I have had the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving at my house for the past twelve years. We have a large group, sometimes as many as forty people gather together to celebrate.
Ten years ago I asked everyone to write down what they were grateful for on a piece of paper. I remember the eye rolling that I got from the teenagers, and the slightly annoyed looks from the men watching football, but after some cajoling, everyone deposited their written sentiments into a basket. At the end of the meal, we all gathered together to read the notes. Each person took a turn reading until the basket was empty. Some of the notes were funny, some were sweet little scribbles written by a two year old or pictures of a turkey, some of the notes were sentimental and made us cry. Taking the time to focus on what we were grateful for that year brought us together as a family and reminded us of how fortunate we were.
Our gratitude ritual has since become a tradition that we look forward to. It was especially important after we lost my beautiful sister in law to cancer, when my brave nephew went to Iraq, when my niece and nephew lost a child, we lost a baby to and when many family members who lived in Breezy Point lost their homes and possessions to hurricane Sandy, and most recently when my mother and my father in law passed away.
A gratitude ritual reminds us that there is always something to be grateful for, even in the midst of tragedy. We might have to dig deep to find it, but it will be there like a shiny little gem.
Practicing gratitude daily can be transformational. Studies show that people who have a regular gratitude practice have stronger immune systems, are more generous, happy, and positive, and are less lonely and isolated.
The philosopher Meister Ekhart said, "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you, that would suffice."
Like prayer, a gratitude ritual can enrich your life. It is a good practice to regularly list the things that you are grateful for and to say thank you to the people that you appreciate. It is an even better practice to push past the typical gratitude list of family, friends, and good health (if that's the case) and begin to look deeper.
Can you be grateful for your difficult sister in law or grumpy boss? Can you have gratitude for your knee injury or your not so perfect living quarters? Can you find gratitude for the people and experiences that challenge you the most?
Every person and experience in life gives us an opportunity to learn and to grow. Our failures and suffering often teach us the most about ourselves, even if it's not so obvious at the time. Looking for the good in every situation can rewire our brains and help us to have healthier and happier lives.
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