Sometimes when we look at the world or at our lives, we see so much that is negative, it is hard to think of anything for which to be grateful. Those who talk about gratitude can sound like saccharin coated nuts. But, once we start the process of looking for things, people and moments to appreciate, it really does get easier.
When I lived in New York, every year at Thanksgiving, my friends would take turns expressing something for which they were grateful. I think it is a practice common in many American households. It was never something we had adopted in my home for Canadian Thanksgiving but it was a tradition I loved, immediately. I know the standard things we all say: family, friends, health, etc.
But if we want to go deeper, or to find different things for which to be grateful, a little reflection may be needed. There are an infinity of possibilities in our day to day lives but perhaps they get taken for granted in our rush through the day. When we really look into our lives and take the time to think about everything for which we are deeply thankful, we find so much that brings meaning to our lives.
To prepare for Thanksgiving or to inspire you to start that gratitude journal, I have made a short list of prompts to help you uncover all those things and people and moments you really do appreciate.
Let’s not keep appreciation limited to an annual event! Let us build those muscles for gratitude on a regular basis. I hope you have fun trying this!
- Your favourite place in the city or town you live: Think about this place. What does it smell like? What do you see and hear when you are there? How does it make you feel when you are there? Why is that important to you?
- Helpful tools and inventions: It might sound banal, but how often do we take for granted the tools that make our lives easier? Our car that gets us from place to place, the coffee maker that creates the elixir of life whilst we shower, the spell check that removes rude misspellings in our memos and emails, and the computer that lets us write our gratitude journal are all worthy of appreciation. What tools and inventions make your life a little easier?
- Your best childhood friend: Whether you are still in touch or not, there was a time when this person was your best friend. What did you like about them? What sort of things did you do together? How did you feel, being around them? What did you learn from them? Is there something you appreciate about them or about the time you shared that you never told them? Appreciate it now.
- Laughter: This is one of my favourites. What and who makes it possible for you to have a giggle, a chuckle, a belly laugh or to lose control and laugh hysterically?
- Favourite smell or taste experienced recently: Be as specific as possible. If chocolate is your favourite taste, is it Kit Kat or is it the special dark chocolate Kit Kat you find only at certain retailers? What smells or tastes pleased you, today?
- A little luxury: For everyone, the idea of luxury is different, but we can find luxury in the everyday. Maybe it is a once a week coffee drink at a local café, or the occasional haircut where someone else washes your hair and you relax. Maybe it is an extra 15 minutes in your warm bed on a cold morning before getting ready for the day. Where is your little bit of luxury, in life? What makes it possible?
- Favourite sound: What is your favourite sound? Maybe it is a band, birdsong at sunrise, or children laughing. Listen to something you love and see how it makes you feel.
- Adventure: Where do you find adventures, great and small? We don’t have to take a holiday to travel. Books from the library, films in the cinema, television and the Internet tourist blogs can all take us on adventures. And, we can take small adventures everyday by speaking to the cute person at the coffee shop who makes us blush and fumble our words. We can take the bus to a new area of town or go hear a band we have never heard. We might try cuisine that is foreign, or a wear a colour we think is too bold. How do you find your adventures? What makes it possible for you to have a little adventure now and then?
- Compliments: Think of someone who has paid you a compliment in your life. How did it feel?
- Kindness: We are all recipients of kindness but the key is in noticing when it happens. Think of the last time someone bought you lunch or a coffee or the last time someone held the door for you. Has a stranger struck up a conversation with you or offered you directions? Perhaps another register opened at the grocery store and the clerk called you over to be served next. If you can’t think of a time you received kindness then be kind to another person and appreciate the response that you receive. Maybe it will take 5 acts of kindness to strangers before someone smiles. Do it anyway. The world needs it.
- Romantic Love: This should be self explanatory. But, sometimes, when love ends, it hurts. No matter how it ended, love always has given us good feelings at some point. The challenge is to appreciate those moments even in our grief. I like to call this a beautiful hell. Where was the beauty in that relationship. There you will find something to appreciate.
- Other Love: The Greeks had names for various types of love: Eros (see above), Philia (friendship), Ludus (playful love), Agape (a kind of spiritual love for all), Pragma (longstanding mature love), Philautia (self love). Where in your life do you experience these forms of love as either the lover or the beloved? What and who makes it possible, in your life?
- Coziness: What makes you feel cozy? Who or what allows you to indulge in that coziness in your life?
- Vitality: Most of us lose our youthful energy as time goes on. What makes you feel alive? Is it the cold wind on your face? Is it hiking to a mountain top? Is it singing loudly to music in the shower or in the car? Is it jumping out of a plane or cresting a loop on a roller coaster or maybe diving to the bottom of the ocean? Is it making it through the Pilates class on Wednesday night and feeling your abdominal muscles ache the next day? What is it that reminds you that you are alive? Where do you get some of this in your life? What makes that possible?
- Timelessness: Where do you lose track of time? Is it when you draw, or paint or swim? Perhaps you lose track of time photographing wildlife or singing or simply sitting and noticing the breath. How does it feel to lose track of time? What makes it possible for you to engage in activities in which you go into flow and lose track of time?
- Seasons: What is your favourite part of the season? Why do you like it? What makes it possible for you to have a place and a time to enjoy it?
- A cherished memory: Think of your most cherished memory. Relive it in as much sensory detail as possible. Who or what made this memory possible, for you?
- Sources of strength: From whom or what do you draw strength when life is difficult?
- Absence: We can be grateful for those people and things present in our lives but we can also be grateful for those now absent. We may be grateful for their absence because they were causing us pain by their presence. Or, as I tend to practice this one, we may simply be grateful for lost loved ones despite their absence. One of my favourite toasts is: “To absent friends and family” because it brings them into the here and now, to be with us in our moment of deep thanks, even as we are missing them.
- Teachers: Who has been your greatest teacher and what lessons did you take from them? How has that helped you in your life? Teachers can be either benevolent or difficult people and circumstances in our lives. Sometimes, difficulty is our greatest teacher and finding meaning in our adversity gives us something to appreciate, even from our most difficult and darkest hours.
The list is not exhaustive. I hope you give it a go, and will keep adding to it. The more we appreciate the small moments, the more we recognise how much we have for which to be grateful.
Please help us build on the list! For what are you grateful?