You Don’t Have to Feel Thankful to Be Thankful

Polish Pottery by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art

When you’re pregnant, it seems as if everyone around you, including men, is pregnant as well.

Well, we’re not pregnant (breathe, mom; we’ve honestly stopped at four), but we do look around us and see a number of people in a boat similar to ours — small, leaky, missing an oar, but boldly and valiantly moving forward.

Despite the newspapers announcing that the Great Recession is over, and has been for three years (funny they didn’t mention that in the throes of the presidential election), lots of people are dealing with unusual job situations, wondering just what there is to be thankful about this Thanksgiving.

A lot, actually, as I am learning from my friend, the Feisty One, whose family has been going through the job loss, job search, out of ideas, and hanging on by the fingernails process of living through these Post Great Recession times. We get together regularly for dinners of soup and bread; she expressed at last week’s dinner that they were blessed with food, family, and friends; the only thing they didn’t have much of these days was money.

Feisty One, who has significant experience under her belt of things working out at the last minute, God knows how — and I really mean it, God knows how – went on to muse about this gratitude thing, not because Thanksgiving is coming up and this is the officially sanctioned national observance of being collectively thankful, but because she, like me, relies upon the aforementioned God for the next breath, not to mention hope and direction.

Elliot Bay by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art

And this particular God encourages us to be thankful in all things, even the bad ones.

“I do it,” she told me, “but I don’t feel thankful.”

In one of those flashes of inspiration that comes out of nowhere and makes you feel like a genius indeed, I blurted out, “But you don’t have to feel thankful to be thankful.

“When you write a thank you note for an atrocious wedding gift from Aunt Sally, you don’t have to love the ticky-tacky myrtle wood cake plate with the plastic purple domed cover shaped like a Chihuahua head — you only have to express your gratitude for her giving it to you.”

It is an odd person indeed who could generate the same feelings of joy about a pink slip as he could about 100 pieces of green, Benjamin Franklin paper, and frankly, I do not want to be stuck near this person, at a party, against the wall, no matter how many times the waiter with the round tray of glasses comes by.

But it is a different person who realizes that though life down here is not perfect and never will be, there is always something to be thankful for, if nothing more than that things could always be worse. By cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude — which, I know, sounds like a cheesy workplace seminar title — one can tumble out of bed, walk through the day, and make it to the sofa that night without being an angry, bitter, fearful, discouraged, vitriolic battery drainer.

To this end, I have been training myself through the years to be thankful for 10 or so things each day, one of which is perceived to be negative. Generally I do this during my nightly bath, as opposed to spending the soak time drowned in self-absorption, and, because I believe in God, I address my thank yous to Him.

Ascension by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art

I try to avoid the grandiose: “Thank you that I was born in this country,” “Thank you for life,” “Thank you for You,” — because those are so big that they are incomprehensible. However, since life’s annoyances and joys are both tied up in the little things, I challenge myself by being thankful for those.

“Thank you that we unexpectedly discovered that roll of toilet paper in the trunk of the car.”

“Thank you that the cat caught a mouse and I did not step on the uneaten entrails left on the porch.”

“Thank you that I have three — three! — books to read from the library.”

“Thank you that I have enough leftover sock yarn in the box to make a pair of socks.”

Trivial? Yes.

Unimportant? No.

Exercising your mind is as much of a discipline as exercising your body, and the more I focus on expressing gratitude, the easier I find it to actually be — and feel — grateful.

It is hard to feel grateful for the unconventional road, sudden change, hard work that doesn’t promise immediate results, even discouragement, but one doesn’t have to feel thankful to express thanks. We know from experience that good things come from bad, and that during those bad times we grow closest to one another, simply because we need each other to get through it.

Thank you, God, that it’s in Your hands. And thank you for the next breath.

