Gratitude, after all, is the underpinning of Thanksgiving. I have a Thanksgiving practice every day. I recommend it. Here’s how it works: Every day, a group of us Landmark grads from as globally far-flung countries as Kenya and Germany, and as close as my local environs Altadena, email the group 10 things we are grateful for. We have done this faithfully since 2005. There are a devoted 10 of us and some drop-ins. Both drop-ins are male, BTW. She cleared her throat.
The “grateful list” goes like this:
Subject line: Grateful 11-26-20
Today I am grateful for:
Liking and loving my husband, especially after being raised by a couple who despised each other
The smell of dogs’ paws; Fritos? Popcorn, tortillas?
The strength and vision of my Indigenous friends in both of the Dakotas
All Saints Episcopal church in Pasadena; singing in the virtual choir with them
My community of Empowerment Self-Defense Global and IMPACT Personal Safety
My courage in learning new things all the time
My writing students, and progress on Author Bite By Bite, my new online course
Having the opportunity to write a column, year in and year out
This practice which has enhanced my appreciation for everything in my life.
That’s it; that’s the practice. I also have 15 years of these entries as a journal of my daily gratitude. I am happier because of it. We now know scientifically, not only anecdotally, that expressing gratitude impacts people’s lives. And hearing or reading other people’s appreciation for their loves uplifts us, too. The experts say gratitude helps in at least in two ways. According to Psychology Today, one way is by stimulating two important regions in our brains: the hypothalamus, which regulates stress, and the ventral tegmental area, which plays a significant role in the brain’s reward system that produces feelings of pleasure.
Think of people who complain a lot and what feelings they leave you with. Not pleasant, right? And for some, complaining can take on a certain level of “one-ups-personship”: You can hear that subtle competition with people comparing physical maladies. “You think your gall bladder operation was bad. … Well, my bunions were really bad…”
On the other side of the coin, if you start comparing what you’re grateful for, if you’re sensitive, you can feel the spirits lift in the room.
Our home is an expression of gratitude. As you know if you’ve read Consider This over the years or my pieces in the Huffington Post, I’m all about revealing what’s been made invisible with women and girls. Every wall, every shelf, nook and cranny in our home has something that has been made by a woman, whether she’s in South Africa, South Dakota, Oaxaca, Mexico, Pakistan, Israel, Norway, China or wherever else I’ve traveled. To the uninitiated, my decorating style is a mashup of Gloria Steinem, hygge and Martha Stewart on LSD.
Women’s arts and crafts have been shamelessly missing, undervalued and taken for granted. I am grateful to my mother, who collected women’s needlework from her travels. She admired and reflected on the hours it took for the woman or girl to make the items she displayed around her home. She had a story about the piece, whether it was embroidery, lacework, fine painting, weaving. She actually pointed out a tiny drop of blood on a piece of white, finely worked linen from Norway.
I love looking at the beadworked clothing and animals I’ve gotten from both Oaxaca and from South Africa. The beading is out of imaginations that give the surrealists a run for their money. In the so-called “New World,” I especially love the sequined voodoo artwork that Haitian women make by first sewing sequins onto socks and then slipping a malt liquor bottle into the sock. (See photo.)
This Thanksgiving take a cue from me and Maria of “The Sound of Music”: “Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens…” Maria captured the delight of the smallest of things. It’s the tiny smacking of my dog’s lips as they curl up to sleep that makes my heart expand in love.
But you must be intentional about gratitude; the small things will not smack you upside your head. Thus we gather—safely—together and stop, breathe, look at each other and openly appreciate each other’s existence. Please don’t wait for a eulogy to express what your loved ones mean to you. Tell them how grateful you are for them now. Or, how about every day, like I do with my friends?
Ellen Snortland coaches first-time book authors! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.