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The NSPA Blog

Thanksgiving and Gratitude

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Posted on November 27th, 2019 by Bettina Carlson, under Something New, Take Charge

Thanksgiving is here. The grocery stores are overflowing with turkeys, hams, baking ingredients, decorations, greeting cards, and so much more. Many people have made plans to spend Thanksgiving with their loved ones, be they family or friends. We are busy with preparations, such as the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning up, the table setting, and so on; all these efforts, so we can enjoy the purpose of Thanksgiving, the one we look forward to the most – being in the community of family and friends. A beautiful tradition!

I’m hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for about 12 people at my house. I know the excitement of connecting with family and friends, and I know the preparatory stress. Every year it is the same, although by now, one would think, I have it down to science. But as they say – science is never settled; and neither are my preparations. 

Yet, I am so grateful to have this opportunity to spend Thanksgiving in community with loved ones. We always have a beautiful time together, catching up and connecting over a tasty meal and great conversations about current events and family. I always feel so good and reinvigorated afterwards. My wellbeing is up and my positive outlook on life is strengthened again. I feel the world is a better place afterwards! 

As I am getting ready for this year’s Thanksgiving, I took a moment to sit and reflect on this. After all, isn’t this part of the Thanksgiving? Reflecting on what to be thankful and grateful for!

Gratitude and Thanksgiving 

Gratitude and Thanksgiving. The two words that are intimately associated with this holiday. Thanksgiving is also exchangeably replaced with thankfulness. These words are not confined to the celebration of Thanksgiving only, we use them in daily life to express our appreciation over blessings and benefits we receive in life. What is Gratitude? What is Thanksgiving?  

The basic meaning of these two words per dictionary are:

  • Gratitude (grateful) – the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
  • Thanksgiving – the expression of gratitude.

Hm?! Kind of sounds like it is the same. But is it? One more look at the details, and the difference can be seen: Gratitude is “quality of being”, and Thanksgiving is “expression”; so Gratitude is a feeling while Thanksgiving is an act; and the feeling of Gratitude has a quality attached to it. 

My Story 

I love to tell stories. And I have one to share that tells about my journey with Gratitude. No better time to share than now. 

I have a lot to be grateful for this year. The last three years had been very challenging. My proverbial plate had been full with more unpleasantly tasting servings than ever before. And there was no immediate way of clearing this plate and refilling it with better tasting food. I sure prayed for it. But I also did something else! I remembered a few wise teachings from my childhood and applied them. 

Growing up, the wise women who raised me, my mother and my grandmother, always told me: (1) There is nothing you can do in yesterday, there is nothing you can do in tomorrow, but you can do in the now! So don’t waste your energy on what you can’t do, but on what you can do in the here and now! Because that is the only time you really have! (2) You are stronger than you think you are; believe in yourself. (3) We all carry a burden at one time or another. (4) We learn important lessons in darkness. (5) Someone else always has it worse. (6) Every coin has two sides; which one do you chose?

As a kid, that went way over my head. But as I grew up and encountered more challenges, it started to ring true. And over the last few years, with my particular challenges, these words became true and empowering and made the difference between developing a “victim-mindset” and a “gratitude-mindset”. I chose the latter. Yes, I chose! I chose that “side of the coin” as I journeyed through the darkness. It was a conscious act. There were many daily decisions over how to approach little and big challenges.

When faced with worry, anxiety, pain, or other negative feelings, instead of avoiding them, I leaned into them, and I shone a light on them. I sat with them, and “indulged” in them. I “invited” these feelings into my mind and soul, as guests so to speak. And as guests, I treated them with the respect we extend to our guests: we listen to them and attempt to address and satisfy their needs, so they can feel comfortable, and we all can enjoy a good visit together. Sure it sounds easier than it is. I know. Boy, do I know! 

At first the visits weren’t so pleasant … at all! But I had decided to accept them as part of my journey in life, and the acceptance gradually happened. I had decided to accept these visits for what they are, not what I wanted them to be. I had accepted them on good faith, with the belief that I was stronger than I knew.  I counted my blessings. I consciously sought out the blessings in my life, no matter how small, from my family, friends and health, to my car, all the way to a hot cup of coffee in a warm house on a chilly day, even a smile from a stranger; while at the same time acknowledging that nothing, not even a drink when thirsty, or food when hungry, or a friend, is ever a given for any of us. And then something happened!

While the circumstances did not change, my mindset changed, and with it my wellbeing. My value system had received an overhaul, and I had come to feel in my core what really matters in life. I had come to appreciate my “houseguests” and what they were teaching me about myself and my life. I realized deep personal purpose in my life; not just realized in my mind, but in my actions, too. I started to live a life anchored in gratitude. 

My thanksgivings for my blessings in life became deeper and more purposeful, too. From randomly paying the toll for the person in the car behind me, from  giving change to the solicitor on the street, from holding the door open for the person with their arms full of grocery bags or with a baby or with a walker, and so many other scenarios. To being blessed with the gift of a chance meeting with Teri and now being part of her team, which allows me the great fortune of actively and purposely using my thanksgiving in the service of my clients.

 While I have always been a rather thankful person and enjoyed being of service to others; my thankfulness, my giving thanks, is now deeply connected to Gratitude. It is a lifestyle. It is a life style that is enriching and fulfilling me in ways it hasn’t before. 

Blessings  

Of course this doesn’t mean I’m grateful for everything. That is just impossible!  But, I have learned to be able to focus on and accept the lesson in every challenge, and those challenges therefore have become most valuable lessons. This has been made so much easier by never losing sight of the blessings in my life. These lessons truly have become essential to enriching my journey in life. Isn’t it funny how that goes?!  All those lessons have supported me from darkness to light and will continue to help me grow closer to light. 

Nothing is constant but change, so yes, life will always have it ups and downs and hand us challenges to deal with. With this mindset of Gratitude I am empowered on this journey called life. You can, too. Try it! Continue to try – it may take some time. As these wise women raising me also said: “All good things take time, and this investment of time and effort is so very worth it!”  

Circling all the way back to the basic definition of Gratitude, I can now confirm that Gratitude is a feeling from within. It is a manifestation of our love and our commitment towards ourselves and others. It is a deep appreciation of our privileges, no matter the circumstances.  

May all of you enjoy a beautiful Thanksgiving. May you make the time to reflect on all the blessings to be thankful for, no matter how seemingly insignificant. And may you be able to grow your thankfulness deeper and deeper, until it manifests itself in gratitude within you.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, from us at NShore Patient Advocates

Here is a special gift from us to you. The poem The Guest House by Rumi.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jalaluddin Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks (The Essential Rumi)

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