One of my daughter’s favorite things to tease me about is a conversation we had a couple years ago. I said, “I’m so thankful . . .” and then trailed off. She waited a moment for me to finish (I was driving and therefore paying attention to traffic), then asked what I was thankful for. But all she said was, “. . . for?” to which I responded by looking around for four of something and asking her exactly that: “Four what?” She repeated what I’d originally said, laughing at me the entire time, until eventually I remembered what I’d been thankful enough to (almost) mention in the first place.
I suppose I should be thankful my brain cells are still rooting for me. There are days when I have my doubts. But there seems to be a trend toward entitlement on so many fronts—impatient people who feel the world owes them something . . . anything—that I treasure anyone who actively practices the art of thankfulness.
November is a month when some people suddenly remember to be thankful for things. They may or may not have been thankful throughout the year, but November somehow magically creates the need for a list. They’ll do the “Thirty Day Thankfulness Challenge” or some such public thing, and I often wonder if it triggers more awareness once the challenge and list-making is over. Because, really, being thankful for people and things may come naturally to some, but there’s no reason it can’t be learned.
I grew up in a household that was . . . turbulent. An alcoholic, unpredictable father contributed to a good deal of bitterness in the marriage, and there were many times I was not thankful for my particular family. I’m grateful that there were times of laughter, and I can’t say I ever felt we were lacking for the things we needed or wanted—it wasn’t all bad all the time—but there is something “off” about growing up in a home where each person isn’t appreciated for being who they are, and most conversations revolved around gossiping or complaining about whoever wasn’t present.
Thankfully—hey! there’s that theme again—I’ve managed, over the years, to surround myself with people who have a more positive attitude. Along with the positivity typically comes an encouraging nature. I’ve had close friends walk me (carry me) through some tough times over the past year, and I always go away from the encounters feeling amazed that they can be so uplifting while not minimizing the seriousness of what’s going on.
The trick for them is that they’ve practiced the art of thankfulness for so long that it’s become second nature to react with a positive slant, or by looking for the tiniest bit of positive in any situation. It rubs off, too. Have you ever been surrounded by negative people? If you’re constantly bombarded by it on a regular basis, you’ll find that your default response to unusual situations begins to lean toward the negative, too.
My life isn’t perfect by any means, but it is filled with so many positive influences—coworkers who get along and are encouraging, a husband who does so many little things to make my day smooth, bosses who value my work, friends with a listening ear when I need one—that I can’t help but feel very obvious when I focus on the negative. Without saying a word of chastisement, those I spend the most time with have encouraged me to also practice the art of thankfulness. I’m not always successful at it, but I recognize the need for it a lot quicker than I used to.
It doesn’t have to be a single day’s focus like Thanksgiving, much like showing love shouldn’t be limited to a big show on Valentine’s Day. Think about your words and actions and whether they’re flowing from you in a way that you’d want them to flow toward you from others.
Have you practiced the art of thankfulness?