Mountain Lake by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art

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About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. In addition to her This Woman Writes blog, Carolyn writes a regular art column for FineArtNews, an online newsletter for artists and art collectors.
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12 Responses to You Don’t Have to Feel Thankful to Be Thankful

  1. tina filbert says:

    oh, thank YOU, dearie. i concur.
    i have an acquaintance who periodically sends out email ‘gratitude lists’. tho’ they are her personal experiences, i glean things from hers, take notes sometimes, and find it a very positive encouragement. [no, i have yet to actually do it myself ; ) i do however revel in noticing things on the spot to express my inward gratitude for]. lovely blog, and im so glad that you shared it with us.
    as always, you gave me a LOL- “frankly, I do not want to be stuck near this person, at a party, against the wall, no matter how many times the waiter with the round tray of glasses comes by.” =D

    • We attended a church once whose pastor’s motto was, “Whatever works.” This is in line with C.S. Lewis’ advice, “If what I say makes sense for you, then this is good; if not, feel free to let it go and move on.” — something like that — he said it far more eloquently than I.

      Your friend’s gratitude list works for her. If it fully clicked and worked for you, integrating itself into who you are, then you would be able to fit it into your lifestyle seamlessly. But what does work for you appears to be the on-the-spot gratification. To be grateful at any time, throughout the day, is a good thing indeed.

      I am glad that you had an LOL moment — this makes me smile with the feeling of sweet success.

      What an incredible gift laughter is!

  2. tina filbert says:

    i saw this great quote today on fb’s ‘the art of aging’:
    “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” ~ G. K. Chesterton

    • An excellent quote by Mr. Chesterton.

      What is so amazing about gratitude is that true happiness is unachievable without it. And yet with it, one is pulled and pushed and prodded, step by step, toward a state of contentment and well being.

      And this doesn’t cost money.

  3. Anya says:

    When I forget to be thankkful and feel the chains of self-pity tightening around me, I think this thought: “Thirty years from now, I may look back at this time as the happiest time in my life. I may regret then that I didn’t appreciate it so much while I was living it.” That usually helps 🙂

    Ultimately it seems that thankfulness is a state of mind, like you suggested, and a very healthy state to strive to achieve. You may have nothing and still be thankful, or have everything, by the world’s standards, and still want more. The key is that when you’re thankful, you ARE experiencing those two states that G.K.Chersterton so eloquently revealed: happiness and wonder.

    • I like this — putting things into perspective always helps.

      It is amazing how our default is set toward grumbling, and we have to work so hard to be happy — in one of the wealthiest cultures not only in the world, but within the realms of history!

      Contentment — one of those gifts at the top of the list.

  4. Anya says:

    Incidentally, I too was inspired to write about living with less this season, here: http://interpretartistmama.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/treading-below-the-line/

  5. tina filbert says:

    ah, anya honey. we too, briefly as young marrieds had to have some assistance when my husband was injured in construction and could not work. it was very humiliating, and hard, but necessary. your blog brought it all back.
    i just wanted to say, yes, you will look back and remember your young family’s early years as one of the most precious times of your life. you are very wise to have the insight to foresee this.
    hopefully i taught my children to find gems of thanksgiving and gratefulness in the many varied parts of our days and lives. raising 6 children on one income, money was ALWAYS very tight, but we worked around it, and were and are, still very happy. it is a fact that money does not equate beauty or happiness. that in turn has fostered creativity which also feeds the soul.
    blessings to you and yours.

    • Humiliation is such a lowering experience, so much so that it sears into our consciousness and never really leaves, thereby granting us the ability to be humble. It’s yet again one of those examples of good things coming out of bad.

      Your family sounds close and noisy and fun and warm and wonderful — what an incredible success you and your husband are!

      Happy happy Thanksgiving.

  6. Randomlystrange says:

    Very well said. If anything, these hard times serve as a way to humble people out of their consumerism driven lifestyles and remind us of what’s actually important in life.
    Very well written.

    • Thank you. Hard times are never easy, but we never grow out of our complacency unless we go through them.

      This country is full of incredible, imaginative, creative, wonderful people — but we’re also getting very very spoiled with the many things that we have or think we ought to have, and our creativity and energy is being compromised and weakened.

      On a personal basis, this Great Recession thing isn’t fun at all, but I hope that it is having a similar effect on other hurting people, making them look twice at their lives and encouraging them to go for the real things, not the substitutes.

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