Background Pumpkin Photo: By Allison Boham
Gratitude, is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. (Cicero)
I have much to be thankful for this season. Sure my life is not perfect by any means nor is it how I envisioned it would be; yet, I am happily content. It took a recent email from my sister to allow me pause to contemplate my happiness. She was emotional upon waking up from a vivid dream about me. You know the kind when you are confused all morning because you are not sure it was real or not? She so desperately needed to know I was well and happy. I guess I had been so busy I never took the time to assess my happiness. The single instant that my brain processed the words I was afforded a glimpse inward. Smiling, I concluded that yes I was indeed content.
This past year I spent each month working on a new goal. Through these monthly resolutions I have learned to laugh more, have fun, love more, create and give. What I discovered is that these traits ultimately lead to the one necessary tool needed to resolve our emotional inner battles and those of the individuals we care for. Gratitude. Gratitude above all else is being appreciative of what we have no matter how dull or small. Gratitude is not dwelling on what we do not have.
One night many long years ago I was flying home after a long absence. The sky was a light with lightening. I felt so much joy in that menial experience because watching the lightening over the ocean water back home was one of my favorite past times. Seeing the lightening in the sky in the dark hours of the early morning gave me comfort on my journey home. An anonymous person once said to always keep your eyes open because you do not want to miss anything. His quote was directed at up and coming fashion editors but I think it goes quite well with the ancient proverb that reminds us to “take time to stop and smell the roses.”
Lawrence J. Cohen author of Playful Parenting writes that “Play is one of the best ways to engage with children, pulling them out of emotional shutdown or misbehavior, to a place of connection and confidence.” He goes on to say that, “When we feel exhausted or when we are at the end of our rope, we tend to think that play will be just more of an energy drain. But when we engage playfully with our children, we find that suddenly we do have energy, both for fun and for finding creative solutions to thorny problems.”
Cohen affirms that yes indeed it is difficult for some of us to remember how to play. Sitting on the floor playing Barbies or watching clouds or playing games with our teens might seem boring. Yet, it is necessary for us as parents to explore that world with them not only for their benefit but for ours as well. Play gives us the opportunity to let go of our problems for a spell. Play strengthens relationships and restores harmony. We learn to laugh over spilled milk. Moreover, we come to recognize the simple pleasures of life.
Gratitude is also cultivated through thoughtful acts of service. In serving and allowing others to succor our needs we foster a love for our family and neighbors. We learn to be sensitive of their interests and in so doing we desire to forgo our wants in favor of their happiness. Suddenly, as Mr. Cohen stressed, we find the answers to problems. We feel we can breathe again. We are more forgiving of ourselves and those around us. We can accept the challenging experiences we had to go through even to the point of forgiving those who have offended us in the process. Walks with a friend are not only invigorating to the body but also can be a conduit for healing the mind. This time out clears our minds allowing us to see that we have more to be grateful for than we realized. Even though life is difficult there is still so much to be grateful for if we tune our minds to find it.
To truly develop gratitude we must learn to appreciate the negative aspects of life. Learning to triumph over adversity no matter how awful is one of the most difficult tasks we can undertake. We can accomplish this only through the quality of gratitude. Gratitude is the ability to see hope in our darkest hour. Finding gratitude when we feel we are trapped or lost in a thickening fog of turmoil is by far the most challenging. Moreover, if we can begin to recognize the good that is around us no matter how small or trivial we will have a tangible life preserver to carry us through the tumultuous waters.
In the story “Pollyanna” written by Louise Alcott, Pollyanna taught an entire town that for every misfortune there is always something to be glad about. Individuals whom had completely given up on life were renewed after attempting to play Pollyanna’s “Glad Game.” The game is not an easy one to play especially when grave tragedy strikes. Even little Miss Pollyanna was unable to think of a solitary thing to be glad about after learning she might never walk again. Ironically it was the very people in the community whom she inspired with small acts of kindness that lead her through her darkest hours. Placing blame on another will not erase our pain nor will it bring us happiness. Emotional healing is a necessity required by all human beings. It is a natural instinct to retreat or lash out at others when we feel scared, overwhelmed or abandoned. This recklessness or isolation is the direct result of an emotional shutdown. The only way to ease the loss of a loved one, or find strength when diagnosed with a serious medical condition, or recover from a series of bad choices, and misfortunes is to reach out to others in service.
This lesson is best illustrated in the book “Messenger” the third book in the Giver trilogy by Lois Lowry. There is a small village inhabited by those whom were cast out from their homes because they were lame and no longer of any use. Here they found peace and kindness until one day a man came to join them who could grant wishes. Many of the villagers became greedy and selfish. They were willing to do anything to look more handsome or get a material item. The woods that for so long gave them nourishment now turned on them sucking in the negative energy that energized the community. They were no longer grateful for what they had. They wanted more and would hurt anyone who got in their way. Gratitude gives us permission to let go, to laugh more freely and play harder. In cultivating gratitude we come to understand that material objects or pride have no place in our hearts. We are free to love others more deeply.
Thanksgiving is soon at hand. It is a time to reflect over the past year. I confess that under the duress of the challenges I have encountered this year I have whined just a smidgen. There are two people in my life whom I owe a debt of gratitude. This year I came to better understand my oldest son. The road we had to take to get here was filled with many pot holes. At the same time we have been fortunate to meet numerous families with similar plights such as our own. We have felt enormous support as we’ve banned together to help our children grow to succeed rather than adapt to coping through life. Their friendship coupled with the joy I see within my own son brings me immeasurable elation. I am thankful for the long road we had to travel. My contentment is a direct result from the relationships we have developed.
This month’s resolution is to express gratitude.
— Send thank you notes to the people who made the biggest impact on your life during the year.
— Remember to say thank you.
— Express your affections by saying I love you, I am proud of you, great job. “Feeling Gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Annonymous
— Offer anonymous acts of service.
— Forgive and make amends.
— Keep a gratitude jar. Write down all the things you are thankful for on strips of paper. Place them in a jar to share on Thanksgiving or at dinner.