By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD
So, the trick to having a Happy Thanksgiving is simple: “Just Be Grateful” and, like this cornucopia, your holiday will be overstuffed with joyful thanks and generous giving.
Easier said than done, right?
After all, even David Steindle-Rast – who coined the phrase “if you want to be happy, be grateful” – admits that obviously people cannot be grateful for everything.
Betrayal, hurt, disappointment, job loss, violence, death, disease, and family dysfunction are real. They cannot and should not be blithely ignored. They must be confronted, head on. And, time for acceptance and healing must be allowed. But, these misfortunes also must be kept in perspective. They are a part of life, not the whole of it.
So, in the face of life’s oh-so-real heartaches and stressors, how do you keep the pithy and affirming “Just Be Grateful” slogan from being trite and tiresome like “Just Say No” and turn it into something powerful and effective like “Just Do It”?
In his TED-Talk David Steindle-Rast suggests that the secret to being happy is not being grateful for everything that happens, but being grateful for each moment we are given.
Thinking this way, each moment becomes an opportunity to celebrate, to forgive, to understand to reconnect, to stand up, to love, to laugh, to let go, to welcome in, and to learn.
To “Just Be Grateful” we need to recognize the opportunities each moment provides us. But moments are fleeting and clouded by our feelings of loss, distrust, sickness, and hurt. How do we break through these emotional clouds and accept the moment we are given for the gift that it is?
Brother David suggests we adopt the “Stop, Look and Go with it” approach. And, it works for me, with a few modifications – today using the Thanksgiving Holiday as an example – I offer my Five Step Path to “Just Be Grateful”:
1. IDENTIFY WHAT IS TROUBLING YOU. What about Thanksgiving keeps you from being grateful? The preparation and work? The uncertainty of other’s behavior? The dread of dealing with your former spouse? Missing a loved one? The threat to your weight-loss goals? Loneliness?
2. CREATE STOP SIGNS. What physical sign or symbol can you put in place that keeps you focused on the moment of opportunity and not what is threatening you? Instead of drifting mindlessly into thinking about overeating, your Uncle’s political rantings, your co-parent’s faults, or your husband’s indifference to your hard work, create your own version of a STOP sign around your home that keeps you and yours focused on the initial purpose of a day of Thanksgiving. This will help you notice Thanksgiving Day as the special moment that it is, despite your concerns. Here’s mine:
3. LOOK FOR THE OPPORTUNITY AND DEFINE IT YOURSELF. Does Thanksgiving Day give you the opportunity to apologize? To forgive? To reconnect? To be supportive? To show self-discipline? To abandon grudges? To embrace new family members? To show respect for your family elders? To honor those who have passed? To create new traditions? To help others feel included. To show your kids that you still care about their dad? To help less -fortunate others? To order in, stress less, and have more fun?
4. GO FOR IT! Act to take advantage of the opportunity you have been given. Claim the moment as yours. Act genuinely out of a sense of your newly defined purpose for the moment. Be grateful for this chance to learn, grow, make amends, support, show kindness, have fun, or make peace.
5. BE HAPPY. Keep repeating steps 1-4 and you’ll get there. It really is that simple.
President Abraham Lincoln seems to have understood the power of the “Just Be Grateful” philosophy when he created our national Thanksgiving Day holiday.
In the United States, Thanksgiving Day has two officially proclaimed purposes: To remind Americans of the need to thank God (however you envision God to be) for our “bountiful blessings” and to encourage prayer for the “full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and unity”.
With humility, I’ve taken the liberty to paraphrase President Lincoln’s October 3, 1863 official (and rather wordy) Proclamation that established a national day of “thanksgiving and praise”. The announcement was written by then Secretary of State William Seward and signed by President Lincoln just a few weeks after significant Union victories forecasted the near end of the Civil War. Although the idea of a formal day of Thanksgiving had been around in various forms for 200 years, Lincoln was the first president to establish a national day of thanksgiving.
He did it to help unify the American family, torn apart by years of war and conflict.
Like Lincoln, you, too, could use Thanksgiving Day as the mechanism to work toward your own happiness and toward enhanced peace and harmony among your immediate and extended family members.
If your desire for family amity has been gestating for a while, I hope this Five Step Path to Gratefulness will fill you and yours with happiness one moment at a time. Identify what’s troubling you, create stop signs, claim each moment for something good, act and go for the joy, peace, harmony, tranquility and unity you can create in those moments.
Before you know it “Just Be Grateful” will be your new philosophy of life. And, then just watch what happens to those around you – this affirming way of life is contagious.
Share this post with people you care about that need to learn how gratefulness creates happiness and that, surprisingly enough, you can be in control of what you do with your moments of opportunity, not the other way around. Try to Work it Out together.
And, let me know if I can help.
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