This is my final guest post of the year, written by my good friend Kayla Albert. As my American friends head into Thanksgiving, I knew I wanted to share some thoughts on the topic of gratitude – and Kayla would be the best person to do it. When you’re done reading, I’d love to hear one thing you’re grateful for this year. :)
“It’s time to pray,” she said, a full grin inching up the corners of her mouth, sticky fingers reaching out to grab the hands closest to her. From there, my 3-year-old niece would instruct each of us to close our eyes and listen.
I’m not entirely sure where or when she committed herself to the process of giving thanks, but considering her aversion to most foods and eating in general, it was the only reason she suddenly seemed to enjoy mealtime. We would allow her to take center stage with her list of thanks at the beginning of the meal, and she would eat her broccoli a little less begrudgingly than before.
It was never about religious tradition. She simply learned to say “thank you” and was gently prodded towards recognizing the things in life that made her happy, and she created a gratitude practice of her own.
The thing with 3-year-olds is the list of things that make them happy are not short or succinct by any means. They are rambling and long and interjected with things us adults have long since stopped noticing. She would list her friends and family, then head off down an endless, winding road of virtually anything that came to mind.
Our food would be getting colder by the minute as we would gently ask her to wrap it up.
The thing was, she never ran out of things to give thanks for. She loved everything from the family dog that passed (whom she never actually met), to the snow falling outside.
Three years later, she still pushes us at every family meal to continue the tradition of gratitude, each time reminding us to reflect on the amazingly full lives we have – even if she still does all the talking.
She’s taught us about gratitude in its most basic, unadulterated form.
Having Less Sometimes Means Appreciating More
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become acutely aware of my own sense of normal. I know when I find something I want to buy or a lifestyle milestone I’d like to reach, I’ll think about it, plan for it and celebrate once I’ve reached the end goal. Then, when the novelty has worn off a bit, it will feel a little less like a reason to celebrate. Eventually, having that thing or being able to afford that lifestyle suddenly just feels normal.
Gratitude has very little place in a cycle of wanting, acquiring, and no longer noticing.
Small children, on the other hand, are minimalists by nature. They need nothing more than life’s basics until we slowly begin teaching them about consumption and consumerism. They can appreciate the most minor of things because they haven’t fallen into this cycle of wanting more things to replace their simplistic sense of normal.
For this reason, I routinely check in with my life “before” – before I received that pay raise, before I could travel without scrimping and saving, before I was financially able to create the full life I have now. These reminders strip away this sense of normal and help me to find gratitude in all that I already have right now, in this moment.
Gratitude Creates Grounding Among Life’s Noise
Life is loud. Obligations, routines, busyness all create a steady hum of noise that is incredibly hard to escape from. When we’ve reached a point of noise overload, we seek comfort in things outside ourselves – taking substances and buying things in order to feel taken care of, rejuvenated, whole.
Yet in running from the noise, we simply create more.
My niece’s gratitude practice was a way of boiling down all the elements of this beautiful life to their purest form. It helped shift the way we thought about life – as complicated, confusing, and loud – to simple, straightforward and amazingly peaceful.
One of the biggest life-changing realizations I’ve had is that everything in this life is temporary and every single thing, relationship, situation is in a constant state of transition. Therefore the worry we surround ourselves with when we want something to change is essentially fruitless – it already is changing, whether we notice it or not.
Practicing gratitude is a reminder to pull yourself out of the temporary turmoil and return to the core of life that is already perfect simply because it exists. It’s a way to silence life’s constant chatter without buying or consuming things for temporary relief.
Good and Bad is a Matter of Perspective
Over the past few years, after a terrifying, black ice-induced car accident, I’ve found myself routinely saying how much I hate winter weather. Not just hate, loathe.
But what I see as terrifying and a perpetual wrench in any plan I have to leave the house, my niece sees as fun and exciting. I see myself white knuckling my steering wheel. She sees snowsuits, hot chocolate and the thrill of an unexpected snow day.
It’s all about perspective.
We all like to label – once we’ve affixed something with a “good” or “bad” label, we tend to create stories that support our judgment. But that thing is neither one of those things. Everything is neutral; it’s our take on it that places it in one camp or the other.
Gratitude forces us to examine our labels, readjust our thinking and challenge ourselves to see something in an entirely different light. When my niece gives thanks for the pending storm, I am challenged to remember how much I love tracing the path of individual snowflakes as they fall outside my window.
It’s a profound lesson in realizing we don’t need to have more, before we can experience gratitude. We don’t need to be in a different place, before we can witness the good. It’s about finding it exactly where we are – regardless of what it looks like.
If you still aren’t sure how, look towards the little ones in your life. Chances are, they already have this gratitude thing down.
Kayla Albert is a freelance writer and content strategist who believes in empowering people to live their best life possible, whether that’s through positive thinking or building a solid financial foundation. You can find more of her writing at KaylaAlbert.com or follow her latest project at TheLonelinessProject.org.