be a magical time of year, but it can also be a stressful time of year. It can be a time when some are not filled with the joy of the season, but saddened by pain and overwhelmed with burdens. No matter our personal beliefs, living a life of thankfulness is worth the effort. It doesn’t cost anything to have a grateful heart.
It may not always be easy when life keeps knocking you down, but there is always something to be grateful for. No matter what is happening it can always, ALWAYS be worse. Sometimes we have problems that seem insurmountable. Sometimes we know that we have hit the bottom and it feels like we are being smothered by the weight of our own breath. Life is spinning out of control and we don’t know how to make it stop. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve been pretty close to the bottom with no idea how I was going to climb out. Stress and worry were ruling my life and I was allowing the actions of someone else to cause me to live in constant fear of what was going to happen next. There was precious little I could do about whatever it was when it DID happen, but I lived with the constant nagging ache inside knowing something was never far off. My daughter was not doing well, and I was in constant panic mode. I was trying to make it on my own for the first time in my life and to top everything else off, there was never enough money at the end of the month to pay the bills. I was frustrated, overwhelmed, fatigued, and afraid. I didn’t know which way was up or what we were going to do. Most of all, I didn’t want anyone to know. Sure, I had family that knew times were rough for me, but I didn’t want anyone to know how rough. I was so tired of having to be strong all the time, but I was all my daughter had, there was no choice. I was afraid to cry, because I was scared if I ever started I might not be able to stop.
I was always aware that there were those who had it worse. At least I HAD a job. I had family that cared about me, even when I felt so desperately alone. I had an amazing daughter who never ceased to impress me with her kindness and compassion. She may suffer with mental illness, but she was physically healthy. Still, there were those months when the counseling bills were eating me alive and the car tire would blow or whatever could go wrong would. I just wanted things to be different. I wanted to be in control and not feel like I was drowning. Most of all I wanted to be upbeat, happy, and did I say in control? I didn’t want to be a whiner. I also wanted to forgive myself for past mistakes and move on.
I realized in one great A-HA moment that although my daughter and I had an excellent relationship, and although I took very good care of her, our days were spent in survival mode. We did things together, but not as consistently as I would have liked. Even though I was always aware that things could be so much worse, I wasn’t living an actively grateful life. Not the way I wanted, anyway. I wanted to live a life where I was aware, every single day, that there was good around me. It was time to shift my perspective and be active in seeking joy.
Every day I would take a few moments to be consciously grateful for the small things. A night with more than a couple hours sleep was definitely one of those things. I started taking steps to let go of the power I gave someone else to keep me afraid. I could only take care of today, or even this minute, I could not spend energy I didn’t have worrying about things that hadn’t yet happened. I took one day a week and set is aside as a no work day. No chores, no work of any kind. That was a day for my daughter and I to spend together doing whatever we enjoyed. Reading, playing board games, watching movies — it didn’t matter what we did, it was just important to have one day where I wasn’t looking around the house feeling guilty for what all I hadn’t gotten done. I banished the guilt that I was oh, so very good at heaping on myself.
We practiced being mindfully thankful. Thankfulness was brought to the front of our minds instead of just knowing in the back of our minds that we had things to be grateful for, but finding the joy in all things around us that were positive. We acknowledged them, we listed them, we thought about them. When I banished negativity and concentrated on thankfulness, the days became lighter and I felt calmer and happier. A spirit of thankfulness was cultivated that I keep close all year. I hope I have instilled this spirit in my daughter. She has a tendency to lean toward the negative, so we work to keep the positivity front and center. My daughter has always been an inherently kind and thoughtful person when it came to others. She doesn’t seem to reserve any of the kindness for herself, but with others she gives it freely. We love random acts of kindness and are always looking for new ways to fit them into our day. We even have one day a year that is random act of kindness day where we run around all day long doing fun, anonymous acts that we hope brightens someone’s day.
I know that no matter what happens, I know it will work out and that I will be somehow better for it. In living a life of thankfulness, it is also easier to remember to be kinder to others. Kindness costs us nothing. Letting someone go in front of us in line at the checkout, or even something as small as a smile or kind word, can make a difference in someone’s day. Be kind. Be patient. Be understanding and compassionate. Treat others with respect. These are such small, simple things. Be grateful. Be thankful for the person that held the door open for you. Be thankful the car started this morning. Be thankful for the smile of a stranger or the laughter of a child. Be thankful for hot chocolate. With marshmallows. Admire the sun, watch the rain, and practice a live lived in peace and joy.
Each day that you make the effort to be thankful for what is good in life you are one step closer to living a life of joy. At times our sorrows can outweigh the good. Sometimes our hearts are heavy with burden. Find good. Seek it out. It is still there. Everyone has their own unique set of problems, their own limitations, and their own way of coping. What seems monumental to some is easy to others. Sometimes we see people and what they are going through and we wonder how they are surviving. None of us are immune to tragedy, but all too often we can get caught up in the vicious cycle of all that seems to be falling apart and can’t see those silent, little things that are going right.
I invite you today to be grateful. I invite you to live with kindness. I invite you to remember the good that exists in your life and embrace those things. Don’t embrace them for a season, but for a lifetime.