As I scribble down endless to-do lists (really you guys should see the pages in my notebook) and prepare our home for guests tomorrow and draft up blog posts with Black Friday deals I get the sweetest little reminder to slow down - a strong kick from baby boy/girl followed by a little dance before he/she settles down again. I've somehow reached a spot in life where I have so many obvious things to be thankful for - heck it makes it easy to be thankful - a good job, an amazing husband, an awesome daughter and another beautiful life anxious to make its debut. It's almost safe to say that anybody could be thankful in a situation like my current one. But that's not what this post is about. This post is about before all of this happened, before it felt like I had won the lottery, before it felt like there was anything to be thankful for. This post is about searching for the light and always finding a reason to give thanks no matter how hard things seem to be, and I hope by sharing a bit of my life and some tips for practicing thanksgiving we can all remember to be a bit more thankful every day of the year.
Giving thanks boils down to having perspective. Although it felt like a curse at the time, I was blessed with perspective from a very young age. At various points in my life I've had family members murdered - as a result of gang violence or domestic violence - five family members to be exact, not including more distant relatives I never really got to know. My abuela, the woman who practically raised me, suffered a massive stroke unexpectedly, and just like that she didn't know who I was. Me, her Laurita. Gone. Even in high school, as petty as it sounded, I got tangled up with the wrong crowd and was getting into fights and lots of trouble, and I had friends that got shot or stabbed or did the shooting or stabbing and went to jail or lost their lives. My boyfriend of 7 years was a manipulative and controlling person who cheated on me who knows how many times. And as much as I would give to have those family members back or to have a high school experience that involved fully-funded SAT prep courses and trips to Paris or an understanding boyfriend instead, the perspective that they gave me has value that could never be measured. When things have been rough, it's hard to stress over things that don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. But it's hard to know what really matters in the grand scheme of things if you don't get the grand scheme. If you don't realize that life is never promised, if you don't know that we're not guaranteed any time on this Earth, and the time we do have sure isn't guaranteed to be all flowers and sparkles.
We have to work for our happiness, and constantly practice being thankful, searching for things that we do have instead of what we don't. Just like practicing the piano or learning how to do something for the first time, we have to actively work on being thankful before it can become second nature. I would never wish for tragedy or hard times to come upon anyone, although sometimes these are the best ways to reset our perspective and remind us to be thankful. But even after these many people tend to forget - how many funerals or hospital trips have you been to when family finally comes together and vow to do so more often, only to fall back into their regular routine of not talking within months? I get it, life gets busy. And now more than ever, with a real family of my own and a job and a house and responsibilities, I get it. But we should never be too busy to remember to practice giving thanks and to let it be known that we are thankful to whomever it may be.
Here are a few ways we can practice being more thankful:
- Keep a gratitude log. This sounds really corny, but I try every day, or at least after a particularly good day, to jot down those memories. It can literally be a text from N that made me smile from ear-to-ear, or something adorable that Liv said, or something a patient confided in me, but I have a running list on my notes app in my iPhone that I keep. And I go back through it all of the time, particularly at times when I'm upset or down. Maybe it's a protective mechanism some of us have built into our systems, but we tend to keep a mental tally of the bad things people do instead of the good things - these for some reason are more easily forgotten. Don't allow yourself to forget these things, these are what you want to fill your heart with.
- Mind full or mindful - pick the latter. With our minds always running at a mile a minute and so much on our plates it's easy to feel frazzled and not notice any of the good things that happen. Practice being mindful when you can. During a busy commute on the train take your face out of your phone and actually look up - and maybe you'll notice the teen who gets up to offer an older lady his seat, or the woman who put her grocery bags down to help another woman get her stroller on the train. I don't know about you but this always makes me happy. Sure, there may also be little sh**head high schoolers in the back making a scene, but part of practicing mindfulness is purposefully choosing what to focus on.
- Tell someone. If you appreciate what they did for you, or do for you, whether it be your mother or your boyfriend or just the guy bagging your groceries, tell them thank you. And mean it. We don't have a cap on the number of thank you's we can hand out throughout the day, there's an infinite supply, and there's no shame in giving them. For the strangers it's always a nice gesture, an act that will only make them more likely to continue doing whatever good you're thanking them for in the first place. And for the people who truly mean a lot to you it can mean everything. There is nothing worse than questioning whether or not you are appreciated. Than questioning whether or not someone even noticed. Try your hardest to never let someone feel that way around you.
- You don't have to, you get to. I remember reading this somewhere (and of course I have no idea where) so I can't take any credit for it, but what a powerful tiny switch up to how we go about our day. You have to go to class, you have to go to work, you have to pick up these things from Target, you have to buy the kids presents, have to, have to, have to. How about you get to? Because not everyone can? You get to go to class, and get an education. You get to go to work, and make money and provide for your family. You get to go to Target and pick up necessities (and probably $100 extra of things you didn't really need). You get to.
- Give it back. Although our schedules sometimes make this one the hardest to carry out, giving back doesn't always have to mean volunteering a day at the homeless shelter or organizing a toy drive (although these are amazing things that if you can work into your schedule, do it)! Sometimes it can be as simple as holding the door for someone or stopping your car in busy traffic to let a poor car in the other lane make their left turn. One of my favorite things to do is picking up the little snack a person has in line behind me in the hospital cafeteria - as residents we get a meal card that is automatically loaded with money each month, and although I don't do it all the time it's always nice to just buy the drink for the patient transport tech standing in line behind you. It's like a dollar, but it's just the random act of kindness that goes so far - for both parties. (I'm also incredibly privileged to be able give back to you guys my readers, in the form of these huge giveaways, three random winners will be selected tomorrow just in time for Thanksgiving)!
How do you guys practice thankfulness? I hope some of these tips can help you make it a more regular part of your everyday life and help in switching your perspective. Here's to a happier and healthier you and a wonderful Thanksgiving!!