In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I pulled the gratitude chapter right out of my own book (literally) to open up about the significance of being grateful and, how it can make the biggest difference if living a fulfilled life, not just during the holidays..but 365 days a year!
Gratitude, My New Attitude
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”—Melody Beattie
Here in the US of A, we traditionally identify the start of the holidays as Thanksgiving Day, an annual celebration for the blessings of the past year that occurs on the fourth Thursday of every November. For many families, the preparation often starts weeks before the big day arrives and, as it approaches, it causes everyone involved in planning to stress. Planes, trains, and automobiles are revving their engines. The kids, away at university, are booking flights for a cross-country journey to the homeland. Mom and dad foot the bill because, god knows, most college kids are broke. Cousins are loading up their cars and plunging the oil to make the four-hour drive from Southern California to Nevada.
Meanwhile, back in the old nest egg, grandma takes cooking matters into her own hands and prepares a very traditional combination of hers. Rice and beans we all love of course, among other things, but who says rice and beans don’t go well with turkey, cranberry, and yams? Aunts and uncles are in town, busy getting their own meals planned for their respective spouse’s family. Two Thanksgivings! Mmmm. The conversations about thankfulness are at an all-time high. However, for me, during this most precious time, the conversations were lame. The day was just another reason to eat a lot of well-cooked savory food that I took no part in helping make. So, more or less, it was another food and football day. Ugh…the Cowboys and Lions. At least I’ll be somewhat entertained.
“Manny, are you coming to join us for Thanksgiving?” asks my grandma days before.
“Yes, I’ll be there…”
“OK. We’ll see you Thursday, then.” End conversation.
But wait a second…
Shouldn’t I be excited about getting to spend time with Aunt Lucy, Cousin Andrea, and Uncle Gabe, Grandma? Shouldn’t I be more involved in preparing the cranberry, the ham and turkey, and the homemade fruit salad? Or am I the grandson, the son, the cousin, the nephew, that just shows up with his hands out, ready to eat his two full plates when they are put on the table and served to him? Gimme gimme gimme.
I hadn’t been involved in the joyful process of appreciation until now. I had been more concerned with how shitty it was that I had to work that night, when I should have been grateful that I had a job. How I was jealous of friends, because they had deeper relationships with their families, and more connected in love than I was, when I should have been grateful I had a family. I distanced myself as far as I could from feeling the love; it was my wrongdoing. The meaning I applied to the Thanksgiving holiday and to life was take-take-take…and then everything was taken from me. I would always think, what can I take from this? I was an ungrateful SOB. I am not surprised I endured all the misfortune and loss over the years.
I was in a terrible state of gratitude for as far back as I could remember. Not because I wasn’t taught the right way; in fact I was. But I chose to be the punk I was because it was a numbing mechanism. I wanted to be the victim, the one everyone felt sorry for. Plain and simple, I just expected to receive without giving. Hands open, fingers motioning back in my direction. Even though I would say thank you, did I really understand the larger picture of thanks? I should have been chomping at the bit to share precious time with my family. It would have been the perfect time, year after year after year, to stand with Grandma and ask her questions about the dishes she prepared. It was a perfect time to talk with my uncle about his golf game and genuinely care about his progress, or even sit with my cousin Teri, who I was lucky to get a word in with when she walked in the door (only to have no further conversation with her over the course of the night). At most, it was “Hey, how have you been?” Umm, that’s not sufficient Manny. I was underestimating the value of the abundance I had in my life right in front of me. Every single day, there is an opportunity to express thanks. Just make the phone call, write and send the letter, tell your dad you love him. It’s easy, but I was always thinking about what I didn’t have, and that robbed me of my soul and my spirit.
Gratitude is a state of being…or not being, if you aren’t aware. And we are human beings, so live gracefully!
Thanksgiving is about human connection. After all, isn’t all of life supposed to be that way? Why did we get pushed into the idea that thankfulness is only appropriate to express on Thanksgiving? What about the other 364 days of the year? For those of you who walk around with your head high in appreciation, the world needs more of you. Teach your peers to be the same. And, in time, the world will become more lovable. I assure you, the ones who have mastered the skill of grace live the most fulfilled lives, every day.
