I’ll confess. I have a gratitude gremlin.
As soon as i hear the words “gratitude journal” or attitude of gratitude” I wince. Maybe it’s the result of being in the world of personal growth for too long, maybe it’s my own cynicism, maybe I’m just crabby.
But something about this stuff kicks up the critical voices in me. “You’re not grateful enough. If only you were more grateful. Quit your complaining. You have so much to be grateful for…”
Feel free to psychoanalyze me. I know some of these voices are of the old, scolding, parental variety. They have become so much a part of me I can hardly escape them and I usually forget they aren’t true.
They are simply another way I have invented to beat myself up. Can I get an amen?
For those of you who don’t know me, let me be clear: I think practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful things we can do. It gives us power and joy. It gives us a feeling of abundance. It is a practice that can turn your life around. For most people the gratitude journal works like a charm! But me? I need another way in. The traditional lists of what I am grateful for don’t work for me. The gratitude journal feels strange, like I am trying to look on the bright side and discount the way I am really feeling. It can feel inauthentic.
My Birthday Ritual
I am turning 40 next week. To celebrate this huge milestone, I decided to do a personal ritual, something powerful for the 40 days leading up to my birthday. Inspired by the book 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life, I settled on giving something away every day for 40 days. It could be a material gift, a thank you note, a genuine smile… the only rule is that it has to be a conscious give. And then I recorded what happened at the end of each day.
I wrote thank you notes.
I gave big tips.
I consciously let people ahead of me in traffic.
I bought two loaves of olive bread and kept my eyes peeled for the lucky recipient of the second loaf.
I took friends out to lunch.
I mailed a friend a skirt I knew she’d love.
I made brownies for all the neighbors.
I mailed a friend of photo of herself laughing that I had taken years ago.
This practice has been transforming.
What it gave me
It has reminded me of my kind heart, my generous spirit, and the abundance of my life. It has reminded me that I have SO much to give every day and that there is no greater joy than delighting others. It has trained me to look for opportunities to give and it has opened me up to receiving with even more joy and openness.
The other day as I walked up to our local produce market, a man had two bouquets of marigolds in this cart. The bright orangey yellow made me gasp in delight and I complimented him on his choice. In my mind’s eye, I saw him handing me one of the bouquets and saying, “You should have this. This one is for you…” swept up in the moment. He didn’t. Wouldn’t that have been perfect if he did?
But I walked away smiling at the thought, knowing that this would be my next give and loving the innocent way I expected him to give to me. That is what gratitude does. This is how giving opens our heart.