Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Blessings: Appreciating What You Have

As the calendar turns to Thanksgiving this week, it seems a good time to reflect on the blessings, people, and things we have in our lives, as well as being grateful for the bad stuff we don't have. Thornton Wilder wrote "We are most alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." Too often, I see people take the special people in their lives for granted, not realizing the true value of those closest to them.

In his book,"How to Want What You Have: Discovering the Magic and Grandeur of Ordinary Existence" (Holt and Company,1995), therapist Timothy Miller does a brillant job of illuminating the grass is greener sort of longing that many people have, assuming that some other path taken in life would be more satisfying. Many people make the mistake of thinking, "If I just had this, life would be perfect."

Wanting what you have, and seeing the goodness in it is the surest way to create satisfaction, contentment, and joy. As Miller suggests, daily practice of compassion, attention, and gratitude is the surest way to be content.We all will do better at this some days than others, and that's okay. Contentment and happiness are not steady states of being. It is in cultivating the daily habits of compassion, attention, and gratitude that we become better at creating a receptiveness for appreciating the little joys of daily life.

It is a mistake to tell ourselves that we will be happy when....(we finish college, get married, get our dream job, have a certain amount of money, have children, get the house we want, get divorced, or move someplace else, etc.). It's elusive. Wherever you go, there you are, so we need to be able to enjoy now as an incredible gift, making the most of each day and each interaction. We want to keep a keen awareness of how good it is to love others, to be loved, to feel strong and healthy, to enjoy sunsets and nature, to appreciate art and music, and all the other little things that make life worth living. Loving life is in the details of our ordinary days.

Miller points out, wisely, that the desire for more often does harm. It does indeed. I have worked with a number of individuals in counseling over the years who really regreted losing something precious, like a relationship, because they didn't realize how valuable it was. Sometimes people put what is most important in their lives at risk in order to have something they falsely believe is more or different. Note how many celebrities are successful in their careers, but unsuccessful as partners or parents.

Focusing on identifying non-compassionate thoughts, about yourself and others, and replacing them with compassionate ones is a good start in cultivating more contentment. Next, act compassionately. Move away from the judgement of others. It is not your job, and it will not bring you inner peace. Be as attentive as possible to others, and be observant of yourself. Finally, practice living in reverence and gratitude. Express your gratitude to others.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to refocus ourselves on what is most important. Don't miss an opportunity to tell someone close to you this week what you love or appreciate about them. Contentment has a great deal to do with being here now, and recognizing goodness, beauty, support, and love. If you want to truly prepare your heart for Thanksgiving, and feel really blessed, consider all the gifts that you have in your life that money cannot buy. I have a number of people in my life that I feel blessed to be close to, and then there are those two crazy golden retrievers who are pretty wonderful, too.

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