This being the time of year when we are supposed to be consciously thankful for the good things in our life, I have been contemplating the idea of gratitude.
Gratitude is a tough one. The Dalai Lama teaches us that we cannot have happiness without gratitude. For myself, this is true. I can be exuberant or excited or giddy without gratitude but to be truly happy — to wake up with a smile and go to sleep with a sigh — I must have gratitude.
I think the tricky part of gratitude is that we all tend to hang it on a couple of big things. Or we have socialized ideas of what it “should” look like. Or we merely graze the surface when noticing the good stuff in our life — like being thankful for our kids, rather than specifically noticing how lucky we feel that our kids have talents that bring them joy and confidence. I am as guilty of these trespasses as anyone else.
I read something once that the best way to locate your gratitude is to get into a gratitude habit. The suggestion was that you start each day, before even getting out of bed, by counting your blessings, in detail. Spending a few moments, each morning, running through a list of the small things for which you’re grateful, so that pretty soon, recognizing those small, perfect things becomes a habit that you do all day long.
I wish I could say that I have mastered this, but I have not. I am working on it, in much the same way I am working on my yoga practice, which is also far from perfect. But today, I had a glimpse of what it must be like to carry gratitude with you throughout your day, every day.
It was a simple day. A perfect day. I awoke early, well-rested, for a haircut appointment with my stylist. For breakfast, I had my favorite bagel with my pumpkin-flavored cream cheese that is only available this time of year. That, my hot chai tea, and one of my favorite blogs provided a nourishing and warm breakfast. I ate consciously, enjoying every bite and every word. I drove to my stylist’s and was grateful that I was on my side of highway and not the other, where there was a long traffic jam behind a bad accident. At my stylist’s, I was aware of how wonderful it feels to have someone else shampoo my hair… the gentle fingers massaging my scalp, like a mini spa for a few precious moments. We chatted as she clipped, about family, holiday food, and the state of my love life. As always, my Korean friend had a wonderful Eastern-based perspective, for which I was thankful. After, I went shopping for Christmas presents for my children and food for our Thanksgiving dinner. As I selected the presents and the food, I was grateful that I have the money to make those purchases. Every small stocking stuffer and every piece of fruit separate me from those less fortunate.
Once I had unpacked my purchases, I took my sweet dog and went for a long walk on a trail by the creek. I watched the angle of the sun glancing off the water, and how happy my dog was, trotting gleefully from creek to tree to rock, taking in all the smells and running back to jump on me, as if saying, “Isn’t this positively the BEST?!!” When we returned from our walk, I gave the dog a bone and I laid down for a nap. I drifted off with the window open and the slanted sunlight on my face.
After my nap, I went to a yoga class hosted by one of my favorite instructors. I was grateful that I arrived early enough to get a good spot and that the instructor moved us through our poses firmly but gently. The sweat was pouring from my shoulders, and my arms felt like over-stretched rubberbands, but I was thankful for a body that allows me to move and stretch.
I came home, started the fire, and took a hot shower. I fed my skin with my best-smelling, all-natural lotion and closed my eyes to absorb the perfection of the scent. Then I made a delicious dinner that I savored while watching a favorite movie in front of the fire. I sit there now, sipping a cup of my favorite tea and grateful for this outlet for my creativity. Soon I will go to bed, quietly preparing for a day tomorrow with my eldest daughter.
None of these things in my day could be described as particularly unusual, but they were special. They were special because I saw them — perceived them — as such. It is not always easy to notice our blessings in the midst of our hectic lives. And when some of the big things are absent or going wrong, it can be particularly hard. But every time, every day, it is still a choice.
Today, I choose to be grateful.