Falling for Gratitude
By Jennifer Kelly
Kiddos are at school, the daylight hours are shortening, and everywhere I turn pumpkin is the flavor of the day. Yes, the season of fall is at hand. In addition to these signposts, stores and Instagram offer suggestions of how one is to decorate for this time of year. Pumpkins, colorful leaves, and earthy hues compose the palate of fall décor. In the world of fashion, clothing takes on more layers and textures; plaids, chunky knits, and more substantial footwear replace the airy cottons and strappy sandals of summer. Even our vocabulary seems to take on a different tone. Reclaimed wooden signage with words like ‘harvest’, ‘family’, and even ‘grateful’ seem to spring up just as the growing season comes to a close. Intentional or not, as the days of summer shorten there seems to be a natural desire to acknowledge our gratitude for another year well spent. We seem to reflect upon these days well spent with a kind of gratitude as we begin to hunker down for the cold days that lie ahead.
Now there might be some opposition to this claim of our natural desire for gratitude. After all, many times after receiving some kind of present or treat a child might not-so-demurely claim, “I wanna!” or the popular “Gimme it!” rather than the socially polite expression “Thank you, Mommy!” The parent might seem forever stuck in the position of prompting and coaxing their child to give the appropriate “thank you” when something is received. And if this ongoing task isn’t sufficient, there is the challenge of thank you notes. Expressing gratitude via the written word in one’s own penmanship, which is now considered obsolete in American elementary education. The task seems foreboding and almost insurmountable. Ahh, the trials and joys of parenthood.
Now, as a wife/mother/adult/friend I have no problem saying thank you. Words come easy for me and I mean what those words express. I am grateful for whatever transpired, be it gift, word, or deed. However, do I have a spirit of gratitude or a disposition to be grateful for the events or exchanges that life throws my way? Now this isn’t so much a verbal or written exchange of thanks, rather it is a frame of mind, a way of looking at the world around me and my choice of how to deal with daily occurrences. Gratitude is a conscious frame of mind. It is a choice. I choose to be grateful for the things I have. Now this goes beyond the person who is grateful for the lotto or the hefty increase in pay or even the good luck which befalls their state of life. A grateful heart sees everything as it is and is thankful for what they have. A person with one house can be just as grateful as a person with 4 houses. The quantity of items is indifferent to the choice to be grateful.
Nice in theory, right? Well, I think cultivating a grateful heart is possible. It’s just not quite as simple as hanging up one of those farmhouse signs with the word “grateful” in some flowing script. Here are just a few practical ways of helping to craft a grateful heart in yourself and those little people that look up to you.
Gratitude Book – Take time every day to actually write one thing you are thankful for. There is no requirement for the depth of your gratitude either. For instance, I’m particularly grateful for the gift of mature trees. Living in the semi-arid climate of Colorado a little shade can go a long way.
Saying “Thank You” to your Children – Verbalizing thanks to your kiddos when they do something around the house. A little praise can go a very long way and often times the good actions or choices get overlooked because they are expected. However, by choosing to thank someone for their good choices, the positive attention reinforces the value in making good decisions.
Writing “Thank you” notes – While a dying practice, this art might be one of those instances in which does more for the writer than the receiver. By having to carve out time to put thoughts on paper and then follow through with sending the note, one has to slow down and reflect on their gratitude. It is a very tactile practice that engages multiple senses – touch, sight, and the mind.
An aid in confrontation – When my kiddos are having another altercation over what have you, and they come to me to solve their problem (read: complain) I ask them to say 3 kind things about their sibling. Now, with some this could take 11 seconds, while with others this could result in a kind of stalemate. Either way, it helps them to re-frame their thoughts and look at their sibling in a more positive light rather than the antagonist.
Well, by now you might be thinking a pumpkin spiced latte sounds a lot easier than trying to cultivate a spirit of gratitude. Bingo. You could not be more correct. However, the joy or pleasure from that delicious beverage only lasts as long as you are sipping it. It’s a passing or transient kind of joy. Once that cup is empty, the pleasure stops. In order to get more of that feeling, you have to get more of that drink. Gratitude and other character strengths (or virtues) are not consumable goods. They remain present throughout a life. The challenge is that they have to be acquired through practice and purposefulness. One has to want to work towards being grateful for family even when that family is irritating them that day. The big sister has to choose to be grateful for the pesky brother who always wants to talk about comic book characters. The mom has to cultivate a disposition of gratitude amidst a thankless troop of family members who fail to see the sacrifices she makes so that they can have dinner, play with friends, or even sleep in on a Saturday. This practice takes time and energy – LOTS of it! Unfortunately, no online retail sells it and no amount of buffalo plaid or concoction involving the essence of pumpkin will grant you this spirit of gratitude. It is obtained through practice. By all means, enjoy the change of season and embrace the message of gratitude. Let’s just see if it can remain in our hearts long after the leaves fall, and the pumpkin lattes are off the menu.
Jennifer Kelly lives in Denver with her husband, 4 children, flowers, bees, chickens, coyotes and field mice. Forever looking for the good, true and beautiful amongst the ordinary and messiness of life