Gratitude Is in Plain Sight

By Melissa Stefanec

American Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

It gives me a chance to combine two of life’s most wonderful things—gratitude and gravy. One of the times I am most thankful is when I have the privilege of dousing an entire plate of food in gravy. It’s the little things that make life worth living.

Gratitude. The word of the season is a trendy concept these days. One can hardly shop without seeing the commercialization of gratitude. It has taken up residence on notebooks, candles and wooden plaques. The G-word is everywhere and often sporting a calligraphy suit. The corporate fat cats want us to believe that we can cut corners on the path to gratitude. All we have to do is plaster our homes with some gratitude street preachers.

No notebook can teach us how to be grateful. Instead, we need to convince ourselves to be grateful for the beautiful privilege of owning a notebook in which to write in. We need to be thankful for all of the small things in life that are true blessings.

We all know that’s easier said than done.

One of the aspects of parenting I’ve found most difficult is raising my kids to be grateful. I know the best way to do that is to demonstrate gratitude in my daily life. My family lives a truly blessed life, but having the mental maturity to accept that is difficult; radiating that gratitude is even harder.

What are my kids thankful for?

Recently, I asked my kids what they are thankful for. I wanted to hear their thoughts about gratitude. I expected them to quickly list things like family and friends and then diverge into hoverboards and tablets. To be frank, I kind of expected them to say the proper thing and then move onto the superficial stuff that they indulge in.

However, that didn’t happen. When I asked my kids what they were grateful for, they quickly listed family and our pets. They didn’t stop there. Their lists never diverged to stuff. As I listened to them, I came to a beautiful realization: my kids understood being grateful much better than I had anticipated. In a way, they understood it better than I did.

My kids listed things like food, cotton candy ice cream, books, friends, our outdoor fire pit and our neighbors. They also listed things like flowers, shade underneath a tree, white puffy clouds, swimming, exercise and glasses of ice-cold water.

What is my husband thankful for?

I was pleasantly surprised by how well my kids understood what to be thankful for. So, I moved on to my husband. When I asked him what he was thankful for, his list had many of the same things. He said he is grateful for fall colors and pumpkins and the salmon run. He was thankful for healthcare and good jobs. He is thankful to have kids who light up the room and are open to trying new things. He is thankful to live near so many beautiful state parks. He is thankful for his band and for friends with whom he can be himself. He is thankful for me and everything I do to keep our lives running smoothly.

What did I learn?

As I listened to all of the beautiful things that made my family feel gratitude, I had a moment of intense realization—the very best things in our lives are the things that are at our fingertips every single day.
All too often, we look forward to the next big thing. We look forward to the weekends, the vacations, the parties and the events. Meanwhile, there are many days when the things that make our lives worth living don’t even make it on our radar.
As a parent, how many times have you raced to a practice or school drop-off and ignored the artistry of fall leaves? How many times have you spent an evening in an urgent care cursing your bad luck instead of being thankful for your access to quality healthcare? How many times have you ignored your pet’s request for affection so that you could squeeze in one more chore before work? When’s the last time you paused and let yourself enjoy the intense pleasure of a glass of ice-cold water?
Sure, vacations, parties and fun events make us happy. But they don’t always make us grateful. After a big event is over, the fleeting happiness doesn’t get us very far and instead of being grateful for what passed, we start chasing the next big thing.

Finding tiny gratitudes in plain sight

What if I could take a lesson from my kids and chase the next tiny happiness? What if I could find gratitude hidden in the complexity of a fall mum? What if I could pause long enough to appreciate the softness of my cat’s cheek? What if I could get insanely happy about my son mispronouncing arithmetic for the 15th, adorable time? What if I belly laughed at my daughter trying to assemble a list of lame Dad jokes? What if I gave myself permission to get giddy about all of the red hairs in my black-haired husband’s beard? What if I felt special when a family member called to share something completely silly and boring with me?
If I could do all these things, I would be more grateful for my beautiful, blessed life. And, just maybe, I would radiate the kind of gratitude that actually teaches my kids something. As we approach Thanksgiving, it can’t hurt to pause and give thanks. I’ll start with savoring some gravy.