When I decided to reflect deep into the ugly years of my life, I was able to identify all the points of selfishness that got me through so many holidays and the remaining calendar days as well, very unhealthily.
Let’s take a peek at some lame stories that were apparent in my life.
I was too busy with partying and chasing chicks. This got in the way of my everyday chance to be more appreciative. I was once again working from habit. We are so naturally overwhelmed with phones, TV, work, meetings, kids, girlfriends, boyfriends, and aimless wandering, that it’s easy to overlook, and set aside a time each day and night, to take some time for yourself and think about how wonderful your life really is. Guilty here.
I was becoming lazy in my efforts. Life was just drifting, like a directionless boat in the middle of the ocean. I was suffering, but dealing with it every day made me believe this way of approaching my life was OK. Not so true. I was living in my box house, driving to work in my box car, taking the box elevator up the tower, sitting at a box desk…everything was a box in my world. Sure, I just went along with it. What I should have been doing was stepping out into nature, watching the trees grow leaves, taking a swim in the local manmade lake that was constructed decades ago, watching the moon fall behind the clouds just before the rain comes pouring down. This is life, and it was designed to be understood, and not simply walked on. We are creatures of the earth. Do you have any idea how truly blessed we are to live in a land of prosperity?
FAILURE AND RESPONSIBILITY
The mountain of my tragedy and loss was tall. I had failed several times. I was in a poor mental state and, as a result, I didn’t look at what I did have to break me out of my funk. Gratitude is an emotion. If it is not used appropriately, then brace yourself for less than the average amount of feel-good moments. I was blaming other people, places, and things. I was always engaged in the complainer conversation, either listening to or telling my victimized story.
Yeah. Yeah..no, this was the real deal. I had to shake things up or my happiness was going to be interfered with. I wasn’t willing to accept that anymore. OK. So how did I turn this attitude around and start to welcome more grace into my life? Well, I started with a gratitude journal. And I wrote down everything that I was grateful for in my life.
- the love of my family
- my friendships
- my health
- my job
- my home
- my life
- my freedom
- my faith in myself
- the money I earn
- my ability to serve others
- my ability to make choices
And the list goes on. When you write these down and you read them aloud, it is impossible to live in a suffering state. You can deliberately cultivate an attitude of gratitude by spaced repetition or emotional impact, attaching it to something that moves you by way of the heart. Studies say “gratitude is affiliated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy for others.” This is exactly what I was missing from all of my interactions. I created a new discipline. I would now wake up every morning, read off my list, and talk about the things I was grateful for. I do the same thing at night before I go to bed.
It became a pleasure to compliment my family, every last one of them, on something they did well—if they looked good, smelled good, or made a great effort but failed. Done. They had my appreciative support. It was a big step to open up and tell my cousin how much I loved her and that I was thankful for our years growing up. I was setting aside the past. This wasn’t just a deliberate change with my family. It was with everyone, every living soul. It was such a good feeling to truly and deeply feel the meaning of thank you when I was using it with the right intentions. This shit sounds so basic, but for me, it was not so easy.
The next step was “OMG” rough. I had to go barreling back in time, where the heartbreak from my relationships left me shattered in a million pieces. I had to confront the harsh truth that I had lost several businesses because of my faults. I had to check in with myself about ruining my baseball career because I was blacking out drunk the night before we were supposed to be on the bus, traveling to a nearby city for a big conference game. The goal was to find the good in all of it and repair the wounds. I felt like I was going to war with myself. I had to stay optimistic and realize that this was good, not painful, no matter how bad it had actually hurt years before.
For example, years ago I went to visit my ex-girlfriend’s family in the Midwest for the first time. It was my first time to that part of the country, and it was yet another holiday. This time, it was Christmas. “Manny,” she said, “My family gets a bit wild for this Christmas party we have, but it’s a lot of fun! We always have a great time.” You better believe I was well prepped on “what the family was like” on their home turf for this particular trip. During the car ride in from the airport, her mother was again forewarning me that I would be walking into something I had never seen before. I was just fine and playing it cool. I was more terrified about holding my shit together than anything else.
