Sh*t To Help You Show Up July 9, 2021
I Am Thank You For
When my oldest kid was three or four, he looked like a little cherub. Witness…
I mean, seriously, people. How could you say no to that face?
Around about this time, we were at Thanksgiving with my then in-laws. I love Thanksgiving. It is my absolute favorite holiday. Food, family, gratitude, and no compulsory gift-giving— what is not to love (other than the white supremacy)?
I will confess, however, that even without the gift-giving, Thanksgiving with my former in-laws felt like an empty exercise in excessive consumption. Not only did we eat WAY too much, but we spent the day when we weren’t stuffing our faces (and sometimes while stuffing our faces) watching TV on the 500-channel cable while sitting comfortably in their incredibly clean, well-appointed suburban house, and not expressing any sincere gratitude for anything at all.
My heart just couldn’t take it. So, before the meal, I asked that we all hold hands while going around the table, each of us saying something we were thankful for. My kid loved this. I think it was a mix of the holding hands and the opportunity to hold court when it was his turn, everyone paying close and careful attention while he worked his way through his thanks. He began, with incredible earnestness, “I am thank you for…”
The next night, back home, we sat down to dinner and my husband and I started to dig in. Otto stopped us and asked, somewhat indignantly, “What about TANKS?!?!”
What about it?, I thought. And then I looked at that face, y’all.
Hands were held, thanks were offered, a brief moment of silence was managed, and thus began our daily gratitude practice as a family. When we, the adults, would forget, Otto would always remind us. We jokingly dubbed him The Thank You Police, but I’ll tell you right now that his stubborn insistence on this daily ritual is one of the greatest gifts he has ever given me.
He’s 18 now. We still sit down to eat dinner together every night we’re home, and we still offer thanks, or one or the other of my children will ask, with some consternation, “Aren’t we going to say thanks?!?!”
I know, gratitude can feel like a cliché. One of those things that skinny, young, white women in yoga pants insist brightly, while posed in front of a sunset on a beach, will CHANGE YOUR WHOLE LIFE.
So, let me substitute that visual for me right now: sitting here in my writing chair, junk mail strewn across the floor, sweating in front of a fan, over-caffeinated and still a little heartbroken, telling you that developing a gratitude practice will change your life. Not because it will magically make bad things never happen to you, or unexpected money to start rolling in, or act as some kind of painkilling opioid on your heart.
Gratitude won’t magically fix your life, but it will make you thankful to still have one, which is no small thing coming out of a pandemic where millions of people have died around the world. Not to go all clean-your-plate-because-there-are-starving-children-in-Africa on you, but, seriously. Every day I wake up and get a chance to try again is a day that millions of people quite recently have ceased to have. As my dad used to say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
Pragmatically, science says cultivating gratitude is good for your overall mental health, and for your relationships. In fact, lack of gratitude kills relationships as surely as infidelity, deceit, or abuse.
There are many ways to cultivate a gratitude practice, and you can try any of them to see what suits your life and temperament. You can also change things up if you do one for a while, and then it starts to feel rote. The reality of any practice is that sometimes it’s going to be a fake-it-’till-you-make-it kind of thing. You won’t always feel grateful going in. You may not feel grateful very often at all right now, but remember. We’re not just documenting the gratefulness we already have; we’re trying to cultivate more gratefulness, so at some point, we just have to begin.
As I described above, sharing thanks before the evening meal has been part of my gratitude practice for many years now. Having to articulate my gratitude out loud is useful for me. I find myself being thankful for events of the day, things folks have done for me, and things that have happened to people that I care for. Sometimes I’m thankful in anticipation of things to come, and sometimes I’m simply overwhelmingly thankful to be at the table with the people I love.
We can waste so much of our lives waiting for grand moments of bliss, missing entirely the hundreds of ways that things go right for us every single day. A daily gratitude practice brings us into the present moment and encourages us to appreciate how much richness there is, right in front of us.
I also make it a practice to say thank you to other people as often as I can. Not because they did anything special, necessarily, or went out of their way, but just for doing things or being certain ways that make my life better. If someone else empties the dishwasher, even if I asked them to do it, I say thank you because I didn’t have to do it. Thank you! If someone lets me go first when we cross paths in the grocery store, I say thank you. When a server fills my water glass, I will stop all conversation and take a moment to simply say thank you. Sure, it’s their job. So what? Now I have water in my glass which wasn’t there before if I need or want it. Thank you.
Sometimes I just thank the people that I love for being themselves and making themselves available to be loved by me. My kids roll their eyes when I thank them out of the blue for being their awesome selves, but their existence makes my life better. Why not acknowledge it and be grateful?
With my kids getting older, and my family recently much smaller than it was before, there are fewer family dinners, and fewer daily occasions to turn to someone else and say thank you. So, I am contemplating starting a gratitude jar in order to make my gratitude practice less dependant on direct interaction with other people. Nothing fancy. Just a Mason jar on the corner of my desk and a notepad. Every time I think of something I’ll write it down and pop the paper in the jar. When it gets full I’ll pull all the papers out, read them, and begin again. I wonder how long it will take me to fill the jar? I’m curious to find out.
If you google search “daily gratitude practice” you’ll find plenty of articles that will tell you cultivating gratitude will make you happy. In my experience, happiness is fleeting, like all emotions, and so is a fickle hook to hang your gratitude hat on. What gratitude does do, however, is feed joy and resilience, even in the face of death. In fact, right now my deepest gratitude is for my heartbreaks, the ways in which the universe has cleaned house in my life when I lacked the courage or clarity to do so myself, clearing the way for new things I couldn’t have imagined.
Case in point: in 2012, I was still married and would never have imagined the life I have now in a million years. When it all fell apart and my life felt like nothing but vulnerability and death I wasn’t grateful. I was wrecked— full of rage and anxiety, which was appropriate to the moment.
But over time I came to see how far out of my integrity I was in that relationship. I couldn’t ever have been in my integrity while maintaining it, and am incredibly thankful to not be in it anymore. I am thankful for my perseverance in the crazy, lean years my kids and I lived through in the immediate aftermath. I am thankful for the relationships I am able to have with my children now. And I am endlessly thankful for the chosen family I have developed because I had to in order to survive.
Being grateful for my hard lessons, losses, and mistakes, because they force me to learn and expand my heart, is essential to my integrity. When life gets really hard and it is tempting to take the easy way out I am reminded of what I have now because I did the hard, right things before. My gratitude and my integrity exist in a constant, mutually supporting, feedback loop. One doesn’t exist without the other.
Right now, what is one thing you are thankful for? Be specific. Not just, for instance, “I am thankful for_____ [insert person’s name here]” but “I am thankful for [name] because they do/did/are_____”.
Write it down. Stick it in a jar. Put it in your pocket, so when you empty your pockets later you’ll find it and get to be grateful all over again. You could even (gasp!) tell them. What a gift that would be, which they can then be grateful for and it just keeps going on and on and on.
Tell us, what are you grateful for?
I’m taking a writing vacation next week, my friends. I’ll be back here Monday, July 19th. But if you’ve got a hankering, you can read my final weekly column on Medium next Wednesday, July 14th.
Now, for the usual housekeeping and gratitude, which is very sincere and not rote AT ALL…
Thanks for reading! If you’re already a subscriber, my gratitude currently lays at your feet. If you’re not, I’ve always got more thanks to spread around. You can subscribe below.
Please share this edition of the newsletter with someone you think would benefit, or browse the archive and find another that moves you. This is a grassroots, crowd-disbursed, art and love effort over here and I am grateful for your help getting the word out. XO, Asha