Gratitude can be an elusive pursuit.
I’ve never been able to expand my spirit of gratitude by willing it into being or demanding it. We can’t shame ourselves into genuine gratitude. Those ideas are incongruous. In my experience gratitude follows perspective, and its enemy is comparison. When we live with perspective about life, gratitude isn’t far off. Perspective about what is truly important and what is peripheral; what should influence our happiness quotient and the things that shouldn’t.
In the next few days, most of us will gather around a table with those we love. We will eat to the point that we are able to rationalize the positive attributes of sweatpants. We will collectively celebrate an entire holiday dedicated to living with greater awareness of gratitude; and yet, even while sitting at that very table it can still be hard to experience true thankfulness. If you’re like me—and hopefully you’re not in this way—in that moment you begin to “should” all over yourself, feeling ungrateful about the lack of gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving! Right?!
This year I’m trying—with some success—to choose perspective, and run from comparison. If perspective is the key to living with gratitude, and comparison is the enemy, these seem like the right attributes to focus on in this season. Each morning this week I’m asking myself four questions:
What is my perspective this morning?
How do I refine that perspective to focus on the beauty around me?
What aspects of my life am I prone to compare with others?
What is the truth about how far I’ve come and the barriers I’ve conquered?
These intentional reflection questions are reframing the shaming mindset that comes more natural to me. I’m choosing to write a different gratitude narrative this week—or at least giving it my best effort. Maybe these questions are helpful for you as well. If so, come along the journey this week with me and let me know how it goes.
One last thought specifically about the Thanksgiving holiday this year…
I lost my dad 10 years ago to brain cancer. For much of my life my dad was a very flawed man in how he engaged as a father. That said, we had a really beautiful friendship for his last 5 years on this earth and I’m very grateful. Even with the challenges of our relationship, not a day goes by now that I don’t long to talk with him, get his input and advice, hear his voice, and watch him love my sons.
I share this because—for me—losing my dad gave a perspective that I wished I would have had earlier in my life. At times I interact with families who choose to dislike each other over very temporary things. They allow frustration and annoyance to build and end up writing a hyperbolic narrative about each other, and that becomes the excuse to create distance. When I see families interact with irritability and judgement in their tone and posture, it takes everything in me not to interrupt and say, “Friends, do you realize how temporary this life is? How quickly relationship can be erased by an illness or accident? Treat each other like this may be it—that final interaction. Give grace generously. Be patient and kind. In the end, you’ll be so glad that you chose loving, healthy relationship, and you’ll live a happier life along the way as well.”
Each of our family gatherings this week will be profoundly marked by either the tension or peace we foster. We can each choose either irritability and distance or loving, gracious engagement. A simple way to navigate family dynamics as you gather this week would be to go into the environment with two intentional questions about/for each person in your family.
What is one character quality that I am thankful for in this family member (even the most challenging people have one redeeming quality)?
What is one question I can ask to foster a meaningful conversation that helps me know her/him better?
This doesn’t have to take long to come up with. And when you’re together, share the attribute with each person, and use that question to show your interest in who they are.
We each have a choice about the quality of our perspective and interactions this week. Rather than shame ourselves for petty moments, consider reflecting on the foundation of gratitude: healthy perspective and avoiding comparison. And let’s each do our part to foster loving relationship as we interact with family members, even the ones who are most challenging.
Hope you have a great Thanksgiving. And give those sweatpants a try. They’re super comfortable!