In the Season of Gratitude
Daylight Savings is never a popular time of year. Yet, somehow falling back this November didn’t bring with it my usual gripes. Perhaps it’s that my children are growing older and a bit more independent (meaning, they can each fill a bowl of Cheerios on their own and turn on a screen without adult assistance). Or perhaps it’s my own age catching up to me, as I’ve lost the ability to sleep in and instead revel in the joy of a few extra minutes of calm before the morning frenzy of getting everyone out the door. As the days grow shorter and colder, I’m reminded of the importance of practicing gratitude.
In a dark month in a challenging year in what seems determined to be a “VUCA” decade, gratitude for all the bright spots in my life — big, small, and teeny-tiny — is what helps shift my attitude from a sense that I need to power through to get to some unknown stress-free place, to instead take a big deep breath, notice what’s around me in the present, and truly relish the gifts right before my eyes.
Bright pink begonias. A great night’s sleep. Grandma Esther’s “Magic Soup.” Nail art. A call from a dear friend. My health. Long hugs from my kids after being away. Sweater weather. A morning without rushing. Making up after a fight.
These are a smattering of entries over the last few weeks in my five-minute journal, answering the first prompt: Three things I am grateful for...
Over five-years ago, a member of my “circle of trust” shared her experience using the journal. She took it out of her bag, showing us the well-worn pages in the front half with the soon-to-be filled out daily pages that followed. “Everyone has five minutes,” she argued. ”And really, it’s only three in the morning and two at night.” Then, she said: “It’s worth it. I promise.”
Following the gratitude prompt comes “What would make today great?” — a seemingly simple question that always forces me to pause and reflect on what matters most. Sometimes I’m surprised by what emerges. Not the high-priority tasks on my to do list, but rather the feelings I hope to experience that day: enjoying the walk to work. Staying calm during a challenging meeting. Extra snuggle time putting my kids to bed.
It’s then in the evening that I’m faced with its counterquestion: “Three amazing things that happened today...” It’s remarkable how many days these two play off one another, where my intention set in the morning becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Ever since this daily practice was shared with me, it’s been in my life, albeit, in fits and starts. Sometimes the world’s woes rightly demand upset and outrage. Giving myself the permission to feel the full range of human emotions, including the negative ones induced by challenge, is just as important as finding the serenity of gratitude. However, those are often the days I miss and I fall out of the routine. Sometimes, when I notice I'm feeling particularly “glass half empty,” I realize I’ve lapsed. But documenting the bright spots in my life helps me remember why I’m here. And when I forget, it’s simply time to start again. No judgement.
Like my friend, I started first with the hardbound book. Now, I use the digital app on my phone. It’s one of the only notifications I allow — reminders for how to start and close my days well. The digital version gives me the ability to include photos, where my gratitude is best captured in an image rather than words. A sunset. The curl cascading down my daughter’s forehead. That tiny brown fleck in my son's bright blue eyes. Our dog’s unseemly back-sleeping position.
Source: The Five Minute Journal
The daily practice closes with the question: “How could you have made the day better?”
While I enjoy flipping through my gratitude entries, it’s the answers I write to this question that I return to most. Some are self-care reminders: going for a walk or getting a manicure. But most are about the people in my life. Following up with a teammate after a misunderstanding. Not raising my voice in exasperation the 10th time I asked my daughter to brush her teeth. These entries are never about office work (clearing out my inbox or checking off a to do). Rather, they’re reminders of the moments of human connection I missed out on or longed for.
As we move into this season of Thanksgiving, I invite you to join me in this five-minute practice. It’s a gift that was given to me that I hope becomes a gift to you, too. It’s helped me hold onto and fully see the beautiful people, kind words, constructive criticism, and audacious achievements that fill my days. Thank you for being one of them.