“What are you thankful for this year?”
A question most of us will be asked sometime this Thanksgiving or holiday season. Something most of us will answer simply, basically or funnily. I mean, is there a more quintessential Thanksgiving dinner question?
But if it’s not for the holiday table social pressure or for the aesthetics or for the social media love, what purpose does practicing gratitude actually serve?
Before we answer that question together, let me paint you a picture of what I think most of our holiday seasons can sometimes look like.
The calendar suddenly says it’s the final week before Thanksgiving and you have realized that you have not started the grocery list for Thanksgiving. Which really shouldn’t be a big deal, outside of the fact that now the grocery lines will be way too long for the in-between time of finishing work, running life errands (deodorant actually cannot wait), making that doctor’s appointment, and at least 36 other things (maybe your kids is one of them, making your list now 58 things).
As you start to put your grocery list together, your email and messages start to fill with texts and emails toting the best Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. You realize that “shoot” Christmas is shortly after and you haven’t started on that list either. But you probably should if you want to get on the best deals and avoid buying way too much in the frenzied rush of this sale weekend.
So there you are in the way too long of a grocery line pulling up every email and text and trying to make mental notes of who to shop for and what to get. Oh and what about a budget? Oh, forget that.
The holiday music is blaring, the lights are twinkling, people are pushing, your mind is racing, your phone is buzzing and you feel overwhelmed. Wasn’t the holiday season supposed to be magical?
Did this feel accurate? Maybe not if you’re a planner and have all your goods already picked out, but some semblance of this probably felt accurate.
The holiday season in particular, but really any season of life, can feel quickly overwhelming. With too much, too little, not enough _____ or just not enough, period.
While some of us may be resigned to this fact, it’s not a natural nor sustainable state for us to be in. To constantly be in a state of overwhelm physically tells our body to be on alert and be stressed more than is necessary. Mentally, to be in a state of overwhelm actually causes more things to be missed and anxiety to creep in. Emotionally to be in a state of overwhelm usually turns into short tempers, angry words, or just an emotional shutdown (if you’re like me).
So where does gratitude fit into all of this?
Let’s think of this holiday season as a room. In the room you are there, your tasks and responsibilities are there and they’re piling high, creating a foreboding looking corner.
But gratitude is also in the room, and gratitude isn’t on the opposite side of the room to the foreboding corner of doing. Gratitude is sitting next to it and maybe even in the midst of it.
Gratitude’s role in this room is to help us shift focus and perspective. To not only look at the foreboding corner, but to also see where there has been goodness and delight.
Practicing gratitude looks like taking a step out of the foreboding corner and taking in the whole picture of the room. It is choosing to see the things that bring us delight, the blessings in our lives, the growth we’ve experienced, etc. Practicing gratitude helps us be present.
But did you notice how gratitude is next to and near the doing? Gratitude doesn’t ignore what is going on in the room, gratitude is in the midst of it. They are not mutually exclusive. We can both experience gratitude while there’s a lot going on. We can take a pause to shift focus. Shifting focus helps us gain perspective, helps us be present and to not be too drawn into the doing overwhelm. Gratitude helps us take a posture of being and less of doing.
It starts with asking yourself the question “What am I thankful for?” and writing out a list of things. A list of things beyond the typical “friends and family.” Sticking to the easy answers will make it easier for overwhelm to continue. However, training our brains to focus on gratitude beyond what we can easily see makes the doing feel less foreboding.
Another important reminder as you write out a list of gratitude, is to keep that list somewhere easily accessible. It’s great to write a list, but not if it’s somewhere you won’t remember to check. Then it becomes great for only that one time, but won’t be sustainable.
We want a sustaining posture of being not doing and gratitude not overwhelm. Put your list somewhere easily accessible. Or if your list is a mental list, keep a periodic rhythmic reminder to reflect on gratitude.
If you have a 2023 Kindred Planner, November has a whole page and prompt to write out your gratitude list. And because it’s literally a part of your planner, you’ll get the chance to see it often in the upcoming holiday weeks.
November 2023 Prompt: Challenge yourself to come up with one thing you were grateful for each day of this month. Use your monthly spread to help you remember what happened each day.
Let this be the start of a commitment to gratitude and less overwhelm.
With joy & gratitude,
PS: Our 2024 Kindred Planner has similar prompts and reminders throughout to help you lean into this being amidst doing. You can pick up yours here. Or if planners aren’t your thing, our Be Still Journal might just be the thing. It’s full of simple quick prompts for you to respond to throughout your week.
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