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Practicing an Attitude of Gratitude this Thanksgiving

We are immersed in chaos and mayhem in our communities, our country and globally, as exemplified by numerous mass shootings, climate disasters, and economic uncertainty. Political self-interest often takes precedence over what is best for the majority. And of course, we have enemies who seek to do damage by their insatiable desire for power at the cost of the welfare of other humans.

It can be said we are living in challenging times. And yet, since the beginning of humanity there has been no shortage of greed, evil, and mayhem, dating back to Adam rolling Eve under the bus, or Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright.

None of this chaos is new, rather it has taken on new and more tragic forms.

So how do we avoid becoming fearful, joyless, negative, powerless, and pessimistic in the midst of what can certainly feel like overwhelming personal, local, national and global problems?

The answer, I believe, lies within us. Since many of our circumstances are beyond our control, we must learn to develop new habits that will help us cultivate healthy, positive attitudes.

There is an old Native American tale that speaks of a young boy conversing with his grandfather. The grandfather shares that there is a battle of two wolves living inside each one of us; one is good and the other is evil. The little boy inquires as to which one wins. The wise elder replies, “whichever one you feed.”

We need to pay attention to which thoughts we feed, as they will form the basis of our feelings, attitudes, and ultimately, our actions.

Since our circumstances encompass both elements we can influence and control, as well as things we cannot, we must choose where to focus our thoughts. Many of us experience a black cloud that ominously hangs over our head because we are so consumed with things we cannot control, we fail to see what we can control.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting we put our head in the sand to the tragedy, chaos, or problems that befall us. I am suggesting, rather, that we identify and take action in areas we have control over, and surrender those we cannot control. This allows us to maintain more positive attitudes and is actually better for our mental, emotional, and physical health.

In other words, becoming more positive is less about our external circumstances, and more about how we choose to think about them. This may necessitate retraining our thinking. Learning to focus on what we think and feel internally, rather than over-focusing on what is happening externally, is a process which requires effort and energy to become habit, yet will ultimately yield great rewards such as better mental/emotional health.

In addition to developing the habit of tuning in inwardly, another beneficial habit we can cultivate is adopting a mindset of gratitude.

Research has shown that people who choose to feed their “gratitude bank,”i.e., optimists, are actually happier than those who feed “the other wolf.” Gratitude is not something that comes naturally for many of us. Rather, it needs to be practiced. One simple exercise is to purposefully begin every morning by thinking about something you’re thankful for. Keeping a daily gratitude journal is another way to form the habit of gratitude.

Some people commit to a daily habit of praying or meditating on three things/ people/ situations they are grateful for. This is an excellent way of keeping grateful thoughts top of mind.

Many things in life will inevitably remain beyond our control. Ultimately, when we choose to let go of what we cannot control, take action where we can, and cultivate a heart of gratitude, we will make optimism our new norm.

Instead of making Thanksgiving a one day event, let the most important aspect of it – thankfulness- carry over and use that day to springboard you into creating habits of gratitude. You will very likely notice a difference in how you think, feel and show up once you make this a lifetime habit.

We want to hear from you. Jump in our Live Well Kitsap community Facebook group and tell us what you are grateful for. www.facebook.com/groups/livewellkitsap.

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