Let’s talk about Thanksgiving, and gratitude…
First, a little housekeeping. Thanksgiving break starts tomorrow, so you won’t see any Breakthrough Marketing Secrets essays on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. I’ll be back on Monday, November 26th, and I think it’ll be a special week of mailbox replies, as my Mailbox Monday queue is building up. You’ve got questions — and you’ll get answers!
Now, onto the topic of today’s essay…
Sometime earlier this year, I started asking my kids a new question at bedtime.
“What are you thankful for?”
I believe one of the most critical habits we can have is the regular habit of reflecting on even the little things in life that are worth being grateful for.
The sun is shining outside. It’s cold out, but I have a warm home office to work in. I’m doing well with my physical fitness and health. My family is healthy, and we haven’t had any major medical problems.
We have clean water to drink, and good food to eat. In fact, we eat really well — lots of whole foods, recipes we make at home, and minimized chemicals in our diet by buying organic produce for those items on the Dirty Dozen list. The fact that we have that choice, both financially and availability-wise, is something to be grateful for.
As Warren Buffett says, I “won the genetic lottery,” being born today, into a stable, middle-class household, as a white male, in the middle of America. While others have done far better than me with a far less advantageous genetic lottery ticket, I know this has made my life basically 1%-level easy, when compared to all the humans who have ever lived.
(Just because you’re reading this, you probably have more security, more comforts, and a better overall life experience than 95% or more of humans throughout history. Just think — even the richest, most powerful humans 200 years ago didn’t have climate control, refrigeration and other food safety tools, modern medicine, or any efficient means of long-distance communication. Plus, according to Harvard’s Steven Pinker, “Violence has been in decline over long stretches of time, and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.”)
There are so many things in life to be grateful about.
Even if I were to fall critically-ill today, I could be grateful that I lived the best life I knew how, that I had some great experiences, and that I had the opportunity to love and build important friendships. And I think I made a few lives at least a little better for having lived.
It’s so easy in life to get down…
And believe me, I do, too. For all sorts of reasons.
When that happens, we have three choices.
— We can try to repress it and not feel these ill-feelings, which creates toxicity in our thoughts and feelings. And this toxicity inevitably festers and grows, even as we try to hide it.
— We can feel the negativity and get lost in it, and spiral into depression and misery.
— Or, we can feel the negativity and still have gratitude, not only for all the good things we have, but for the richness of experience that only comes through traveling both the peaks and valleys of life.
The first two choices lead to a life lived short of its full potential. They destroy the inner light that is yours if you let it shine.
The third choice opens you up and lets you live life to its fullest.
But here’s the thing.
It’s really, really hard to start having gratitude when you feel like shit…
You can’t start your practice in the terrible times.
You must start your practice when it seems you need it least. When all the bounties of life are plentiful, and it seems least like you’d need that reminder of all the reasons to be thankful.
But it’s in that regular habit of feeling grateful and bringing light to that feeling that you develop the power to also feel grateful when you’re walking with your shadow and the whole world feels empty.
This is why one of my biggest goals as a parent is to help my kids develop the muscle memory that comes from this regular habit of gratitude.
I laughed when I heard earlier this week that my daughter’s preschool teacher had asked the class what they were thankful for.
She reminds me every night to ask her the question. Some nights, she wants me to ask it twice.
She was ready to answer. She’s always the most ready to answer.
Being our third, she picks up everything younger than her brothers — for good or bad.
But all of them are getting this habit reinforced every night, just before they go to bed.
They don’t wait for the obligatory annual “Thanksgiving” that the rest of America relies on a holiday to remind them of.
They are reminded every day that there are things in life to be thankful for.
— The book they’re reading in bed that night.
— Something we did during the day.
— Important people in their life.
— Something nice someone did for them.
I never know what it’s going to be. And if they’re dialing it in — see “spaghetti” above, which is a running joke — I ask them to think a little deeper.
But with every additional day we do it, I know I’m reinforcing a habit that will serve them well for the rest of their life.
Thanksgiving is a strange holiday…
The storybook fable of Thanksgiving has good company with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, as lies we tell generation after generation of children. (Here’s the true story as told by Business Insider, featuring disease and a bloody war. Source selected for political neutrality.)
Even though some of my personal Thanksgiving traditions are more in line with the storybook version of the holiday, it’s been years and years since I’ve thought of Thanksgiving in the traditional way.
Rather, I like to use it as yet another reminder and reinforcement for the regular habits of gratitude that I’m trying to cultivate. And as a nice excuse to be more vocal about my own gratitude.
And no matter where you are in the world, perhaps this week you can think of what you’re grateful for.
And perhaps, if you’re not doing so already, you can make gratitude a more regular part of your life. Practicing it as often as possible. For things large and small. In fact, for the very experience of living.
We have the great fortune to share this precious moment.
Let’s make the most of it.
I have the deepest gratitude for your continued readership and support, and for the opportunity to share my ramblings with you every day.
Yours for bigger gratitude,