It’s that time of year where we grab our sweatpants, tie on our aprons and prepare for that Thanksgiving feast!
For me, even on a normal day, the act of feeding someone is an act of love. I enjoy watching the end result of hours of cooking being enjoyed raucously. Any holiday that combines food, family, and retrospection is going to be my favorite. Having a full, loud, and heaping table is my idea of heaven!
And what a table! Your maternal grandparents speak Tulu and Kannada and hail from Mumbai and Karnataka. My parents come from Gujarat and speak Gujarati. They each traveled from Florida and Pennsylvania respectively, and converse in a mixture of English and Hindi. Our dear friend was also there, who grew up in Virginia. You guys, who are being raised with the help of our amazing nanny who has a French mother and a Spanish grandfather and now lives here with her Venezuelan boyfriend. Yet all of us are around the same table in harmony and celebrating a putative, apocryphal meal between Native Americans and Pilgrims that predated our collective arrival to this country by hundreds of years.
What an amazing country we live in!
I love that we have a national day of giving thanks. It seems right that we take some time to sit with the ones we love – both family by blood and family by choice – in a conscious way.
So part of our tradition is to do that relatively unimaginative exercise of going around the table and asking everyone to say what they are thankful for. Nobody says anything that surprising do they? It’s always family, friends, or food – or some combination of the three. All good things, admittedly, but it’s a fairly reflexive answer. It’s not difficult to be grateful for those things when they are immediately visible to us. It doesn’t take much deep soul searching to come up with those answers. And all is forgotten on the couch afterward, as we simultaneously collectively moan in regret over our gluttony but also plan for that yearly treat of turkey/stuffing/and potato open faced sandwiches that we’ll be eating the next day.
So on Thanksgiving we give our thanks, but what about the next day? Or the day after that? How about March 23rd? How do we cultivate a habit of gratitude that we can carry with us all year Keeping that “gratitude attitude” isn’t particularly easy. Especially as we get caught in that daily grind – wake up, get ready, off to school, back, homework, chores, activities, dinner, sleep, repeat – it’s so easy to get lost in the minutiae of the moment. I’m not great at it myself, but I am trying more deliberately as I get older.
From my experience, here are a few ways you can keep the habit up:
Keep a Journal
Keeping a journal is important for many reasons (a post for later), but there are both overt and subtle benefits from doing so. I kept a paper journal right after college and then moved online in the early aughts. I was much more prolific when I was younger, the last few years I’ve barely been able to make an entry a month (if that). Something I regret not keeping up.
Obviously, writing down your thoughts and feelings as well as your memories of the events that happen in your life will allow you to look back as you get older to remind yourself of the things you are inevitably going to forget. That’s the overt benefit. But the act of recalling and setting down your thoughts and feelings gives you a unique opportunity to make deliberate choices on how you form those memories. That’s not to say you won’t have moments where you are caught up in fear, greed, or malice, but you can choose to memorialize your instincts toward the light, and to identify the positive in your life. And the more you do so, the easier you’ll find it is to do.
It’s like that parable of the two wolves. There are two wolves inside you – one that represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other represents aspects like greed, hatred and fear. Which one dominates? The one you feed.
In addition to using the written word to help train your mind, you can take a few minutes and find some stillness to gently inquire directly with what’s going on inside you. You’ll find a roiling cauldron of thoughts simmering right under your consciousness.
But there’s actually a specific type of meditation that can help cut through that mental clutter to develop that “gratitude attitude”. It starts with identifying a small number of things that you are grateful for. Once you are able to identify the low hanging fruit, try to go a little farther. Are there elements in your life for which you can cultivate gratitude that you’ve forgotten?
When I was training as a volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA – an organization that provides independent observation for children in abusive homes), one of the exercises we had to do was to look at a picture of a home situation and to identify the positive in it. I had such a hard time with that exercise initially because all I could see were the danger signs – a parent who was smoking, a kid eating junk food, clothes in a pile unwashed. But the teacher pointed out basic things that I had overlooked or had dismissed: The child had a roof over his head. There was food in the house. The family had enough clothes.
Gratitude is like that. It’s so easy to dismiss the “basics”.
Nothing gives you a better perspective on your own life by offering your service to others, especially those who have less than you in demonstrable ways. You’re a bit young right now, but your mom and I have definite ideas on making sure that service to others is part of your upbringing, a tradition we hope you continue as you mature. We do so right now in small ways, including identifying objects you have that might be appreciated by those who don’t have as much. We take you shopping for food drives, specifically to get your help. We will be going to the toy store during the holidays to pick out some new toys for a child or family who can’t afford one. These are small ways that we can cultivate now, but as you all get older we have plans to maybe even pick a summer and do some travel centered around volunteerism.
There’s a real practical reason that you should be keeping in mind what you are grateful for. The clearer you are on what you consider important, the better idea you’ll have on where your energies should be invested. Maybe that’ll be the difference between drifting and finding your rudder to steer you through those times in your life where you feel lost.