Monday, November 24, 2008

My Week of Gratitude

It's been an effort of mine over most of my adult life to find personal meaning in the various holidays that we celebrate on a national basis in this country.

For most of my childhood, Thanksgiving was first about eating turkey and big meals and lying around watching the Macy's parade and then football on the TV the rest of the day.

Once I got to school, Thanksgiving was more of a history lesson- the Pilgrims and the Native Americans coming together to celebrate the harvest and bounty of the land. Who hasn't made a Pilgrim hat out of cardboard or construction paper or traced around their hand to make a basic, but pleasing turkey image to color and take home to post on the fridge?

Loathe to celebate nowadays in a Hallmark-ian, commercial and rote way, I try most years to focus on the Thanks-giving part of it. Or in another word, I try to spend a little time truly feeling gratitude for the wonderful parts of my life BEFORE someone goes around the table and I'm struck dumb with stage fright and my mind goes blank.

I've learned a lot about gratitude in my clinical practice.

I watch people who have lost almost everything to tragic circumstances still find the grace to express gratitude for the things they still have left. I'm grateful for that because it makes me humble. I have so much even on my worst days.

Gratitude seems to have some healing properties. Oprah knows it because she's always talking about gratitude and even had a guest once who promoted keeping a gratitude journal. The guest's suggestion was to keep a notebook by your bed and before you go to sleep, write down five things you are grateful for, for that day.

I think shifting your perception away from the things that you DON'T have or how things haven't gone the way they "should" have gone, to focusing on the joy you do have, is an amazing process. I watch my own anger dissolve into peace, my frustration melt into quiet joy when I stop and think about how far I've come.

So, here are some things I'm contemplating this week.

(1) During a year when marriage rights were granted and taken away, I married the man of my dreams. And even if the legal "right" was taken away, he will still be in my life and will be there for me forever.

(2) My best friend Rob, who has been in my life for almost 18 years, faced down cancer this year, and won. It was one of those breath-holding times of your life when you really know what matters most and what not to take for granted.

(3) I made a major career move this year, leaving a practice where I had invested so much of myself, to start over in a new venue. At times overwhelming and scary, I've learned so much about myself and what's really important over the past few months. I am thankful for what I am learning about meaning and purpose this year.

(4) As my mother continues to battle with a progressive decline in health, I am grateful that my father is strong enough to make her journey better. His example, of "for better or worse", reminds me of the power of commitment and faith.

(5) This year, my little book on self-esteem, that nobody seemed to want to publish again, was given new life at the last minute through the efforts of a kind and generous agent in Boston, Sorche Fairbank, and found it a new home with Alyson Books. Lately, I've been hearing from readers who have found that it is making a difference for them and that makes a difference for me.

(6) I am so grateful for Ella, who makes me laugh, who makes me walk her, and who tells me when it's time to stop focusing on TV too much and pay attention to her! She's my natural mood "Ella-vator", even when I want to worry about this and that.

(7) Finally, I'm grateful for change in America. I am so hopeful that Obama and company are going to change the path of selfishness and greed that we've been on and will help heal some of the deep wounds left after years of war and neglect.

And I'm thankful for the readers of this blog, who may not even know how much I appreciate it when you say that my words have some meaning for you. Actually, I'm even grateful for the idea of you being out there because it makes me stop and think. I'm grateful for you.

Thanks. And I wish you a bountiful harvest of gratitude this year.

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