We’ve all been at some version of a Thanksgiving assembly or a classroom party where cute little kiddos take turns naming something they're grateful for. There’s always that collective “awww” when a child mentions that he’s thankful for his new baby sister, or that she’s grateful for hugs from mommy and daddy.
And then there’s that kid — the one who elicits a chuckle from the crowd when expressing thankfulness for McDonald’s or an Xbox or Rainbow Skittles. The parents of the Skittle-lover smile and shrug with mild embarrassment while making a mental note that they should spend more time at home discussing what gratitude really is.
What is gratitude, exactly?
According to the dictionary, it's "a feeling of appreciation or thanks.” That's about it. It’s pretty simple.
But as we grow up, we’re taught what socially acceptable gratitude should look like. At bedtime, we thank God for our health, our family, our home. Around the table, we give thanks for the food we have to eat. When we see someone less fortunate than us, we take a moment to feel grateful for all that we have.
Of course there's nothing wrong with being grateful for those things. We should be grateful for those things. But I don't think those are the only things we should allow ourselves to be grateful for.
If I’m being totally honest, like Xbox kid, I’ll admit that some of the times I feel most naturally, unabashedly grateful are fairly superficial.
- I feel tremendously grateful when the traffic clears and I know I’ll get to my destination on time...
- when I bite into a warm chocolate chip cookie...
- when I put my feet into my favorite pair of fuzzy socks on a chilly day...
- when the weather is just right...
- when I get a new magazine in the mail on a boring afternoon...
- when I can get my coffee brewing with the touch of a button.
As I wrote on Facebook the other day (after spending an hour in line trying to buy one $2 item), I am so grateful for online shopping during this time of year. I really am. But when I type something like that, the guilt creeps in. Who am I to be grateful for Amazon.com when people are dying of hunger?
I’ve come to realize, though, that believing my gratitude isn’t good enough and chastising myself for my genuine feelings of gratitude just takes me farther away from the grateful existence I crave. When we put rules and regulations on how and why and when we should feel grateful, we allow gratitude to become a feeling associated with guilt rather than one inspired by true joy.
This Thanksgiving, and this year, let's focus on an all-encompassing gratitude. We can be grateful for the big stuff and the little stuff, too.
- Be grateful for your loved ones.
- Be grateful for your mom's pumpkin pie.
- Be grateful for the blessings in your life.
- Be grateful for a day off of work or school.
- Be grateful for our free country.
- Be grateful for red wine.
Over the years, we’ve all learned what to say about gratitude to get that collective "awwww." But I think McDonald’s boy deserves an "awww" as well. When we give ourselves permission to be grateful for anything and everything, we’ll let more gratitude into our lives. And that can only be a good thing.