Gratitude is realizing that seasons change…

Thanksgiving in a Complicated World

Turkey dinners, cranberries, candied yams, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and family dinners.

Family, and those relatives we wish weren’t family, swapping stories, and bonding over football.

Really complicated seating arrangements as we debate which uncle should NOT be sitting next to which cousin.

There are certain traditions we all associate with the All-American day of endless roasts and gelatinous, orange desserts.  Just like the many pumpkin pie recipes you’ll find on the internet, Thanksgiving traditions can get complicated when family’s involved.

That’s why my favorite Thanksgiving tradition is a very basic idea: Gratitude.

Gratitude is something we all can relate to. And it’s something we all need more of in our lives.

Gratitude is a journey to open your heart…

Traditions Start Simple

Our family does that with a list.

It started as our way of counting blessings instead of problems – once a year, we’re not allowed to complain.  It’s tough, but a bit simpler when our mouths our too busy drooling over a hot, steaming plate of mashed potatoes.

They say we are what we eat. But really, we are what we think. So along with the pumpkin pie, Thanksgiving is a time to center ourselves in the spirit of gratitude.  It’s a time to keep track of what we already have and appreciate that we have it. What better way of keeping track of things then with a list?

Lists can also put us in touch with another important tradition on Thanksgiving: Connection.

I learned this lesson all too well when I was a teenager.  When an unexpected blood clot left me unable to eat or drink for six years, I was dependent on intravenous nutrition. Not only did I miss out on six Thanksgivings, I missed out on what food can truly do best: bring us all together.

Gratitude is realizing what matters in life…

The Tradition That Lifts You Up From Anywhere

Yet, in such a dark time, I came away with the greatest tradition of all.  I started making lists. Years ago, in the loneliest of places – the hospital – I realized, for the first time, that through making a simple list, I could feel more connected to the world around me than ever.

Shopping lists, to-do lists, packing lists. Lists are an easy way for busy people to retain information.  Of all places, I found myself making the most lists when stuck in that hospital.  And of all the kinds of lists (after a surgery that went terribly wrong) I found myself creating a gratitude list.

The beauty of a near-death experience is that you realize the things that matter in life.

But you don’t need to have a life-altering medical situation to realize this!  All it takes is the beauty of being surrounded by family, friends, and turkey to remind us that every day is an opportunity to remember the things that make us feel grateful.

When I got out of the hospital months later after my medical crises, every day I made a gratitude list from A to Z. Even on the hardest days, I found that by the time I got to Z there were at least a few things to smile about and be thankful for.

Soon, my alphabetical list turned from “Almost walked. Better heart rate. Coughed less.” to “Awesome walk outside. Best afternoon ever. Cheerful spirits today.” It was amazing to see each day slowly improve and to feel myself gradually claiming ownership of my world again.

Gratitude is finding your story…

Finding Gratitude in Unexpected Places

Finding gratitude was a way to make “sense” of my story.  If I were grateful for things happening, it could fit into my life. I could own what happened to me and make something from it.  These gratitude lists were my life story spelled out night after night.

This taught me a valuable lesson:  Stories make us stronger.

Stories make us think differently.  And there is strength in thinking, seeing and doing things differently.  By these daily lists, I was able to find 24 powerful reasons why I shouldn’t give up hope.  When all else felt lost, I had those 24 bulleted thoughts to hold me through until tomorrow’s list.

Gratitude is getting your head in a different place…

Lists: The Easiest Tradition Around

You don’t need a set of fancy paints to create art, you don’t need a picture-perfect life to find everyday gratitude, and you certainly don’t need a fancy hardcover journal to start a grateful list.

Take a blank page, letter it A to Z from beginning to end, and just start.  It doesn’t have to make sense.  Some words can be a bit of a stretch.  It’s even okay to get away with “x-citement” or “quanberry juice.”  The whole purpose of the list is to just get your head in a different place.

And sometimes, when your head’s in a different place…your life will be too.

Gratitude is keeping it simple in a complicated world…

The Only Tradition That Matters

For me, that’s the real meaning behind Thanksgiving – being grateful for the blessings and the curses, for the complicated and the simple, for the family we love, and the family we…just might not know well enough to love yet.

There’s gratitude to be found everywhere, and if there’s one tradition I’m going to pass on to my children, it’s the ritual of counting our blessings around the table, once every year.

And in a complicated world, I keep it simple. I start with a list.

A Gratitude List.

Happy Thanksgiving!  What’s going to be on your list this year?