Saturday, November 23, 2013

Growing in Gratitude

Reviewing our imperfect, complicated lives as yet another Thanksgiving rolls around, there is still so much cause for gratitude.  But there are times when the negative crowds out the positive, either due to an immediate crisis or to lingering pain over a long ago wound.

Now is the time to let the positives come to the forefront, to count the blessings of your life. Cultivating gratitude in the present means growing past the negatives.

If you came from dysfunctional family, there is a time for letting go of the past in whatever form that takes -- and that time is now.  It may mean forgiving (if not forgetting) and going on with your life. It may mean creating a safe distance between yourself and the ongoing dysfunction. It may mean concentrating on what and who was good and loving in your family of origin. And you can feel blessed today that you're no longer a powerless child, but an adult with the power to make positive choices. Letting go of past pain, not allowing it to define your life, makes room for joy.

If you're not as fortunate in life as you had hoped, it's time to look at what has gone right in your life instead of focusing on how things have never measured up to those long-ago dreams. As time passes, our dreams change -- or often need to change. Maybe what we dreamed in our youth just wasn't realistic. Perhaps the dreams were reasonable, but life as it unfolded didn't oblige. Sometimes we can make a dream happen with hard work and determination. But sometimes, because of random luck and circumstances beyond our control, a dream eludes us. But even dreams that don't happen can take us to unexpected places and even positive surprises in our lives. It's a time to feel gratitude for those random happy surprises and for the dreams that did come true, perhaps in ways we couldn't have anticipated.

If you're in pain, it's time to treat yourself gently, to listen to your body's needs and limitations, and, at the same time, to challenge yourself to stay as healthy and active as possible. It's a blessing to have a life to live despite physical or emotional pain and your own personal challenge  to live as full and loving a life as possible.

If your current family situation isn't perfect, it may be very much on your mind these days: there may be that son-in-law you find trying sitting there being relentlessly himself during the holiday meal or those empty chairs at the table signaling family members who have died or become estranged or who for a variety of reasons can't be with you to celebrate this year. It's a time to celebrate what is instead of grieving what could or should be. Open your mind to try to discover why a dreaded in-law might be so loved by an adult child.  Send loving thoughts to those who aren't with you -- those who have passed away and those who are at a geographic or emotional distance. Celebrate those who are sharing the holiday with you and the wonderful variety of love we have in our lives.

If you're alone this holiday, make this Thanksgiving your own creation, your own singular celebration. Perhaps, just for today, you will choose to feel warmed (rather than sad) by the memories of holidays past when your holiday table and your heart were filled with family and friends. Maybe, just for today, seize the opportunity to celebrate exactly as you wish -- no pressure, no obligations, no long hours of cooking (unless that pleases you). Maybe your celebration will be curling up with a good book and reading it cover to cover. Or it could be listening to your favorite music and calling distant loved ones to wish them a happy holiday.

It could also be a time to warm your heart by reaching out to others: many churches and charities sponsor Thanksgiving meals for the homeless and disadvantaged. Some bring holiday cheer to those who are hospitalized or in nursing homes for the holidays. You might find your own happiness this holiday by joining in and serving others.

It can help, too, whatever the circumstances of your imperfect, complicated life today, to count your blessings in the ordinary aspects of your life: a warm home sheltering you from a winter storm; a sweet dog or cat warming your lap and your heart; good, healthy food; a family that may be scattered geographically but that can bring you joy by simply thriving wherever they are; the strength to do what you need to do and, often, what you want to do.  Maybe you're not able to be as active as you once were. Maybe health concerns have begun to multiply. But you're still breathing, still aware, still able to welcome yet another holiday season.

When we grow to see and savor the blessings in the ordinary, our lives can become truly extraordinary.


  1. "When we grow...." Perfect! We have to grow, accept and appreciate what we have become during our lifetime of challenges, and be grateful for the journey.
    Thanks Kathy.
    You know just what to point out.
    Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Wonderful advice for all of us, Kathy… I am so blessed to be able to read your blog posts… I ALWAYS learn something… The bottom line: Let's quit feeling sorry for ourselves (our aches and pains, our family situations, etc.) and turn things into positives!!!! Right????? This is the time of year to do for others… I always tell people to get out and help someone in need. That's the best way for us to realize how blessed WE really are! AND--we all do have lots of blessings, don't we?


  3. I think Blogger ate my first comment, so if it did: No matter how imperfect or flawed or wounded or hurtful life may be, there is always, always much to be thankful for. Great post!

  4. Beautiful post!! I used to think of the positive side of life than the negative side.

  5. It's so true. Giving thanks and looking at the positive side of things can change our hearts. It is good to give thanks and these past two weeks have found me struggling to keep away from the negatives. You've got to accentuate the poitive!