I’ve not always been very good at being thankful. In fact, for many years of my life, I felt like I’d been dealt the short end of the stick in life, that my circumstances were more difficult than everyone else’s.
How was I supposed to be thankful when all my friends had more money, more stuff, more influence, more excitement, more adventure and more popularity than I did?
Needless to say, I hardly even recognize that girl anymore. In fact, when I think about it, I’m a little embarrassed.
But the craziest part is, my ability to feel thankful now doesn’t come from improved circumstances. In fact, if anything, I have less money, less stuff, and less popularity than I did when I complained about those things.
Still, one major thing has changed. I’ve learned that gratitude isn’t dependent on my circumstances. Gratitude is like a muscle, and the more I learn to flex it and to exercise it, the stronger it becomes, the more gratitude I feel, and the deeper that gratitude reaches, even when my circumstances don’t warrant it.
I’m still learning, but this is what gratitude looks like for me.
I recognize everything I have is a gift.
This has been a major shift in perspective for me, maybe because I grew up in a culture that taught me my needs and wants were more important than everyone else’s, and that I deserved to have those needs and wants met. Or, maybe I didn’t need culture to teach me this. Maybe this is just the darkness that comes, when we let it, out of the human heart.
Either way, I’m learning to see everything I have as more than I deserve.
I’m learning it’s okay to want things.
For so many years I convinced myself wants were bad — after all, I was never going to get what I wanted anyway, and if I admitted my wants out loud, they would just made me look selfish (I was). But pushing my wants away or pretending like they didn’t exist wasn’t getting me anywhere. In fact, my selfish wants were just festering and rotting inside of me.
I wasn’t getting better. I was getting worse.
It wasn’t until I learned to admit what I wanted, to talk about why, and to throw my whole weight into pursuing the things that mattered, that I learned what I really wanted wasn’t so far outside of my grasp.
I started saying it before I felt it.
For a long time I resisted this because it felt inauthentic. I had many friends in my life who were eternal optimists, and I respected them, even wanted to be like them in a way, but every time I opened my mouth to say words like, “Even though this isn’t ideal, I’m thankful…” it felt like I was lying. It felt like I wasn’t being myself.
Since then I’ve discovered that sometimes it starts with words, and the feelings slowly follow. Sometimes we have to change the stories we tell ourselves before the realities we feel can catch up.
Sometimes we have to put words to something before we can believe it exists.
I focus on the small things.
My mom calls them TJs. Tiny Joys. I like that. And at the end of the day, if I talk to my mom on the phone, she will likely have half a dozen “TJ’s” she could tell you about from her day. TJ’s don’t have to be extravagant or outlandish. In fact, they rarely are. They’re usually things like running into an old friend, a favorite song on the radio, or something funny someone said at work.
What I’ve found is that, when I focus on the small reasons to be grateful in my life, even when they might feel miniscule or unimportant, usually, after awhile, they add up to something big.
And it’s happening. Slowly, but surely, my gratitude muscle is become more pronounced. I hope yours is, too.