You know that feeling when you go to stay at your significant other’s parents’ place for the first time?
“Fuck me, it’s nerve-racking, but just behave! Be your best.”
“Thank you, ma’am. No sir, I appreciate it, with every sentence!”
“We cook, we dance, we hot tub, we smoke cigars, we make all kinds of wild drinks!” They told me.
“Drinks? Now you’re speaking my language!” I was thinking.
I was an unidentified boozing alcoholic! Oh, lord. The family was a great group of people, every one of them very loving. I had a blast until it was time to pack up and come home.
“Ah, Southwest just confirmed our flight was canceled.”
“Canceled? How the hell am I going to get home?” I thought with anger.
The snow from the night before blanketed the airport runways. Oh my God. This was the first time I had to deal with the pressure of a canceled flight. I was stressing because Southwest Airlines never lets me down. I had to be at work the next night, and I wasn’t going to make it back on time. And I sure didn’t want to miss the days because I was missing out on money, and I was still borderline broke.
“I think I am going to stay here a few extra days and spend time with my family,” she says to me.
The hell you are woman! I didn’t have the balls to say it like that, but sure I was thinking it. But why not stay in her case? Remember that love I mentioned about her way back when; yeah, they figured this part out about life way before I did. This idea I was having no part of.
I said, “You’re going to leave me to stay here with them? That’s so selfish!”
I had to drive to Wichita, hours away, to catch a flight, through the slick-ass ice in a rental car to make it home on time, and she joined me against her will. My verbal abuse was disturbing; she was hurt. I thought, “OK, I am happy. I got my way. I stayed in control. I am not being chosen over the family.” That was something I had to deal with. The envy, jealousy, and fear consumed me. I loved this one, and I didn’t want to feel like I was at risk of losing her…to her own family…yuck. I was so reversed in my thinking, but I didn’t know any better. As you could imagine, the ride down to the airport and the flight were miserable. We could feel the terrible energy ripping us apart through every calculated mile on the ground and in the air. Why? Because, once again, I was unaware of how to appreciate what I had right in front of me. We ended up fighting for several days after, and I ruined her Christmas, again.
How could I go back into every individual scenario like this one and repair the damage?
I had to go through and take out all of the positives. In that trip, there were 99 percent positives. I’ll take those numbers any day. I dropped the resentment, because I looked at the love, the friendships, the smiles, the laughs, nature—hell, I was chopping wood out back with her grandmother. How awesome it was that this woman, in her later years, was chopping wood. Gosh, there is just so damn much to be grateful for in life. And I am thankful for every experience I’ve had, good or bad, because I know how to apply the right meaning to them now.
Healing requires a trip back in time to breakdown the rough patches and find what good can be preserved. There is much to learn about both yourself and others in the process. We are, as a human race, all the same. Although our experiences are different, we share the same life-form that our family and friends do. We even share the same life-form that complete strangers do. But how beautiful is it that we are all connected to the same energy, and that we can, literally, choose? So, maintain a state of gratitude by taking simple action—the attitude of gratitude starting point.
1. You can never say enough thanks. But don’t just say it to say it, say it because you mean it! And for god’s sake, like Nike says…Just do it!
2. Keep a gratitude journal. Write down (pen and paper) everything you are grateful for. Read it every day when you wake up and before bed. Do it for one month straight and watch gratitude become your new obsession.
3. Give your time to help make someone’s day! Find what works best for you. Providing money, joining the local food bank and boxing lunches, or helping autistic kids become better readers are some choices. This will make you cry. By being a part of something greater than yourself, you will feel the ripple of growth and happiness. Life will also return its deepest appreciation for you.
4. Compliment, compliment, and stop biting your tongue. I love this one. I once had an overweight guy tell me, “I am having a bad day and I am too ugly” to be up in the club. He had just finished a conference and wanted to feel significant. So I responded to him: “You are ugly compared to who? You are a great looking guy, and it would be our pleasure to have you upstairs in our venue. In fact, I appreciate you for wanting to be a part of our party.” He looked and me and said, “Wow, that’s the nicest thing that has been said to me today.”
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HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL OF YOUR WONDERFUL PEOPLE!