The world that we inhabit can easily inhibit our views. Our perspective is formed by our upbringing and our surroundings. This perspective can be positive or negative, because we either have a good or bad outlook on the world and society. It is binary and that dichotomy can shape who we are within. Our soul is malleable, sculpted by our experiences, so I ask you: what will you build yourself to be?
We have a choice to make in each moment. Will we be better? Or will we be the same? This choice is at the core of every decision we make. We can either work to become the best version of ourselves or we can settle for remaining unhappy. Today, as it is Thanksgiving, it may seem odd to equate bettering ourselves with gratitude. However, to better ourselves gratitude is a vital part of that evolution. What tends to happen with Thanksgiving is that we forget what the title of the holiday actually denotes. It is a day to fill ourselves with thankfulness, instead we fill ourselves with food. I believe that the twisted relationship that we have with Thanksgiving speaks to the state that our society is in.
To often we live our lives as paths of linear ease. That we 'deserve' this biscuit or ice cream, because we have been working hard or went for a walk. Our perspective is based on reward. Reward for even the smallest of accomplishments, which in most cases aren't accomplishments at all. The human mind is very good at making excuses with itself to allow it to have something it desires right now. My father has a quote written on a post-it note posted above his desk. A simple reminder that reads, "Don't give up what you want most, for what you want now." This wisdom rings true for every one of our daily decisions.
Throughout each day we hold the power to decide what we will do. This power has been clearly exemplified to me now that I am in college as kids around me are feeling a freedom now that they have never felt before. They are fully realizing that decision making power, but most are abusing it. Using it to make decisions that they, most likely, know are bad, but decide to pursue regardless of better sense. This is similar to what happens at Thanksgiving and during the holidays at large. We, as people fickle in commitments, tend to reason, excuse, and argue with ourselves to allow for breaking any dedications that we have built in the months leading up to today. We forget to better ourselves and only seem to remember the food. The food that holds us on a leash. This leash is one that we are all to happy to be tied to.
Food is an addiction. That is not arguable. If you want realized, credible sources of that fact listen to my podcast with Dr. Neal Barnard. This addiction is widespread and rampant, but for most of us not acknowledged. Again our mind is an expert at getting what it wants. Remember that you are not yourself. Another quote that my dad has posted above his desk is, "You are witness to body and mind, not the 'I'." The truth is there for us to realize, if only we look. To often we say, "I deserve this. I worked hard." That is not you who is arguing for that cake, that is desire. As the Buddha teaches: desire is our downfall. The detriments of desire are hardly more exemplified during Thanksgiving and the day after, Black Friday.
Whether it is food or materialism we quickly fall for anything that provides us immediate gratification. However, I ask you: what do we search for, but true happiness? That truth is lasting happiness which comes through following our truest paths. Trails centered on bettering ourselves everyday, in every moment. A core part of bettering ourselves is gratitude.
Grateful (adj.): warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received.
Gratitude is a practice. It is a skill that we build, because in tough situations gratitude can easily be forgotten. That is why we put in the work to be grateful, no matter the situation, because it is a valuable tool. Many studies have shown, although more research does need to be done, that gratitude has a positive affect on well-being. In research it has been indicated that people hold gratitude as important (Gallup, 1998) and I would hope that you agree. When I do a loving-kindness meditation I can't help but finish the meditation with a smile. Acknowledging the good in your life reminds you how good your life actually is, no matter how bad it may seem.
Gratitude tends to raise happiness, positivity, well-being, and your life enjoyment (Watkins, Woodward, Stone, & Kolts, 2003). These benefits come with practice. As the holiday is called Thanksgiving it is easy to think that we only have to be thankful today. What about the other 364 days of the year? Don't good things happen then as well?
Again as the mind tends to go for the easiest path, we focus on the misfortune immediate to us and not on the gifts around us. To break this trend we must put in the work, for nothing comes without perseverance. You will find that a daily practice of gratitude will revolutionize your life. The simplest and probably most effective daily gratitude practice is to simply say three things that you are grateful for each day. Make the time for it, don't find the time. In today's world of smartphones you can easily set a daily reminder to say your three gratitudes. You can also think the three gratitudes in your head, but saying them creates a deeper connection. An even deeper connection is built if you keep a gratitude journal, which is something I am going to start doing. Each day write down three things you are grateful for. Be conscious of gratitude and the good in your life and you will find that, through that consciousness and whichever way you practice this technique, that a mindset of gratitude will begin to become part of every aspect of your life.
However, it is not to be blind. Do not ignore the problems, flaws, and issues that can be improved in your life. Gratitude is not another tool to use to reason with yourself why you are doing so well and deserve this cake, cigarette, beer, or other negative influence. Incredulity and shock would be the reaction to a year long sober heroin addict who took a hit, because he reasoned he deserved it for being sober a year. You should respond with the same incredulity and shock to your own falterings. Be the observer. Use the shock you feel to let you know that you are improving to be cognizant enough to acknowledge your mistakes.
Now use gratitude as a tool to not be overwhelmed, depressed, or downtrodden by flaws, but instead to eliminate them and better yourself. All the while staying grateful for your blessings.
Gallup, G. (1998). Gallup survey results on" gratitude", adults and teenagers. Emerging Trends, 20(4-5), 9.
Watkins, P. C., Woodward, K., Stone, T., & Kolts, R. L. (2003). Gratitude and happiness: Development of a measure of gratitude, and relationships with subjective well-being. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 31(5), 431-451.
Dickens, M. (1897). My father as I recall him. Westminster, England: Roxburghe Press.