Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gratitude. Just Do It.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart

When I was growing up, anytime my brother or I whined to our parents that we didn't want to do something, they usually responded with some variation of, "Do it anyway."

"I don't wannnnnna clean my room." I don't care. Clean it anyway.

"I don't wannnnnna do my homework." I know. Do it anyway.

"I don't wannnnnna take a shower." That's gross, Stephanie. Take one anyway.

It's not that they didn't care about what my brother and I wanted, or weren't sympathetic to our desires. They just hated whining. In life, there are plenty of unpleasant things that we're not going to want to do -- work, pay taxes, go to the DMV; whether or not we want to do them is inconsequential because we have to. This unfortunate reality was one my mom and dad wanted us to learn about at a young age.

Do (insert undesirable activity) anyway. Because you have to. Because we said so.

Thanks to them, expressing gratitude for the many blessings in my life has come very naturally for me. Thanking the military for their service and making a list of the things I am most thankful for were just two of the gratitude-related activities I participated in on my journey to turning 30; neither was all that hard. Seeing the good all around me and feeling thankful for it was easy. Life was easy.

That's what Thanksgiving is all about; gathering with family and friends and saying "thank you" for all of the year's blessings. But lately life hasn't felt so easy; this year has presented challenges that have left me feeling lost, uncertain, and at times, very sad. For the first time in my life, feeling thankful feels like a really difficult thing to do. As embarrassing as it sounds, I want to channel my inner 8-year old, and scream, "I don't wannnnnna give thanks. I just don’t feel like it!”

I haven't discussed these feelings with them, but I'll bet if I did, my parents would probably turn on the same voice they did when I was a child and say to me, "I'm sorry you feel that way. Be thankful anyway. You have to."

Because despite the challenges I've faced this year, I do have many blessings to be thankful for. A supportive family, loyal (and hilarious) friends, a challenging job, the greatest pair of jeans that I've ever owned. Life IS good, even though sometimes (right now especially) it feels really bad.

Earlier this year, I began reading a food blog by a New York based food writer named Jennie. She's witty, smart and cooks beautiful food that I long to eat and could only hope to recreate.

In August, Jennie's husband Mikey died unexpectedly, leaving her a young widow and a solo parent to two young daughters. In a recent post, she wrote about how she was feeling leading up to her first Thanksgiving without her beloved:

As we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, instead of focusing on what we have lost, I will remind the girls of everything that enriches our lives. I will remind them to be thankful for the new warm blankets we just bought, for the apartment we now call home, for the love of friends and family.

Jennie's ability to mourn her husband while also recognizing how blessed she and her daughters are for the time they spent with Mikey reminds me that feeling sad and feeling hopeful are not mutually exclusive. I may feel like crying this Thanksgiving, but I know I'll probably laugh a lot too, and for that I am extremely thankful.

If Jennie can find a way to be grateful for things this Thanksgiving, then so can I. Even though lately I haven't really felt like it.

So here I go, starting small.

Thank you, homeless man in the Target parking lot who whistled at me when I was wearing no makeup and yoga pants. You clearly saw beauty where most people see none, and I appreciate it.

Thank you, co-worker who said I was so funny I should be on Saturday Night Live. Honestly, best compliment ever.

Thank you, Bravo, for recognizing the genius of Andy Cohen and extending his show, Watch What Happens Live, to five days instead of just two. I suspect my productivity might plummet, but I will be highly entertained, so I really don't care.

Indeed, there is much joy in my life; finding it has just been a bit more challenging this year.

I would love to hear what you're thankful for this year, no matter how big or small.

Have a very blessed and Happy Thanksgiving.