A few weeks ago, in one of my Facebook groups, the moderator asked what everyone was grateful for (it was just before Canadian Thanksgiving). Most answers were predictable, though that does not make them any less sincere. Health, significant others, family, friends, fulfilling careers all made multiple appearances. I tried to compose my response, and hit a wall.
It’s not that I doubt how important gratitude is — I’ve seen the research. Even without the data, it strikes me as a no-brainer that acknowledging the good things in life improves one’s happiness and mental well-being.
My struggle stems from cliché responses — which, granted, are often cliché for a reason — that are like a glass of overly sweet lemonade. Tastes ok, but leaves me thirstier. I want more. Don’t you? Stephen King, in his book On Writing, advises writers to be specific enough to be real, yet vague enough to be universal.
Diving into specifics
As far as I am concerned, merely saying “I am thankful for my husband” is a cop-out. What about him are you thankful for? What makes him more than just a title, and the best partner for you?
Health-wise, did something happen to make you realize how lucky you were to be healthy? Or does being healthy allow you to partake in certain activities that contribute to your happiness?
What recent adventures have you had with family and friends? What useful — or amusing — advice did you receive? Is a particular person your new BAE (“before anything else”), and if so, how did that come about?
Does your job make you excited to get up in the morning? Is it because you are lucky enough to walk to work, have a desk with a view, indulge in a morning coffee and chocolate croissant ritual with one of your colleagues (ah, the fond memories)? Does your role make your brain do cartwheels?
Use specifics to make people understand and relate to you.
What about my flavor of gratitude?
My turn. If I think of my life from a birds-eye view and then swoop down to take a closer look, here are some of the things that make up my kaleidoscope of happy. They fill me with gratitude if not every day then almost:
The sounds of nature. The sound of silence when I get up in the morning to walk the dog makes me feel like the world is there for the taking. When I take a shower outside, the hum of insects and the wind through the trees reminds me of how different my life in rural Portugal is to when I lived in New York City, and how much I love it here (though I loved NYC too). The symphony of crickets as soon as the sun disappears behind the nearby mountains is an ode to the choices my husband and I made that got us here.
My grandmother-forged armor of love. Growing up, my parents worked long hours and my mother traveled a lot. As a result, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. She made every one of her grandchildren think they were her favorite, and was full of equal parts wisdom and mischief. An endless source of knowledge, she knew about gardening and once made up a chocolate mousse recipe that made me a legend among my friends. Her unconditional love and support were an integral part of my childhood, and gave me the most solid foundations of self-confidence and self-love I could have asked for.
What animals have taught me about empathy. A horse-rider for the better part of my 35 years, spending all that time in the saddle and around horses made me understand the importance of non-verbal communication. It also made me more sensitive to others’ perspectives — because when a horse nips your finger thinking it’s a carrot, you can’t be angry. You just need to learn not to present your finger to him as if it was a carrot. Now, living on a farm with a puppy, chickens, and goats, I don’t go a day without being reminded of this! That mental agility translates to human relationships and the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes.
My tribe of amazeballs peeps. Some are family, some are friends, but every single person I have collected along the way contributes to my optimistic nature, an extension of which is the belief that we can change the world. And that unicorns exist (well, metaphorically speaking). Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes, and so does my tribe. I speak to some of my friends and family every day, while others are on a faraway orbit. But, we’re still connected. That means my sense of belonging is like a snail shell — I carry it with me everywhere I go.
Wine. Need I say more?
Tis the season to be thankful
Maybe your way to embrace gratitude is to journal about three things you appreciated at the end of every day. Perhaps you take stock of the past 365 days at the end of each year.
Either way, your answers are probably completely different to mine. That’s not just ok, it’s how it should be — because we are each our own person, with tastes and preferences that come in as many forms as there are snowflake designs in the world.
Even if I handed over my kaleidoscope to you, what you would see by putting your eye to it would look completely different to what I described not a second earlier.
What’s important is that if gratitude is a step towards happiness, we’re on the right path. Because as Buddha said, “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”
Shahnaz Radjy is an adventurer, a foodie, a bookworm, and a horse-lover. As a freelance writer, aspiring farmer (who now has goats!), and eternal optimist, she shares some of her thoughts and adventures on her blog, via Medium, as well as on Instagram.
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