The Gratitude Challenge

I once read a note like this – in a book, not out loud! Dear Friends and Family, I’m thankful for each of you and want to sincerely thank you for coming today! Please enjoy this Thanksgiving – or Christmas – feast and then be sure to clean up after yourself. I’m tired. I’m weary. My nerves are shot. And I’m going to bed!

Sincerely, Me  Can you relate? We bet we’re not the only Type A personalities. Isn’t it too easy to try to make everything just right only to find ourselves worn out – and a bit snippy – because we’re exhausted? Or because no one seemed to care? Or even notice all our hard work? Who would like to do things differently this holiday season? Let’s contemplate some ideas to help us roll into this holiday season with a different mindset, one of gratitude. Let’s think more about having desserts than being stressed. They are identical letters – just in reverse! Where do we start? First, we need the right attitude – one of gratitude. We need a renewed mindset during all the chaos and turmoil in our world. Gratitude gives us a positive perspective on things – even in the midst of trouble. It helps us find contentment so we’re able to focus on what we have – instead of what we don’t have. Or all that we’re told we need…especially during this season of endless commercials stating what we absolutely can’t live without! Having a positive mindset is contagious! So is being thankful. But…so are discontentment, disappointment and dissatisfaction. We prefer to catch gratitude! Then there are expectations – those pesky demands we place on ourselves. On others. Sometimes unknowingly. Then there are those expectations we allow others to place on us. Notice we said allow – we don’t have to accept them, especially the unreasonable ones. Let’s be intentional about refusing excessive expectations – they’re unhealthy. They’re guilt-producers. They wear us out. When we take on the burden of others’ expectations then we reach the tipping point of exhaustion faster. Let’s not set our expectations too high – for ourselves and those around us. All of this requires intentionality. Neither a positive attitude nor lowered expectations comes naturally. They’re choices. Daily choices. Being positive isn’t always easy. Having more reasonable expectations isn’t either. Both require determination and practice. Once we get these in order, we’re better positioned to be others focused. This is a game-changer. What if it’s a priority to make somebody else feel special this holiday season? Something as simple as telling someone why you appreciate them can go a long way toward accomplishing this. What about a kind word to the stressed-out cashier the night before Thanksgiving? Or a sticky note of appreciation for your mail carrier? Or a tray of cookies (yes, store bought work) for your neighbors? If we’re honest, being others focused doesn’t always come as easily as we’d like…it’s easier to be self-absorbed. Not in the mean sort of way but in the hurried – not enough time to accomplish everything on our long to-do lists…too busy rehashing disappointments and mistakes…overwhelmed – kind of way. These things drain us and steal our joy. We can more quickly recall our missteps and failures than our successes and reasons for celebration. We can rehearse negatives in our minds with the best of them. We’ve heard that our brains tend to have a bias toward negativity – we first see what’s wrong. Research has shown that positive expectations positively influence performance, while negative expectations negatively influence performance. This is known as the as the Pygmalion Effect (Rosenthal and Jacobson). “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” (Rosenthal and Babad, 1985) We’d venture to say this is what we do to ourselves. We are what we think about. If our thoughts are negative, we’ll likely be more critical whereas if our thoughts are positive, then we’ll tend to be more optimistic. A lot depends on what we’ve been thinking about. Remember what goes in, comes out – and out it comes…sometimes not exactly in the way we want it to…especially when we’re stressed. This means learning to count our blessings can have a profound influence on us. Again, this takes intentionality. (There’s that word again.) If we sit down at the table on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day and think we can simply flip the ‘attitude of gratitude’ switch, then it’s not likely to happen. Especially when the apple pie is too brown (burned), your sister calls at the last minute with a change of plans and your crazy uncle starts his political speech…you get the point. Wouldn’t we all like to experience a more pleasant and less hectic holiday season? When we catch ourselves thinking a critical, negative, or woe-is-me thought, let’s instantly replace it with something we’re thankful for. This takes time – that’s why we’re starting now! Doing so will provide a jumpstart to having a better mindset on November 24th. And December 25th. And every other day. Where do we start?  We can ask a friend to take on this gratitude challenge with us…until we start to live it. We can also use post-it notes with a favorite quote. We can change our phone/screen wallpaper to a reference of thankfulness. We can set reminders on our phones to take 30 second gratitude breaks. Here are a couple of quotes to consider:

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Albert Einstein

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. Cicero We can also ponder these questions:

What 3 things are you most thankful for this year?

What are your 3 favorite memories?

What has been your most joyful moment today? This week? This month?

Who are 3 people who’ve helped you this year? Have you thanked them?

What are the 3 things you like most about yourself?

We wish you a holiday season filled with thanksgiving, gratitude and joy! Starting today…