I happily read along as many of my Facebook friends shared daily gratitude posts this November, reflecting on their blessings both large and small. For those of us who were perhaps less ambitious, at least our Thanksgiving holiday included words of thanks for our abundance… of food, family, home, health and so on.
But now we're on to December and if you're celebrating Christmas, that gratitude list has likely been replaced with Santa's shopping list. Even if you love the holiday season, as I do, this month can seem like an epic exercise in time management - both getting it all done, and hanging on 'til January. It may be another year before we get back to those daily gratitudes.
But wait! What if we kept going with our Thanksgiving - giving thanks - throughout the year? I'm reminded of a moment, many years ago now, that's stayed fresh and potent in my memory. A dear friend and I were on an outing, driving and chatting…well, complaining, really…about how grumpy we felt and how hard life is sometimes.
Sure, we all have those moments. Fine. But it occurred to me that we'd actually enjoy our time together more if we could change our attitude, so I suggested we make a gratitude list. We went back and forth, each saying aloud ten things we were grateful for. At first we were halting and unconvinced but after we'd taken a few turns, we could feel the mood begin to brighten.
By the time we were through, we felt positively giddy! We had a wonderful, happy day together feeling blessed and grateful. It's not that our problems disappeared but rather that we chose to shift our attention to something positive. This isn't "New Age" thinking or something from The Secret. Many great traditions have teachings such as this beautiful this verse from the Bible:
So, back to those Christmas shopping lists. This year, next to every name, I'm writing something about the person that I'm grateful for. When I find the perfect gift for them, I'm giving thanks for the means to give it. Even when we're headed home, stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, I'm giving thanks for our hybrid vehicle, for the workers that maintain the roadway, for the family that awaits our arrival…
I know I'm living in one of the most fortunate nations on earth. How could I not be thankful?
With gratitude, I have Thanksgiving every day.
On a visit with my mother last winter, she told me about a recording she once had of Brother David Steindl-Rast, a well-known Benedictine monk. The old cassette tape had long since been lost but she recalled one line clearly: "It's not the happy people who are grateful. It's the grateful people who are happy."
Those two simple sentences have stuck with me, my mind wandering back over them almost daily. Not long ago I read another quote along the same lines, this one by Rabbi Hyman Schachtel: "Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have." These two men point out that happiness is a choice, rather than simply a product of happy circumstance.
Today I came upon a third quote. My favorite of the three, Jack Kerouac said, "Be in love with your life. Every minute of it." (For those of you who know me even a little, you know I speak the language of the heart.) So I can feel gratitude... I can choose happiness...
And I can marvel at every minute I'm alive - at the birds singing and the sun shining and the stars whirling overhead and the babies and the old people and the poetry and the text messages and the friends and lovers and the coffee and the cars and the breath inside my chest - and feel totally, unimaginably, humbly grateful, and happy.
As any who knows me can tell you, I love "To-Do" lists. I'm not sure how I'd get by without them...written on post-its, scribbled on the back of old envelopes, or now, tidily recorded in my iPhone. They're usually just your garden-variety lists: groceries, people I owe correspondence, chores. I've never made a to-do list like the one I spotted at a cafe in Providence recently.
My first reaction was judgment: Who makes a to-do list like that? It's so stupid! Luckily my inner critic got out of the way and my inner child took a look. And she loved it! ("Hug someone and be hugged" might even be #1 or #2 on her list.) There's another list I love, one I've thought of many times over the years. It's called Rules for Life by Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist and award-winning author:
1. Show up.
2. Pay attention.
3. Tell the truth.
4. Let go of the outcome.
In this season of spring cleaning and long to-do lists, what might your inner child say? If you made a life list, what would be on it? What matters at the end of the day? At the end of a life? I decided to try it myself this morning. What I came up with surprised me. (If you listened to my Unity talk, it probably won't surprise you.) Here's my list:
Poetry and Musings of an Interfaith Minister on the Journey of a Lifetime.