This month as Americans we will celebrate Thanksgiving while still reeling from the most challenging month of economic turmoil in more than a generation. Credit markets are collapsing, jobs are disappearing, 401K plans are eroding, and our leaders seem unable to move from dramatic and expensive "rescue" plans to stabilization. The American Psychological Association found that more than half of all Americans report irritability or anger, sleeplessness and fatigue, while a recent Gallup Poll surveyed over a thousand adults to discover that 40% feel afraid, and 53% are angry.
Trust needs to be restored, from our savings to our souls.
But where do we begin to discover a new sense of possibility? How can we discover the potential for a more promising future?
I believe it begins with a simple inventory and an invitation.
We have so much for which we should be grateful. It's time to take measure of the sources of gratitude in our lives, to explore them, to discover simple daily practices of gratitude beyond a well-stuffed turkey, to awake, explore, respond and celebrate the gifts of our lives. Dr. Roger Walsh has noted that "most people are grateful because they are happy; wise people are happy because they are grateful."
We can begin by taking measure of the gifts we too often forget or take for granted: of new ideas, of daily discovery, of surprise, of laughter, of health and healing, of friends and their compassion and delight in us, of our loved ones and their daily journey, of our memories, and finally, in the rhythms of the seasons and the breathtaking invitation of a sunrise.
I invite you to make time for a new daily ritual: of saying thanks. Of telling those around you that your life is better because of them. It means slowing down and pausing to say "thanks." The obvious candidates for appreciation are our spouses, our kids, our colleagues, but what about the "invisible" people who deliver, fix, lug, lift, and make our daily load lighter? When did you last pause to say thanks to any of them?
It means paying attention. The late poet, John Ciardi, once reminded a group of young poets that "human beings are what we do with our attention." Indian gurus remind us that "we are our attention." Gratitude awakes us to life, and reminds us to share that gift of awareness with others.
We know that leaders often forget to acknowledge the contributions of their followers. By taking their work for granted, we stretch the threads of good will and live in the flawed assumption of commitment, rather than compliance. In these times of roiling markets and uncertain employment, it's essential that our colleagues and partners, our suppliers and supporters, hear from us...that they and their contribution are appreciated. Say thanks.
Let's also acknowledge that not all of our life is a cause for celebration and delight. A gardening writer, Carol Stocker, wrote that "my garden is a balancing act between weeds and wonders."
Isn't it wonderful to have just mowed a lawn, or weeded a patch? But isn't it maddening to see, only days later, the first stubborn weeds "intrude" on the order you created? Isn't that like life?
But awareness is key to beginning your "gratitude" inventory. What "weeds" in your life block out the light? What should you change, pluck, remove or remodel so you bring more order and harmony to your life? I've written before about the wisdom of holding a "garage sale of the mind" to clear out the clutter of old beliefs and useless ideas. Is it time to begin? It will sharpen the sense of treasures left, the important gifts for which you can and should be grateful.
I would hope that this Thanksgiving we might all pause to do more than say thanks, but instead be the grateful selves that can fuel and inform a new way of being in our lives. Practice telling those who make your life better, thank you. And pause to look about to thank the larger world for the constant changes that poke and nudge us to pay attention to lives that slip by too fast. Sit in the moments of your days and appreciate them. Pluck out the weeds, and discover the wonder of it all. And say thanks.
"Gratitude takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and praise." -- Thomas Merton