Friday, November 26, 2010

What stands in the way of thankfulness

I love Thanksgiving: the food, and the family, and the relaxed, long weekend. But I've reached the conclusion that bounty isn't the way to spur me into thinking about what I have to be thankful for. I spend five hours on food prep, two minutes on thanks, an hour on eating, and several hours digesting. The proportions are all wrong.

The set-up is complicated by the fact that I am not a naturally thankful person. Thankfulness is one of those things I have to grind away at, like keeping the house neat and being patient. I need far more than a day a year to hammer it into my heart, so I tend to discount the official holiday as a kind of amateur event.

But I do want to be thankful, which means I have to cultivate the habit. So I've been thinking about the things that interfere with being thankful. Here's my short list:

1.  Lack of perspective. The most popular post ever on this blog was about the yardstick problem. It's an issue I remind myself of almost daily, because I have an astonishing ability to assume that the spectrum of wealth lies mostly above (rather than below) me. I daresay this is why I live in a city: if I didn't see the poor, the homeless, and the struggling, I know I would only marginally remember that they really exist. How can I even see what I have to be thankful for, if I don't see the full spectrum of the human condition?

2. Inattentiveness. Too often I choose to pay attention to the inconveniences and frustrations of the day, instead of to the good things. This is a matter of choice, and there are things I can do about it. At night I mentally review my day to recall all the things for which I can be thankful. That becomes easier when I remember to take the next step, which is to consciously take note of good things as they happen. Because I do the faith stuff, I try to remember to send up little 'thank-yous' many times a day.

3. Preoccupation. Being preoccupied is the best way to nourish inattentiveness. The more I focus on my worries or busy-ness or minor woes, the less I'm open to noticing all the good stuff going on in my life.

4. Brazen arrogance. This is the "I deserve it" assumption. I hope I don't have much of it, but occasionally it rears its ugly head. Maybe I deserve a break today, but I'm not sure what I've done that makes me more deserving than a dirt-poor, 12-hour a day sweatshop worker in a pollution-ridden city in China.

Knowing the obstacles is a first step toward becoming more thankful. The rest is a matter of plain old hard work, the day-by-day stuff of which lives are made... and made better.

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