Month: December 2012

Thanksgiving: Do we really understand what giving thanks means?

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Turkey leftovers in sandwich bags; cranberry sauce tossed out.  Pumpkin pie lovers have indulged to their heart’s delight, and the gorgeous fall color centerpiece is just another bunch of flowers under the kitchen window.  Family, good friends, belly aching laughs, great food and football. Every culture has their own spin on Thanksgiving when it comes to the menu, but the tradition of close friends and family reunions and the joy it brings is always the same.

I want to focus on the concept that has now become central to the holiday- gratitude. With all the cooking and decorating, it is easy to forget to practice gratitude. After all, during the holidays the word “Thanks” is everywhere, but so much so that it has virtually becomes useless.

Gratitude is to be appreciative of what one has and knowing that you do not need anything more.  Simple enough.  But for many, easier said than done. 

I have met many people who are swept into the wave of gratitude during such events but then as soon as daily routine takes over, they are back to being self-absorbed, pessimistic, stressed with life’s demands  and, basically, unhappy. If these words describe you, don’t feel bad. This state of being has become an epidemic.  Despite being one of the wealthiest nations on earth with large pools of natural resources, we still have thousands of people living with anxiety, depression and stress. The blame doesn’t entirely lie with you either.  We as a society have set up ourselves to fail at the task of remaining grateful.  Gratitude is a solution to cure these ills, I strongly believe that.

I always thought it was ironic that people flocked to grocery stores and home decorating stores to create the best menu and the prettiest table setting all in the name of gratitude,  and THEN we have all had enough food to transfer ourselves into elastic pants, its time for Black Friday!  So now all the gratitude filled stuffing and humble pie we ate around the family dinner table will be washed out with hundreds of items we don’t even need. Welcome to gratitude season – Consumer Consumption Style! 

Last year when the economy and the joblessness of our nation was forefront on our minds, I was shocked to see how long the lines were at Target and Best Buy. Trust me, the lines were not filled with people who needed bare essentials and were hurting for dollars. Instead, they were filled with people who were hurting for dollars but stilled needed to keep with the Joneses, the Kardashians, the Palins, Patels…or whatever. (The ones who really needed help were in shelters or stocking up for the coming winter.)  So in reality, how can one really be grateful? The whole societal norm is to snap out of that gratitude nonsense as soon as possible so we can get right back to consumption and debt.

Now, I know it seems I am writing this as just a commentary on how horrible consumer driven our culture has gotten and it seems we have no way out. That’s not the case.  I am writing this in the hope that all of you will shun the stress of giving in to this consumer driven culture and start to really be grateful for things you cannot buy over the counter. Then, I feel people will fall out of this depressing consuming epidemic.

Now, I am not saying you cannot like nice things or purchase items that make you happy.  I myself like nice things.  I too have my favorites in clothing, shoe and furniture stores. BUT here is the key. None of these items should identify a person or be a measure of their personal worth.

The truth is, everything we own are just things. They are expendable. All these items are lifeless To quote Bard Pitt in Fight Club “The things we own end up owning us.”

Instead of waiting in lines, shopping on the internet for hours, always trying to find the best deals…why are we not obsessed with the intangibles? Such as investing into a relationship, mending a friendship, connecting with our spiritual source or improving our character? Perhaps it is these that should be the objects of our culture’s obsession and our greater investment.

Time and time again, we have witnessed it is not things that actually save lives or help people in need. To the contrary, we have witnessed victims of natural disasters losing lifelong “things”, and seeing that it is the bravery, sincerity and care of the people around them that have helped them move along.

This past weekend I had the privilege to attend a memoriam event for my friend Amal’s sister whom has passed too soon. She was a young bride who was fighting her battle with cancer and very soon after she was married, she started to lose the battle and passed away. She was absolutely beautiful and always looked like a dignified fashionista every time I saw her. In addition, she was a very deep thinker and spiritual person.

At the memoriam, Amal stated that her sister was known to be a shopaholic, she loved fashion and all its frills like all women do. As she was nearing her death however she changed her perspective, Realizing how fleeting life actually is, she started to see her “things” as a burden.  She wanted to give away as many things as possible. In fact, she  started giving away  her clothing to her family members and would smile when she saw others wearing them. The memoriam itself was an auction for charity of her most prized possessions in fashion and jewelry, some with price tags still on them.

She also had Amal write down her thoughts as she was nearing the inevitable ( as she could see the world differently than we could) and wanted to share her perspective with others after her passing.

One of the most powerful reflections shared with us ( and they were many) , and I will try to quote the best way I can as to not insult her gracious intent to share.

“ Nothing goes with you after death. Only your relationship with people and the connection you hold with your creator. Things are just things. They are absolutely nothing. This is all nothing”

Powerful indeed.

So… how do we really get there? How do we as individuals get to a place of gratitude to really relish in the blessings we have and minimize our bad days and our  self indulgent periods of ungratefulness? For myself, have a two-step approach that I try to practice.

  • Perspective: To have perspective is to understand and know that all troubles and sad moments are relative.  If you are experiencing a difficult hardship, know that somebody else is suffering more.  It is not enough to just know of these situations.  Allow them to come into your life. Allow yourself to meet people who have hardships and learn from them. Learn about how they are carrying on with pride, take mental notes on their strength, courage and veracity. And then look at your troubles and think about how the less fortunate would address the issues you have. More often then not, you will realize that the less fortunate, monetarily or circumstance wise, are far more brave, far more optimistic and hard working than you.  Perspective is a daily skill. The more you practice it, the more natural it becomes and the less stress and emptiness you will feel.
  •  Charity:  Now I do not mean charity of dollars, though, that is always an option. I mean, charity of love, care, and consideration to those in need.  Again, do not just acknowledge that people need charity, but instead seek people who need it, meet them,  and value them.  Learn about what you can do to make their life even a little bit easier. Sometimes it could be as simple as visiting someone sick you do not really know, or dropping by for a condolence for a person you are not close to. These are not actions of pity, these are actions you would want for someone to do for you.  Again, more often than not you will realize that people that need charity of any sort are far more superior as human beings than you are as far as humanity is concerned simply be enduring hardships that we cannot imagine. They are wealthy internally and I promise you it will give you a big serving of humble pie. Again, this is a skill we have to practice. When you a get a call that someone needs help do not just sigh in sadness, pick up the phone and see what you can do.  I believe if the call or situation that requires your help has crossed your path, there is deliberateness about it controlled by a much higher power. And remember that roles and circumstances can reserve at the drop of a hat.

For now, these are the two strategies that have helped me become more grateful in life.  Every day is a challenge and every day is an opportunity to practice gratitude.  It is indeed a shield against all the noise that society creates to convince us that we need more and want more. In the end, we already have everything we need, if we would just take the time to appreciate them.

I know I said would not go into the historic accuracy of this blessed holiday but now, it seems fitting. We all know that the original Thanksgiving actually involved a grand meal but indeed more taking than giving. Hence, why we pay such respect to Native Americans today. Perhaps that original spirit of taking has followed us so deeply as a culture today that it be fitting that we are lost in a pool of material consumption and debt. Why not take the step to truly rights the wrongs of our history in some small way the best way we can and embrace the word “thank you” again? Why not take a stand for something beautiful? Why not invest in practicing true gratitude?

As always, I wanted to give you something to listen to as you ponder your path towards gratitude today.  This has been one of my favorites. Enjoy!