One chaotic Saturday, amidst lunchtime cartoons with macaroni and cheese, my toddler was soggy and drowsy from swim class. I, on the other hand, was bustling around at a breakneck pace, preparing for a party we were hosting later in the evening. You can never have enough food; that is, until you are the one making it.
All at once, I felt my daughter’s tiny eyes on me. My shoulders tensed; I waited expectantly for her to ask me to cook her something else, or open a snack, or fix a sock, or change a channel. “Mom,” she said in a calm and measured tone, “I’m thankful for you.” With that, she turned her focus back to her show, completely unaware that she had just rocked my world.
Choking back tears, I turned to my husband, who had witnessed the whole thing. “She’s so…wonderful,” was all I could think to say. How could this little child with little worldly experience approach something complex like gratitude as if it was simple? It was like gratitude was her reaction, instead of her intention. She saw someone she loved, she felt love in her heart, and she reacted to what she felt with reservation.
It can feel cliche to talk about gratitude; yet, every though everyone is aware of it, not everyone is embracing it. Like me, for example. I know with certainty that I have been blessed. And yet, unless I sit intentionally and reflect on how I got to where I am, thankfulness isn’t my reaction.
Gratitude: it’s like leafy greens and getting 8 hours of sleep. We know why it’s important, so why are we making it so hard?
Gratitude opposes inadequacy
Society is expert at throwing our shortcomings in our faces, even when they aren’t justified. Companies profit off self-doubt. Intentional gratitude opposes this by saying, “Yes, but what I have is enough.” It casts light on what we already have, leaving our perceived shortcomings in the shadows. Observing what is already good, instead of identifying what could be better, is a practical first step to a thankful posture of heart. For me, I have the marriage and family that I dreamed of. It should be noted that these things do not shape my identity, but rather, I am left in awe of the life I’ve been given.
Gratitude isn’t complicated
Life move fast. If something isn’t urgent, it is overshadowed. It’s easy to skip breakfast before a long commute, skip stretching before a work-out, and pass-up water for more coffee. In skipping what is simple yet impactful, we cheat ourselves of a stable base.
What makes the heart sing cannot be sold by banner ads and product placement. Rather, we long for what moves our hearts to feel: like tears from memories that shaped us, smells that remind us of home, sounds of people we love, reminders places that changed us. Simply put, “thankful” is defined as “expressing gratitude and relief.” How beautiful the concept of gratitude becomes if we imagine going beyond surface level, actually telling someone, “I am so relieved you are here. I need you.”
Gratitude takes practice
It is counter-cultural to acknowledge that having what we need is having enough. Like many people, and maybe like you, gratitude is not a habit for me. On paper, I know what I am thankful for, but knowing and truly feeling cannot be interchanged. In this, journaling seems like a logical starting point for me. In the long run, I would prefer if I didn’t have to add thankfulness to a list of daily task, next to laundry and emails. But I need a place to start. When gratitude becomes my natural reaction in daily life, that is when I will know that the mind-shift I am aiming for has happened.
One thing I know about myself is that I am an observer. Yet when it comes to following through on what I notice, I’m hit or miss No matter how self-aware I am in quiet moments of reflection, the minute the world comes knocking, I immediately respond. I run full speed, not really looking where I am going, eager to please and I often miss the mark.
Slow and intentional, heart full of gratitude: I’ve heard it before, I’ve said it before, I’ve tried it before, and I will try it again.
When I look at all of the simple blessings in my daily life, the risk of missing out on truly experiencing this beautiful existence too great. Like my daughter, when the world has left me worn out and soggy and I am finally relaxing, may my heart shun the tendency to play the victim of exhaustion. I’m busy, but so is everyone else.
There is always time to be thankful, and there is always something to be thankful for.