In tough times, my buddy Pete says, “Make a list.”
The first time he said this, I was all “Yeah! Let’s make an ass-kicking list!”
Pete looked at me over the top of his glasses and his tattoos, like I was a young student who had totally missed the point of an hour-long lesson.
“A Gratitude List,” he said slowly and deliberately. “A list of people and things you are grateful for right now. Do it. Don’t wait. Do it today.”
I grumbled a bit. I was used to seeing people with their daily gratitude lists on Facebook and other places. Some of those litanies struck me as boasting, and I wasn’t much interested in doing that in a public space.
“It’s not bragging. You don’t have to post it anywhere,” said Pete. “Just make the list.”
So I did. I took a pen and wrote in my notebook: 10 people and things I’m grateful for. And here’s the funny thing: in a dark time, it worked just like sunlight. My entire mood changed. My troubles got smaller, and like old Mr. Grinch, I felt my heart grow bigger.
I never showed that list to anyone, but I didn’t need to show it to anyone. Gratitude doesn’t always have to be public in order for it to work. Private gratitude has a kick to it as well. What’s key here is that you can feel the warmth of the sun’s rays.
And thus started my private habit. Before going to bed, upon waking up in the morning, and at random times throughout the day, I find myself adding to the list. Some things are big, and some are small. Just the act of saying and feeling those grateful words? That’s enough, most days.
Often, the dog is my only audience. I tell him, and I add him to the list. Every morning, I say to my red 10-pound fluff-ball, “I’m so grateful to wake up and find your warm little body tucked by my side. Thank you.” This, I suppose, would be better to say to a girlfriend, but sometimes you have to appreciate what’s in front of you while you work for the future. (Plus, I remember that a girlfriend will talk back and further complicate this simple relationship. There are plusses to the dog life.)
Why am I telling you this? Because we know gratitude is important and “the secret to joy” (thanks, Anne Lamott!) but it’s key to remember that gratitude is a habit to cultivate. And, like many habits, it’s better to practice it daily.
See, it’s almost Thanksgiving and we’re about to see a bevy of thankful posts and effusive gratitude. But being thankful doesn’t have to be a once a year concentration. That would be like loving only on Valentine’s Day: sad.
Luckily, we have Anne Lamott here to give us more guidance. She writes, “Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into our behavior.” She also reminds us about adopting new qualities: “I have to create the habit, just as I had to do with daily writing, and flossing.”
Create the habit. Think about that for a moment. We create habits for exercise and nutrition and health, so of course we need to create the habit of gratitude. And the really cool thing? None of us has to wait to start.
Create a list right now: 5 people or things you’re grateful for in your life.
Think about why. You don’t have to post the list. You don’t have to tell it to anyone. But you have to believe what you write, because that’s the magic sauce, the switch that turns on the light. No BS here. Remember, when you’re only talking to yourself, there’s no need to equivocate or shade or evade. Be honest.
Create the habit because Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a once a year event. Sure, the act of overindulging on turkey and stuffing and pie can be once a year, but not the act of giving thanks. You could be giving thanks every day of your life. It’s a brilliant and simple habit that can change everything. And the beauty is that you can start creating that habit right now. Look down: the dog is waiting.