“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Meister Eckhart
Gratitude is the state of thankfulness. It means counting your blessings and appreciating the simple things. Appreciating the good in life, however, can’t happen without first allowing yourself the time to stop and notice them.
On Thanksgiving Day, I gathered with my family at my brother’s house. At the start of the meal, my sister in-law suggested that we try a gratitude exercise. Each person at the table was asked to reflect and mention something they were thankful for. The various responses around the table generated both laughs and happy tears.
My oldest daughter Erica is a first-year student at the University of Maryland. Missing her over the past three months made me truly appreciate her presence at the table. When it was her turn, Erica, too, mentioned how much she missed us and how happy she was to be back home with her family. When it was my daughter Lia’s turn to speak, she made many of us cry with her wise, touching words. Lia will be graduating from high school in June and will join her sister as a college student next year.
“I just want to say thank you,” she said. “So many of my friends keep saying they want to go far away to college. Many of them want to go as far as California. But I don’t want to go too far away. I want to be able to come home and it’s because of all the people in this room. Thank you for making me not want to go far away.”
It was certainly a proud moment for me. Many beautiful things were said as we made our way around the table that day. Doing this exercise forced us to stop and be mindful of the present moment while expressing our thanks for something in our life. This is not to say that we didn’t have bad things going on. We all do.
On average, people experience more positive than negative. Yet, unfortunately, it’s the negative that gets more attention. Why? Simply put our brains are developed to react more strongly to negative stimuli rather than positive ones. Scientists report that this is the brain’s automatic response in order to keep us out of harm’s way. The brain’s heightened sensitivity to focus on the bad is automatic and therefore concentrating on the positive requires more conscious effort.
Fortunately, it’s an effort well worth making. There are, of course, countless benefits to positive thinking. Just to name a few, positivity strengthens the body’s immune system, reduces stress, improves relationships, and increases our overall well-being and happiness.
As we made our way around the table on Thanksgiving, we were all dealing with ups and downs, good and bad. But for that single moment we took the time to stop and savor the positive. In that instant, we made a conscious choice to appreciate life’s many blessings.
Thanksgiving traditionally marks the start of the holiday season. For some “Tis the season to be jolly” but for others it’s the start of stressful times and financial worries. While some things are beyond are control, we are always in total control of our thoughts. It’s a choice that we make in any given moment.
As Roy T. Bennett once said, “Life becomes easier and more beautiful when we can see the good in other people.”