Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Nov. 17, 2006
Thankfulness as a habit
"Thou shalt not whine."
That was the first sentence of the Kansas City Star article that caught my attention. It described how a pastor challenged his congregation to go 21 days straight - the length of time he said it takes to form a new habit - without complaining. He gave church members purple elastic wristbands and the rule that if they complained, they had to switch the bands to their other wrists and start over.
He explained, "When I was a kid, we had a lake house, and I liked to sit out and throw a rock, and the ripples from that rock would travel almost the entire cove. As one life becomes more positive, it can't help but affect all the lives around it."
The article reminded me of a southeast Kansas journalist who writes a weekly column, "Life's Little Lifesavers" in which she gives thanks for things that touch and delight her. Some examples from her column include: making toasted cheese sandwiches, waving at a good friend, passing a test, making a child feel important and listening to happy laughing in the living room.
I think of myself as a positive person. But with Thanksgiving approaching, I decided I was going to try to be even more positive, more thankful. Since I'm a "list" person, I thought it might help me to make one of some of the things I have to be thankful for. Family seemed like a good place to begin:
*Husband Art's devotion to me, sense of humor, love of family, passion for family history, ability to fix almost anything and willingness to help his children and grandchildren with math, computer, car or other problems;
*Our daughters' kind hearts, creativity, ability to laugh at themselves, willingness to help us and their grandparents with little (and big) jobs, and ability to take on an assignment and "run" with it;
*Mom's artistic ability, big heart and welcoming home only a few minutes from ours ("Do you want a cup of coffee? How about a pot pie? Sit down and relax," she tells me every time I stop by);
*My brother, sister, brothers-in-law and all their families, aunts, uncles and cousins - for all the fun, laughter and memories they've given me over the years;
*My mother-in-law Donna's feistiness, frugal nature and engagement with what's going on in the world;
*My father-in-law Ken's big heart and love of family;
*Mom's friend Stan's kindness to Mom, quirky sense of humor and ability to fit in with our family;
*Memories of those no longer with us - my first husband Jerome, Dad, mother-in-law Rita, Uncle Bud, Aunt Hazel, Aunt Ione, Uncle Art, friend Teddy
From there, I began to think about other people and things that play such a role in brightening my day:
*Our children's teachers;
*Our calico cat Cookie;
*Our home - cozy and fairly neat, but with enough clutter to show it's lived in;
*Our health and our ability to see, hear, feel, taste and touch the world around us;
*Water clean enough to drink from the tap, more than enough food, hot water, electricity and other things we sometimes take for granted;
*Freedom to express our views;
*Opportunities to travel to other countries;
*The last colors remaining on the trees and blanketing the ground and the deep blue sky on a sunny, crisp autumn day.
One day Art told me he had become aware of how often when someone asked how he was, he'd respond, "busy," because that was how he felt. But that answer prompted them to ask what was happening and he found the very act of constantly explaining burdensome. So instead, he began answering, "Can't complain - but probably will."
That reply not only injected a bit of humor, but had an unexpected benefit. He was surprised to find that by stopping his frequently reflecting on all the tasks at hand, he also felt less busy and, in turn, less tired.
My experience was a complementary one. As the list grew on the paper before me of things that made me happy, it became easier to think of more things to be thankful for. Perhaps just making the choice not to whine and to think of things that make us happy can, indeed, become habit-forming and make us feel better.