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One day when I was driving Shasta to her chemotherapy appointment, she asked me to stop the car in the middle of the road. There were trees blooming overhead, making a canopy over the street, and she wanted to stop and smell the flowers. She got up, put her face through the sunroof, and breathed it in. “I’m so thankful the trees are blooming,” she said.
She had this generous thankfulness that continued to the end of her life. She told me often how thankful she was for me, for various friends, for her parents and family, for the condo she lived in, for her dog, for things that had happened in the past or things she came across in the moment.
The more time I spent with her, the more thankful I became too. Thankfulness helped me see the world in a new and different way. In my closest relationships, I was quicker to focus on the many wonderful things about my loved ones. I more readily experienced thoughts of kindness toward those around me. Thankfulness skewed the world toward loveliness.
Photo by Anna Jiménez Calaf on Unsplash
How Can I Learn to Be More Thankful?
One thing I feared after Shasta died was that I would lose the sense of wonder that comes from being thankful for the world around me. So I tried out a new habit for a time. At the beginning of each week, I did a social-media post of things I was thankful for.
When we are out of the habit of thankfulness, it’s easy to think, I have nothing to be thankful for. This can feel particularly true in difficult seasons. When I set out to start this practice, I was in a deep well of personal grief. But thankfulness helped me to see things a different way.
What I learned was this: There is always something to be thankful for because the world is full of good things. On even my worst day, I could at least say, “I am thankful for the air I breathe.” I could be thankful for my health. My family. The beauty of the natural world. The fact that I had the luxury of time to stop and make a social-media post. Friends. I could even be thankful—if I was struggling in the moment—for things or people or events of my past.
Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash
What Does Thankfulness Have to Do with Love?
Thankfulness makes us more aware of the presence of love in our lives. It increases our feelings of affection for those who are already in our lives. It reminds us of the many good things about difficult people we know. It reorients us toward recognizing blessings rather than focusing on problems. It gives us more space to pause and create time for others . . . because we come to expect good things from interactions with other people.
Also—and this shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did—my thankfulness creates more thankfulness in the people around me. I experienced this from hanging out with Shasta, but I didn’t expect it would be the case with me. As I shared my own thankful thoughts more vocally, the people around me did too. More people told me what they were thankful for and expanded my vision for things to be thankful for in the world. And, shockingly, more people took time to thank me for things about me.
Thankfulness is contagious. And it increases our capacity for love.
Do you find it easy or difficult to be thankful? Does it come to you naturally, or do you have to work at it?
Every day, make a mental list of five things you are thankful for. For extra credit, share those five things with someone. If you can’t think of five new things every day, you can even have a list of things that are always true to be thankful for, and just revisit them daily (air to breathe, a loved one, coffee). You may be surprised to discover that being thankful for the same things every day eventually causes you to recognize new things you are thankful for!
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