Hi kind krafters,
Thanksgiving in the U.S. is over and now all of North America is into the holiday (and exam!) season, but I wanted to talk about gratitude. First, I’d like to acknowledge the history of Thanksgiving. The date itself was a celebration of the harvest, but most of us have this idea that Thanksgiving started with the British colonials thanking the indigenous peoples in Plymouth for food provisions. Indigenous peoples all over North America were critical to the survival of colonialists in the harsher North American climate, but the tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving is far more doubtful. In both the U.S. and Canada, Thanksgiving is a cultural institution that affirms our national identity. But by doing so, indigenous peoples are Othered and framed as outsiders to Canada — even as this very celebration highlights that the colonialists were the outsiders. There’s still something telling, however, that early Americans and Canadians selected an institution that promotes gratitude to pass down, and that gratitude is central to the spirituality of many indigenous cultures.
We can’t talk about gratitude without talking about mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of mind where you think about your thoughts – so a bit like meditation. I know mindfulness gets associated with wellness gurus on Instagram and stuff considered woo-woo. Did you know that the concept is actually a technique in clinical psychology? Around the early 2010s the technique gained ground in certain practices. To be mindful is to be aware that your thoughts are just thoughts and don’t actually determine your actions.
For instance, you think something like “Why is it always cold?” If you’re practicing mindfulness to stay away from these thoughts, you would follow it up with “I can’t wait to Christmas,” or “I love winter clothes.” Sounds a lot like practicing positivity, right? But mindfulness is not about invalidating negative thoughts, because they have a time and place. You just acknowledge the negative, and then you move on. Because that thought about the cold is your first thought. What matters is not your first thought, but your second thought, or what you think in reaction to the first. Mindfulness is like a tool box full of different ways to acknowledge and move beyond your first thoughts. Tucked into that toolbox is gratitude.
I only recently started practicing gratitude. I’m prone to excessive ‘Sorrys’ and ‘Thank yous’ like any other Canadian. When I practice gratitude, I do it deliberately. One of my New Year Resolutions this year, and onward, is to be kind. Gratitude reminds me of that goal and lets me practice mindfulness – that’s two birds with one stone! And it’s pretty easy. I keep in mind to thank someone if they do something that makes me appreciative of them. That falls under friends who message me to ask me how I’m doing, professors who go out of their way to give me feedback on papers, colleagues who suffer my rants and my small talk with a smile, the bus drivers who wait for you at the stop or who greet you with a great good morning at 6:30AM, etc. That appreciation is some powerful stuff. Even if you aren’t saying it directly to the person you feel grateful for, studies strongly suggest that happier people tend to practice that gratitude. Part of that reason is because gratitude keeps you in the present.
This is where gratitude ties in with mindfulness. When we appreciate what some is doing right now, we’re living in the present. And then there’s what I think might be the best part of being grateful: appreciating the little things that other people do confirms that, contrary to the newsfeed, people aren’t as terrible as we think they are. It’s a bit like that placebo trick with the smile. Pushing your mouth upward into a smile, even if you don’t feel happy, can encourage your thoughts to a positive place. Doing that can help, at times, but gratitude, and mindfulness, is a lot less forceful. What it does encourage is also nicer responses from others. We don’t just react to what we see; we also react to how we think others feel. Being appreciative to others influences how we think, and it can influence how others react to us.
So what are some ways we can practice gratitude?
1. Keep a journal. This might not be the first time you’ve seen this advice, but it can help. It doesn’t have to directed questions or be super fancy. In fact, if you get inspired at work and scribble down on a napkin what happened to make you feel appreciative, adding that napkin to a notebook is the start of a great scrapbook!
2. Write thank you cards. It’s not the best option for everyone, but I wanted to include it for the holiday season. Sometimes the cards with heartfelt messages make the presents the best in the world. One end-of-the-year practice could be to pick one person from the year that you feel grateful for. Then you end the year on a great note!
3. Practice morning or evening thoughts. This one is self-explanatory, and you can do it from the comfort of your bed! Think about three things you feel grateful for. (If you’re having a hard time, I default to shelter, heat, food, and my friends and family.) Whether you’re the type who likes ending or starting your day on a good note, this is a great every-day practice.
Is there anything you feel grateful for, kind krafters?
Until the next one,