Being Thankful! (Regardless of the distractions!)
I would dare say that for most of us, “thank you” was one of the things we were taught to say. Every time we would get something, our parents would mouth to us, “Say thank you!” Even if we didn’t like the gift, our parents taught us to “act like” we did. We were taught to appreciate all that we had, because there were “kids in other countries that don’t have the things we have here,” (or given some similar pithy word to the not-so-wise).
It was bred into us to be thankful – yet, when we become adults, we often allow situations and circumstances to blind us to how blessed we are…and we seem to stop being as thankful.
I conducted my own research experiment, asking1500 men and women why they found it difficult to stay thankful in the mist of a “storm” in life…and why they believed our minds lead us to focus more on what “is not” happening for us – rather than on what “is” happening for us.
The results were surprising: 90% of participants responded that being thankful was “hard work;” some felt it was “easier” to become upset and focus on “the negative” because that’s what they saw most.
While I was honestly shocked that the majority felt it “too hard to be thankful” — it’s somewhat understandable. We are bombarded with so much negativity and “ungratefulness” — on TV, in the news, even in our music — that it seems being thankful has actually become uncommon.
Yet, much recent research indicates that gratefulness and happiness are linked. At Kent State University, Dr. Steven Toepfer, professor of family and consumer studies, enlisted students from six courses to do a simple experiment: write letters of gratitude to people who had positively impacted their lives. Writing one letter every two weeks for six weeks, at the end of the study the numbers proved that students felt greater satisfaction with their life; they noted feeling “happier” with each letter they wrote. The study results were so successful that 75% of the students said they planned to continue writing their “gratitude letters” after their course ended. Toepfer called gratitude an “amazing resource” that we all carry within us.
However, more often than we’d like, we are involved in situations that can “get us off our game;” they distract us from the bigger picture. You know – those things that come up out of the blue? The distractions that make you doubt whether you’ve actually taken two steps forward — when in actuality, you have! I like to say, “Baby steps are still steps.” If you are further along the path to achieving any goal, dream, or plan today than you were last year — that’s something to be thankful for!
Things are going to come up all of the time. Bills will come in the mail…things will need to be replaced…and life will continue to happen just like before. But chances are good that you’ll find a way to handle whatever comes up this time, just like you did the last time. The fact is, most of us are “over-comers!” You’ve undoubtedly overcome challenges you thought at some point would kill you — and they didn’t. You won — you conquered whatever you thought would bring you down. That’s a huge accomplishment!
We must learn to face our challenges as if we’ve already “won” – and replace negative thinking with a regular practice of gratitude. As we learn to practice gratitude, even in times of adversity, things will begin to look up. We’ll begin to look at things with a little more confidence, knowing “this, too, shall pass.” Yes, hard times are going to come — but the next time you are faced with trouble remember your victories – and be grateful for them!
Remember the blessings; make a list, and write them down. Researcher Robert Emmons’ 2003 study showed that people who kept a gratitude journal experienced greater optimism and physical wellbeing than those who wrote down negative or neutral events. Gratitude is healing, powerful – and easier to practice than you may think! Refuse to be “distracted” from being thankful, no matter what else is going on.
Thankfulness is an every day lifestyle – so you don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving Day to make it a part of your life!
Editor’s Note: Brother David Steindl-Rast (www.gratefulness.org) reminds us: “Ninety-nine percent of the time we have an opportunity to be grateful for something.” For more tips on practicing gratefulness, visit: