Gratitude lists don’t work.
Back before gratitude was a hashtag or a pretty picture on Instagram, gratitude was an integrated part of our everyday life. Once upon a time, we didn’t throw our disposable coffee cups in the garbage or forget to call our family on their birthday. We lived in a way where our every action expressed our gratitude. We knew that everything in life was deeply interconnected and the best way to show our appreciation was to live in a way that honoured those connections. Our lives and how we lived them was an act of gratitude and we didn’t need to prove anything to anyone by posting about it on social media.
Gratitude isn’t just something to make ourselves feel better. Proponents of gratitude lists say that in engaging in the practice of writing down three things you are grateful for every day it will help you find that gratitude more naturally in life.
However, they miss a key element—gratitude requires heart-centred action. It is a reciprocal act. We receive a good feeling and we give back. It’s not just about trying to build our self-esteem.
This time of year might have you reflecting on what you are grateful for. Fall is a natural time to want to honour what it is we harvested from the last season. Even in times of pandemics we always have the opportunity to practice gratitude. In fact, now, more than ever, is a great time to reach out to those we love and tell them why we are grateful for them.
In a time when we are seemingly disconnected from one another, we might actually have the opportunity to look within and reflect on those connections that are so meaningful in our life.
So here’s what you can do instead this Thanksgiving season.
Feel grateful for your friends and family? Give them a call or write an email or a meaningful e-card. Going that extra step to show love and appreciation is needed now more than ever. We are all struggling with isolation these days and little acts of reaching out mean a lot.
Feel grateful for the food on your table? Why not show your thanks by supporting local farmers and businesses? They were struggling before this pandemic but now, more than ever, they need our support as everyone rushes to the convenience of online shopping. Check in with your local community—many local businesses are offering delivery or online services these days when they didn’t before.
Feeling grateful for nature or the outdoors in your local area? Why not check in with a local trail-making or naturalist group. Or perhaps there is an environmental cause you can get behind. Donating some time or money to preserving what little of the natural world we have left is a great way to spend your time these days. And getting outside is pretty much the safest place to be these days anyway! Another option is to create a beautiful ritual practice of honouring the Earth. There are many ways to create meaningful rituals that actively engage our hearts and minds.
Feeling grateful for technology and the ability to stay connected? Why not reflect on your use of social media and reframe your use of it so that you are truly staying connected with those people in your life who are important to you.
Instead of keeping gratitude close to your chest, as something just for yourself, why not share your feelings of gratitude with those you love? Gratitude is meant to be shared—with the people in our life, with our pets, with the land, with the plants, and with our communities.
This Thanksgiving season, let’s not forget to extend the feeling of love to those who need it.
Perhaps this will become your new gratitude practice. You may realize you don’t need to rely on a list, when you are actively engaging with gratitude in your everyday life.