Expressing Gratitude and Giving Back

sarah-parisEvery autumn we can count on a few things happening without fail. The days get shorter. The air gets chillier. The return of pumpkin spice everything. And for most of us, on the fourth Thursday of November, we will sit down to a table laden with food and stuff ourselves silly while simultaneously giving thanks.

I love Thanksgiving – in fact, it’s one of my favorite holidays. And while I love the stuffing and mashed potatoes and cranberries and pie and everything else on the menu, I love the thanks giving part even more. Which is why I try to give thanks every day.

Gratitude hasn’t always been easy for me. Once upon a time I wore my cynicism, anger and frustration on my sleeve. “I am feeling stabby” was a favorite expression, more than half of what I shared online was a complaint about what was irritating me, and I could weave a good “woe is me” tale better than anyone.

Was it liberating to dump all of my negative energy into the universe? Absolutely! But it was also exhausting…So exhausting.

The roots of my gratitude practice can be traced to 2010 when a cousin told me about keeping a daily journal of all of the things she was grateful for. I immediately adopted the ritual myself, working hard to find things every day that I was grateful for – and working harder still to find gratitude in unobvious places.

Ever join a gym, go faithfully for a few months, and then slowly but surely stop going until you realize 6 months have passed since you last went? Yeah. That was me and my daily gratitude journaling. Within a few months, not only had I stopped making the effort to give thanks daily, but I had resumed my pattern of taking every little thing that bothered me, and announcing it all to the world and letting the world know that I was pissed.

Then in March 2014 I heard Molly Barker speak about The Red Boot Coalition. A few weeks later we had coffee. Shortly thereafter I joined the board and began to practice the Red Boot Eleven Steps. And suddenly my gratitude practice came back to life largely in part to Step 9. Talk about liberating!

We came to see that, despite sometimes feeling frustrated, perhaps even angry and scared at times by our life circumstances, expressing gratitude is essential to our well-being and the well-being of our community. We are grateful.

If you think about how you build muscle, it’s through a series of stress and recovery. You stress the muscle by lifting weight, and then you let it recover and it grows stronger. If you repeat this practice consistently you will develop muscle tone and muscle strength and if you’re lucky over time, maybe your arms will look like Linda Hamilton’s in Terminator 2.

Gratitude is no different. It’s a muscle that needs to be stressed and then given time to recover so it grows stronger. So in the 2+ years that I have been Red Booting, I have found that my gratitude muscle is getting quite strong. Sure – I am human – and I am still prone to get annoyed when something doesn’t go my way. But now I catch myself more quickly and look for opportunities to re-frame a situation in order to find the gift that it is holding instead of the problem it is presenting.

As much as I love Thanksgiving, none of us would enjoy eating turkey and stuffing every day. However, I encourage you to look at ways you can make gratitude part of your day-to-day. A small shift in perspective can have an enormous impact on your life.

This is a wonderful time of year to reflect on not only what you are grateful for, but how you want to give back to your community. Tuesday, November 29th is Giving Tuesday – please visit DHG Gives for ways to support Giving Tuesday and for local volunteer opportunities.

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