By Lou Bevacqui
November is national gratitude month and with Thanksgiving coming up, it always feels like “be grateful” is on every postage stamp, poster and every silly seasonal hashtag that finds its way on Facebook. Intellectually speaking, we probably all know that we should be grateful for things but it doesn’t mean we necessarily feel that way.
Truth be told, you can’t just wish for gratitude, cultivating authentic gratitude actually takes practice. We have all felt gratitude, like when you get a new truck, or get your kids off to school without an argument, or when everything is just going smoothly at work. But waiting for a situation to give it to you isn’t the only way to get it. Emotions are created inside of us, by us, which means we can actually create our gratitude.
When you imagine sitting around the table covered with a turkey and all the fixings, and you have your family around you, why shouldn’t you feel genuinely grateful? There’s a good chance you probably will. But sometimes, even in the best of times, we miss out on the gratitude because we are preparing ourselves for the worst. Honestly, allowing ourselves to have true joy and gratitude in the present moment leaves us vulnerable.
For more than a decade, researcher and author Dr. Brené Brown has found that vulnerability is not a weakness and speaks on what she calls ‘foreboding joy’. “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience," Brown says. "And if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress-rehearsing tragedy." Dress rehearsing tragedy, she explains, is imagining something bad is going to happen when, in reality, nothing is wrong. This kind of prepping for the worst robs us of the ability to be grateful for the joy in the present moment.
Here are some tips that can help you cultivate gratitude this Thanksgiving:
Focus on the things around you -- our minds are incredible storytellers. Unfortunately, most of the time those stories are filled with drama and fear, a relic of our 200,000-year-old survival machinery trying to keep us alive. Fortunately, there is no real threat at a Thanksgiving dinner table. So, before you create a list of all the reasons why you don’t want to be where you are or what’s going wrong in your life, instead focus on simple everyday things around you. The fork you’re holding, the glass you’re drinking from, the color of the walls in the room that you are sitting in. You don’t need to be grateful for any of these things, you just need to be able to focus on them long enough to stop your mind from creating a drama that stops your ability to feel gratitude.
Be grateful for the things in front of you -- gratitude doesn’t have to be a glorious Tiny Tim moment in Scrooge, but rather the simple things that you have right in front of you. Food, drink, the people around you. If the kids are fighting with each other under the Thanksgiving table and you find yourself not wanting to wait for the pumpkin pie, practice focusing on the things you are grateful for: the person who you are truly happy to see or your favorite part of the meal that you just had. Using the situation and the objects directly in front of you in the present moment can help you call up the feeling of gratitude, even though it may take some real effort and frontal lobe focus.
The more familiar you get with feeling gratitude, the more authentic that feeling will become for you. When you turn off the story, focus on the moment you’re in, and cultivate authentic gratitude, those feelings will last long after the last turkey sandwich has been eaten!
Bevacqui lives in Fayston.