Oh the holidays…a time where it feels like a giant flood light is shining on your life, illuminating what you have…and what you don’t have, right? Relationships, what your home is like, the things you’re looking forward to, or the things you’re dreading.
It’s a time where expectations are sky high and ungratefulness can be a daily battle. Wishing things were different, wishing your family would get their act together and stop making you so crazy. It seems that each fun holiday activity comes ready-packed with high stress or family tension, and by the end of the day, you’re exhausted…and definitely not feeling very thankful.
The weight of traditions. Grieving the loss of a loved one. Trying to make each member of your family, and extended family, “happy”. Desperately wanting your life’s circumstances to be different. There are countless reasons that bitterness, anger, or simply ungratefulness can be the emotions you wrestle with, making you just count the days until the holidays are over.
But this year, may I suggest a different approach? A few simple suggestions on how to feel a little more thankful during this holiday season, and for each season to follow…
I think we’re surrounded by daily blessings that we miss out on when we’re busy looking for “big” stuff. It seems that the happiest people–or even those who talk about thankfulness–seem to have found the secret, which isn’t really a secret at all: they find contentment in the little things in life. Small blessings that come in so many different shapes and sizes. (For a great read on this very topic…the topic of thankfulness and simplicity…check out Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts.)
And while we’re keeping it simple, focusing on OUR daily blessings, I’ll add that I don’t like the saying that “someone always has it worse” as a reason to be thankful. I mean, sure…I guess. But gratitude isn’t supposed to start with guilt for what you do have, or grief for what you don’t have. Someone always has it worse, but someone always has it better, too. And even still..thankfulness is not looking to your left or to your right. Actually, I believe the root of thankfulness has absolutely nothing to do with comparison. It’s living and thriving and learning to be thankful right where you are, with your family, your health, your situation, your story.
And thankfulness for the little things help keep you focused on that. Like cups of hot coffee when its -10 outside. Time spent with friends when you’ve had a rough day. A fantastic sunset that takes your breath away. Tiny moments that you might have otherwise overlooked but this time…you’re looking for it.
Thankfulness doesn’t always fall into your lap–sometimes you have to make space for it. Make time to notice what all you have in your life. Look around. Allow your heart time and space to feel gratitude. Maybe it’s helpful to write a list. It’s a bad mood buzz kill for sure…writing down the things that you’re thankful for. I for one struggle with that because sometimes I like to just wallow in my own pity party of what I don’t have rather than take time to acknowledge all the great things in my life.
It’s way easier to make space for complaining, grumbling, and updating your fb status with how absolutely terrible your day was. It’s much harder to talk about thankfulness, especially when there’s nothing out of the ordinary going on for you to notice. Which is why you have to be intentional.
Slow down…tune in your awareness…dig beneath the surface and find something. Because I promise you…there is something there to be thankful for.
#3: Coming To Peace With Reality
Friends, this is tough. It was way easier to wish things were different and use that as a reason for not being thankful. But what things in your life aren’t going to change and what do you still need to make peace with to move bitterness aside and make room for thankfulness? Is it your parents divorce….which is amplified by having multiple thanksgiving dinners and all the stress of the holidays? Is it singleness? Is it your current health struggles? Is it your job? Is it your financial situation?
Whatever it is, it might be time to come to peace with it, either for now or for good. If it’s something that won’t change, what can you do to accept it? If it’s something that may change in time, what can you do to thrive right now instead living in limbo, waiting for it to change before you are thankful.
#4: Who God Is To You
So the phrase “give thanks” is thrown around a lot this time of year. What does it mean? Who are you giving thanks to? In the Pslams, a book right in the middle of the bible, David writes many times that he gives thanks to the Lord. In psalms 107 he says “Let them praise the Lord for his great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them”. and in Psalms 118 he said “give thanks to the Lord for he is good. his faithful love endures forever.” He also goes on to say, twice, that “The Lord is for me.”
So in those few sentences, David is saying that the God is loving, is behind the good things in his life, that God himself is good, and that God is for him. And BECAUSE of those things, David says to give thanks. And not just out-loud or in his head, but TO God.
Are you able to say those things about God in your life? Or is it because you feel the exact opposite about God that you wrestle with the idea of giving thanks? Or possibly you’ve not connected the two…thankfulness and who you think God is…if you believe He is for you and is a good gift giver. Friends, I believe they are connected, and those are some questions worth wrestling with.
I also believe that each gift is an opportunity to turn towards the Giver.
#5: Choose Gratitude
At the end of the day, the choice is yours to be thankful or not. Regardless of what you have or don’t have, the choice is yours to practice thankfulness. Because thankfulness is not just a feeling, it’s a choice, a way of thinking…a lifestyle.
What comes first- thankfulness or happiness? Does joy precede gratitude, or does it follow it? This is something I’ve been pondering. It’s easy to think that people who are the most thankful are that way because they have the most reasons to be…..or is it the other way around? Did they start off by choosing to be thankful, regardless of their external situations, and then became happier because of it?
Regardless of what happened in your past or what’s going on in your present, you have a choice today to live in, fight for, search for, and chose thankfulness.
Happy Thanksgiving, Friends! May you enjoy good food and gratitude this Thanksgiving.