Understand Other People

Better communication through a better understanding of behavior

Nothing to Be Thankful For?

Can You Read This?

It seems to me that we are becoming more and more of a “woe is me” and “blame the other guy/gal” kind of culture. The popular radio shows, or reality TV shows, are often about people ranting and raving about this, that or the other thing. The reality TV shows would lead us to believe that most people are rude and irresponsible. It’s hard to find an uplifting show – I stick to Animal Planet these days. My particular favorite is the New Jersey guys in Las Vegas making fish tanks on “Tanked”.

It can seem like being thankful, or focusing on what’s good in our lives, is kind of out of vogue. Why aren’t we overall more grateful for the gifts we are given in our daily lives? Why do we have to stop and really think about what we can be thankful for? Many people reading this might say, “You don’t know my life. I lost my job, or my spouse is sick, or I am ill,” etc., etc. These are all real issues and they are struggles to deal with most certainly. But do you know that if you can read this, you have a lot to be thankful for? The U.S. Department of Education says that some 32 million U.S. adults lack basic prose literacy skills. They can’t read an article on Psychology Today like this one, and (perhaps more importantly) they can’t figure out what a prescription bottle is instructing them to do.

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How many things do we simply take for granted throughout our day? Are you breathing right now? Are you sitting up of your own accord? Do you have any friends, family members, or pets in your life? Do you have interests, hobbies, or a talent? Are you able to earn some sort of income? Do you live in a country that provides some sort of support to its residents?

 It’s amazing to me when I listen to people talk about their “bad day” what that really means to them. It can mean they were stuck in traffic, or late to a meeting, or had a child become unexpectedly sick so they had to stay home from work. A bad day could be when someone rear-ended your car, or you forgot about a project deadline or you were just plain bored! All of us can get so focused on what’s wrong, what we don’t want, that we forget the things going on around us that are gifts and blessings.

What if we all got into the habit of making one day a week our “Thank you!” day? Irrespective of your religious view, you can offer the universe a thank you for the blessings. When my children were younger we used to keep a “Thank you” box on the counter. Each person, adults included, had to write at least one slip a day about something they were thankful for. The box was full at the end of the week, and we all enjoyed sitting and reading the things we had put in there. Hearing what someone else was thankful for was always interesting, because it would point out things throughout the week someone else had missed. Oftentimes someone was thankful to another person in the family for something, and the process of reading the slips out loud always made the person being acknowledged feel good about what they’d done.

Try setting a day aside this week as your thankful day. The rules are as follows:

  1. Every time you catch yourself about to complain about anything, stop and find something you are thankful for instead. Turn attention and energy you are about to invest in a negative manner into something that is more positive instead. As many times as you can, do it right in the moment.
  2. Write down the things you are thankful for so that you develop a running list. Set a minimum target of five things you can find in any given day. They can be as big or as small as you’d like. Just make sure they are things you are genuinely happy for.
  3. Become more aware of things around you – the “simple” things like sunlight, music, silence, or a friendly face. Be really attuned to the world at large as you search for things. You will gain two things, an increased awareness of your surroundings along with some things to be thankful for.
  4. As a practice, try saying out loud, “Thank you for _____.” Even if you don’t believe in a greater deity, the practice of hearing yourself say “thanks” out loud to yourself can be an uplifting experience.
  5. Keep your thankful lists in a folder (online or hard copy). Take them out and review them whenever you need a reminder of the good things in your life, or an emotional shot for the day.

Being thankful can sound so simply and so easy. In my experience, most of us don’t do it as often as we should. Look at how easy it is to make a complaint list – we don’t need a blog to tell us how to do that! Try at least one thankful day this week.

Beverly D. Flaxington teaches at Suffolk University.

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