We’re between Canadian and US Thanksgivings, so it’s the perfect time, don’t you think? To contemplate an attitude of gratitude?
What three things are you grateful for today? I read about cultivating this practice somewhere, years ago, after my first husband Hugh’s death had me bogged down in blackness. I started doing it at night, before I feel asleep. “What three things are you grateful for today, Rita?” From back then? I recall simple things: a cardinal sighting, a smile from a stranger, a hug from a friend.
Speaking of hugs, do you ever think about how important they are? I used to think my mom, who lived on her own for many years, was crazy going on about how good this or that person was at giving hugs. Then I lost Hugh and whomp! It was like a physical disconnect from humanity. I craved hugs. Says www.mindbodygreen.com, “Research shows that hugging (and also laughter) is extremely effective at healing sickness, disease, loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress. . . Hugs can instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.” Once again, Mom was right.
Today? I’m grateful for the ongoing glow of having just visited two of my three kids in Vancouver, who are old enough to appreciate the value of a hug. They made me STOP, slow my hug down, deepen it, make it matter. When I think about it, I can still feel it in my body. How our hearts connected. Hugging someone is an opportunity. To just be. No words, so no possible misunderstandings. Just pure feeling.
Today, I’m also grateful to eat breakfast with my husband B. I like eating with someone and I enjoy breakfast. I suppose there was a time I didn’t take time for breakfast, but it’s a habit now. The gluten free cereal, the blueberries, the almond milk. Juice. Black coffee. Paper. We peruse the news and talk: about his recent business trip to Orlando, my trip west.
Cody Delistraty, writing for The Atlantic, says that sadly, people rarely eat together anymore, which affects us both physically and emotionally. She talks about how after her mom died and her brother left home for school, she and her dad started to grow apart. A few weeks before she headed off to university, her dad said, “You know, I think we should start eating together, even if it’s just you and me. Your mother would have wanted that.”
“Eating together was a small act,” she writes, “and it required very little of us – 45 minutes away from our usual, quotidian distractions – and yet it was invariably one of the happiest parts of my day.”
What else am I grateful for today? I get to visit my oldest daughter first thing, to pick up Boris the Boston Terrier. We share Starbucks and conversation. Her four-year-old daughter is at school, her three-year-old daughter chatters and plays with bingo daubers on construction paper. Her almost-five-month-old son wakes up and I get to see his bright-eyed smile, then pluck him from his crib to feel his soft-sweet-baby-smelling head against my cheek.
It’s easy to go to the negative; our human brains are wired that way for survival. Yet, there are so very many things to be grateful for, each and every day. Writes Gretchen Rubin, in The Happiness Project: “Gratitude is important to happiness. Studies show that consistently grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives; they even feel more physically healthy and spend more time exercising. Gratitude brings freedom from envy, because when you’re grateful for what you have, you’re not consumed with wanting something different or something more. That, in turn makes it easier to live within your means and also to be generous to others. Gratitude fosters forbearance – it’s harder to feel disappointed with someone when you’re feeling grateful toward him or her. Gratitude also connects you to the natural world, because one of the easiest things to feel grateful for is the beauty of nature.”
I just finished reading The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown, a harrowing account of a group of settlers traveling with horses, oxen and covered wagons through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to California in the 1840’s. Doing research for the book, Brown stands where Mary Ann Graves, one of the settlers, once stood and is “stunned by the beauty of the place”. Despite being on a life-and-death journey, Mary Ann also “paused to marvel at the sight of so much grandeur encapsulated in one vista.”
Writes Brown, “To appreciate beauty is to experience humility – to recognize that something larger and more powerful than oneself is at work in the environment. And humility, it turns out, is key to recognizing that in order to survive, you must adapt yourself to the environment, that it won’t adapt to your needs.”
Stay humble. See beauty in nature. Practice the art of giving meaningful hugs. And say thanks.