For me, gratitude is an acquired taste. For many years, my negative thinking blocked my feelings of gratitude; it actually took me years to pay attention to gratitude and its benefits. Thanksgiving is a good time to reflect on the journey to the benefits that can result from greater gratitude.
I didn’t come to a position of gratitude easily. From an early age, my personality seemed focused on what wasn’t right. My tendency was to expect more and to listen to my very deeply embedded “not enough” voice.
As a child, the only times I remember being “wowed” by Christmas presents was the year I got a new bike from my grandparents and the time my uncle gave us a big electric train set. Otherwise, I found Christmas boring and disappointing.
“Not enough”/ “I need more” thinking carves a path for negative thinking. As a grandparent, I now appreciate how I tended to focus on the few things my parents did that annoyed or hurt me and ignored the many positive habits they had that nurtured me and positively shaped me.
Another manifestation of “not enough” showed up in my work life. A vivid recollection is when I was doing neighborhood work in Baltimore. I worked closely with a key staff person at one of the major foundations there. We had just been successful in getting the city government to make a major funding commitment to a “healthy neighborhoods” project.
We were in the foundation’s office talking about the commitment. I made a perfunctory congratulations on the progress and immediately launched into what was missing in the City’s commitment. The foundation officer stopped, looked at me with disdain and said “Tom, it’s never good enough for you, is it?” At the time, I rationalized it was her problem somehow. I wasn’t ready to see how negative thinking was taking over my life and damaging relationships.
It wasn’t until I became involved with the Twelve Steps that I was even aware of how my first thoughts often were negative, driven by my “not enough” voice. Practicing the Twelve Steps gave me a completely different approach to changing habits like this one. I was instructed very clearly that I could not use my will to stop negative thinking. Nor would knowledge and understanding of why I responded negatively give me the ability to change.
Instead, I was encouraged to accept that “not enough” thinking was deeply embedded in me. The cause does not matter. I read once that half the world saw the glass as half full and the rest of the world as half empty. I found that comforting, whether true or not. In my experience, there are indeed some people who are always positive no matter what. And there are folks like me who tend to the negative. And if you tend to the negative, the path to change isn’t always clear.
Two practices have helped me see the good and abundance in my life and be less inclined to “not enough”. The first is faith in a loving Divine Spirit that loves me and wants good for me. The Twelve Steps encouraged me to develop this relationship with a Higher Power and to make a priority deepening my relationship with this Power. I do that through prayer and meditation and paying attention to gratitude.
My gratitude list grows and changes as I age. This Thanksgiving I am grateful for:
- My growing appreciation of the gift of loving relationships and the desire to nurture them.
- More clarity about how staying overly busy, even on projects that bring good to the world, is for me a block to closeness with the God I believe in, with Geraldine and with the people I love.
- My health and economic security that allow me to enjoy retirement and increasingly learn what it means to be present and savor each moment.
- Being alive at a time when the world is reexamining the limitations and harm done by a dominant white culture and having so many opportunities to learn the truth about our country’s history and what it means to be anti-racist.
- The gift of having been introduced to the Twelve Step way of life over forty years ago and continuing to grow spiritually and be more at peace and joyful as a result.
- The willingness and courage to offer my talents in writing and organizing to the God I believe in and to use those talents as directed.
Listening to my negative “not enough” voice is limiting in so many ways. Gratitude for me has cleared a path to the freedom to learn how to love more deeply. In turn, that leads to a very sweet life. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thank you, Tom. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours too!
Thanks Darlene, great to hear from you. Let’s catch up next week – I’d like to get your thoughts on a blog topic. Blessings this Thanksgiving,
Being grateful is so important. Saying thank you is so important. We should all tell people more often. It is very nice to read your essay about how you learned to do somethings better.
I always remember a bible story that all Catholics and almost all Protestants hear every year in church. It is also a bible story that I have never seen any artwork about. The parable of the ten lepers it is called. Jesus cured ten people of the terrible medical problems and the terrible isolation problems of leprosy back in the days before hospitals or any kind of treatment . The next day one man came back to him to say thank you. Jesus acknowledged the thanks and then asked , ‘ Where are the other nine ?’ I’m not religious but that always struck so powerfully.
By the way I’d like to say thank you for your thoughtful writing.
Thnaks Tommy for reaching out and commenting on my post. I actually heard a sermon yesterday on that reading about the lepers. Te priest suggested the other 9 expressed thier gratitude by going on with their lives. That is a good thing, and paying attention to the abundance of graces and gifts we recevie daily opens our hearts to divine love and each other more. Be well, Tom
Thank you, Tom and Happy Thanksgiving to you and Geraldine and the family. I enjoyed your blog and we can all learn something from it. I’m sure that you enjoy Christmas much more now that when you were a kid!!
Thanks Sharon, best to you and Greg. Indeed I enjoy each day more than I used to, thanks to more faith and more acceptance and surrender. Peace, Tom
Thanks, Tom, for this and many other pieces that you have written or had a guest write that have touched my heart. This one stood out I think because you described me and my tendency toward negativity and not-enough-ism. I, too, take comfort in not being alone and finding the 12-Step path that is helping me become aware of my negative attitudes and providing ways for me to change. Reflecting lately on my life, I realize that I am slowly changing to be more grateful and to have more realistic attitudes toward myself and others making me a kinder and happier person. Much gratitude!!
Thanks Mary, always good to share the road with fellow travelers. The Dutch theologian Henri Nowen used to write and describe himslef as a :wounded healer”. I suspect that is what we all are – wounded and invited to share our graces and wounds and support one another in growing spiritually and as humans. Be well, Tom