On Nov. 24, we as a nation will gather around tables heaped with great food and give thanks for all of our wonderful blessings. It is a time to reflect on the bountiful nature of life. It is a time when we feel especially connected to each other as we intentionally give thanks for our loved ones.
Saying thank you is a practice that many of us were taught as young children. I can still hear my mother’s voice asking, “Did you send them a thank you note?” after receiving a gift. Giving thanks is a powerful way to acknowledge the good in our lives. It softens us and those with whom we share our appreciation, and it is a discipline that can change us at depth if we choose to practice it.
When we give thanks, we focus on the good. It is hard to fixate on the negative and give thanks at the same time. Our spirits become lighter and we become happier people. Studies show that when people practice gratitude regularly, they become kinder. And the wonderful thing is that we can choose gratitude in any moment regardless of the outer conditions.
The masters taught gratitude as a spiritual practice. Jesus gave thanks before every miracle as a declaration of his faith in the bounty of “the Father.” Joan Mooney, writer for the DC Examiner in an online article published Nov. 24, 2009, quoted Buddhist writer Joseph Goldstein from his book One Darhma, “when we feel true gratitude, whether toward particular people or toward life, metta (lovingkindness) will flow from us naturally. When we connect with another person through gratitude, the barriers that separate begin to melt.”
Gratitude builds faith because it focuses our attention on the things that make life worthwhile. Wallace Wattles, author of The Science of Getting Rich, says, “The grateful mind is constantly fixed on the best; therefore it tends to become the best; it takes the form or character of the best, and will receive the best.” I have talked often in this column about how energy flows where attention goes. When we intentionally cultivate gratitude, we actively seek the positive in every situation. We learn to expect the best and, therefore, trust life more. Consequently, we become more creative and open to new ideas and possibilities, and amazingly, life really does get sweeter.
It does not mean that we won’t be faced with challenges. But when we have a consistent practice of gratitude, we learn to see the good present in every situation. We learn to expect the best instead of bracing for the worse. We can choose to expect anything we want. It is just as easy to expect that things will work as it is to imagine the worse. Gratitude helps train our minds to focus on positive outcomes making those more likely to occur than the horrible scenarios we tend to obsess about.
Nor does it mean that we hide our heads in the sand pretending everything is okay when dealing with difficulty and loss. We learn to recognize the facts and see them from a higher perspective. I was recently on a conference call with one of my teachers who has since died of cancer. She knew that her time here in this dimension was limited. Yet, there she was on that call, encouraging each one of us by sharing her wisdom and light. She was at peace with her impending death. She illuminated the power of gratitude as she relished every moment in the midst of her illness and mortality.
So, during the month of November as we celebrate with friends and family, let’s choose gratitude. Spend time every day giving thanks for your blessings. At the risk of sounding cliché, do things like write a gratitude list or find a way to remind yourself to give thanks at the top of every hour. Together, let’s give thanks for each other, our world and life itself.