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I love fall. Its colors and temperatures gently wind down, quite literally, as the season readies the earth for bedtime. We are forced to narrow our attentions inward. The upcoming holidays focus our hearts on goodness, but only if we allow them to. How do you develop a grateful heart?
Thanksgiving is my favorite. We gather to cook and eat and love each other. We spend precious hours, even if only for a day, looking into our loved ones’ eyes and sharing our hearts.
When we lived abroad for a time years ago, we came to understand the ‘American-ness’ of Thanksgiving. Europeans do not celebrate Thanksgiving. Only in America do we set aside one day to think about our blessings and honor God, our culture and history. It’s totally an American holiday. In fact, it’s hard to explain the day to another culture. (I was asked many times why we cook turkeys.)
Thanksgiving is really a state of mind. It takes some effort to cultivate gratitude into a daily enterprise. It becomes a habit when we intentionally make it one. Gratefulness is the redisovery of our rightful place in the universe, and giving the credit outward (and upward) for the blessings in our lives. And, honestly, it takes effort.
We teach our kids to ‘be grateful’ and say thank-you respectfully when appropriate. Hopefully this is a skill and habit that they carry with them through their lives. But how are WE doing with this? Is it a daily habit for us as menopausal midlifers? Or, are we knee deep in our own worries?
Growing an attitude of gratitude is independent of our circumstances.
No matter our income, our health, our troubles, there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for. And it shouldn’t happen exclusively on Thanksgiving Day.
Why should the spirit of Thanksgiving only last for one day? I want my heart to daily search for goodness. But honestly, it’s not an easy task.
How do I train my heart and spirit to focus on what I’ve been given, not what I’m missing? How do I limit my own brain to stay in positive mode?
I have created a set of beautiful printables with ‘gratitude’ quotes that I’d love to send you. They’re easily popped in a frame and hung anywhere you’d like a reminder to refocus your mind. Just shoot me your email at the end of this post.
The act of growing a grateful heart is a learned skill, an intentional endeavor.
Years ago, I read 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp, and it changed me forever. In it, Ann gives her story of her troubled childhood and teen years after the death of her baby sister. Stuck in the prison of trauma even as an adult, she tells her story of how tangibly writing down, numbering even, the gifts in her life, small or large. Counting her gifts changed her outlook in unfathomable ways.
I started this process myself, and I still keep a numbered list. Today it’s in the thousands.
I don’t know how this works, how it does this, literally changing the chemistry of your brain and heart. But it does.
But what if your heart is preoccupied? How do you overlook your everyday worries and stresses and imperfections to remember your blessings? Well, how do you implement any other habit? One moment at a time. One blessing at a time.
Our own sinful nature is one that if left alone, will always prod us to think of ourselves first. Our grievances, our pain, our anger. That’s just how we are. Those worries are heavy and will always strive to drown us. We must work daily to step out from under them and find the good.
Just like the autumn season tends to refocus us, the habit of gratitude takes our thoughts and brainpower outside of ourselves. It makes us actively look for goodness.
Ann reminds us that fear (or anxiety, or worries) cannot coexist in your brain at the same time.
When I pondered that thought, it blew me away. I’ll repeat.
You cannot be thankful and fearful at the same time.
I guess I always thought that when my kids were grown and gone, my worries would dissipate like the wind. My home would be calm and peaceful. All my troubles would magically disappear. Actually the opposite is true.
I find myself deep in the pit of worry more often in these ‘nearly-empty-nesting’ days. I think it stems from the fact that I cannot control my adult kids’ lives. Same story with my aging parents.
I can only watch. And pray.
My worries are changing these days with my own health, as well as my husband’s. Changes are happening to my own body that I don’t recognize which leaves me feeling out of control in many ways.
So, in the middle of my midlife, I have a very conscious choice about where I put my brainpower (what’s left of it). I can dive into the pit of despair, or lift my head and search for the blessings, the gifts, in my life.
There’s nothing that’s too small to be a blessing or gift in your life.
I have all sorts of things listed in my planner (where I just add things daily). A sunset, a great pen (okay I’m a nerd), my bed. I have big things too, miracles that have happened along the journey.
Once I got started listing them, they began to pour out of my brain. And then I worried about what I was missing. So I looked harder. I started to notice more coincidences, that perhaps weren’t coincidences. I wanted to see what God wanted me to see.
How is God showing me that He loves me? I don’t want to miss one of them.
If you find yourself often frazzled, disgruntled, bitter, or unhappy, this new habit of pursuing gratitude is the antidote. Always. Every time.
Begin this simple practice and watch your heart and life change. Your anxiety will melt away. Work on this as a new habit. Begin a new journal to start your numbering.
Just like the Grinch, your grateful heart will grow 3x bigger. I promise.
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