I’ve learned, through trial and error and a few horrid heartbreaks, that you can find a silver lining in almost any situation. Some circumstances have been more difficult than others, true, and these required the passage of time to reveal the good, but eventually I found that my cloud had been shot through with a thread or two of the lustrous metal.
I only had to look. Really look.
This week it’s all about gratitude, about the silver lining in the cloud of life. When we gather to slice the turkey and dig into the stuffing, some of us will participate in the tradition of offering up public appreciation for the one special thing that has touched our lives this year. If the past is any indication, most of my relatives will fall back on the one true measure of bounty: family. But some might volunteer a health condition conquered, or a house recently bought, or an unexpected job opportunity, all fortune worth celebrating. For me — and I can say this without hesitation — 2019’s most precious blessing is the birth of another grandchild, a little boy so cute as to defy my ability for description.
Unfortunately, most of us will forget that sense of gratitude as soon as we polish off the last piece of pumpkin pie. It’s human nature to return to the familiar, and let’s be honest here: Thankfulness doesn’t come easily for most of us. We usually default to grousing.
Maybe it’s the people I’m related to, or the ones I hang around with, but even the most good-natured among us have perfected the art of whining. Me, I may have gotten a post-doctoral fellowship in the practice. Sometimes I catch myself bellyaching about the most trivial matters, too.
We complain about the weather. The traffic. Our jobs. Our spouses. Our aging, cantankerous parents. Adult children who ignore us and school-age ones who don’t listen. We complain about the yard that’s overgrown, the roof that has sprung a leak, the homeowner’s insurance that has spiked, the car that doesn’t start. Yet, we don’t notice the incredible good fortune that we have all this to complain about.
The older I get, the more I realize that we’re going about this gratitude thing all wrong. Devoting one day, and one day only, to what should be a year-round ritual is hardly productive. Or beneficial. Gratitude should be a daily practice, a lifestyle we choose much as we decide to go vegan or drive a hybrid or exercise for 30 minutes in the mornings.
We need to make it a habit to find the small graces dispersed among our everyday schedules. By acknowledging the good, the pleasant, the it-could’ve-been-worse, we’re consciously choosing happiness. We’re also connecting to something outside of ourselves, something that’s bigger and better than our own self-inflicted pettiness.
Thankfulness is actually good for us. Study after study has shown that expressing gratitude not only makes us happier, it also helps us with stress, heart health, sleep, depression and work life satisfaction. Maybe that’s why you hear more people adopting the custom of writing in a gratitude journal. Actor Will Arnett, he of “30 Rock” fame, says he begins his mornings by writing down 10 things he’s grateful for. Oprah Winfrey and media maven Arianna Huffington draw up a similar list daily. It helps them frame their days in a more positive manner.
Look, I know how goody two-shoes this sounds, like some trick for us to accept the unacceptable. But that’s not at all what this is about. Being grateful doesn’t mean you ignore problems or sidestep hard issues. Gratitude is more of an in-spite-of feeling, a spark of light snatched from the dark. It’s the ability to see beyond, and over and under: the choice of not taking anything for granted.
Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.