Although it has been several years since I left the US, I always feel the need to express gratitude in the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday that falls towards the end of November. This year it was on 25 Nov.
I decided to use my social media platform to start a 7-day gratitude challenge to coincide with Thanksgiving week. I wondered if I would have something to write about for a week. But you don’t know until you start. It’s not difficult. Like any habit that takes a little while to stick, the practise of documenting things to be thankful for could easily become a way of life, if I persevered for at least a week.
Want to find out how I got through the challenge? Read on.
Day 1 – Start with something simple
Look around you. Do you see something that makes you smile? Something that draws your attention and leaves you with a feeling of lightness:
- Your child
- A pet
- Your moneyplant trailing along your balcony
For me, the moon has been arresting my attention for the last several days. I can’t help but watch it and be fascinated by its perfect imperfection.
What makes it special is that it is constantly changing – at least to our human eyes.
It is an example of how things change and yet, can still be perfect.
It is a reminder to be accepting of those things that are not as we expect them to be, yet are exactly what they need to be at this time.
Look around for something that evokes a feeling of lightness. Take a picture.
If it’s a thought that occurs to you while you’re doing something else, take a minute to make a quick note – write it down or record a voice note on your phone, (better if you can write it in a book).
Hold that thought as you drift off to sleep. And see how the next day unfolds.
In my book, Rewriting My Happily Ever After, I describe how developing an attitude of gratitude helped me move from feeling stuck to feeling open to possibilities. There is a silver lining in all of our experiences even if it doesn’t reveal itself easily.
What did you find around you today that made you smile?
Day 2 – Listening to a gratitude meditation
Was it too difficult yesterday to look around and find something that made you feel light or brought a smile to your face? To write a few lines in a gratitude journal?
It’s not that difficult once you train yourself to focus on the good.
But I get it. Sometimes life can be tough.
Particularly if you’re going through a rough patch at school or at the office, in a relationship or with your physical health.
The last few weeks were sheer torture for me. I couldn’t stand or walk or even sit for long. I was stuck at home for days in a row with outings only to doctors and specialists, diagnostic labs and other paramedical or alternative medicine clinics.
My daily highlight of a walk in the woods was impossible. I could barely walk to the nearest bus stop.
I would have thrown something at anyone suggesting that I write in my gratitude journal. It felt like too much effort and also very hollow. How could I give thanks for this awful pain?
So I tried something different.
I began listening to this 10-minute gratitude meditation every morning after waking up (before hobbling out of bed).
Did it eliminate my pain?
But it did put me in a better frame of mind to face the day.
The first hour of each morning was when the pain was the worst. I can honestly say that this morning gratitude meditation reduced pain perception for the initial few minutes and kept me in a more hopeful mood for several hours.
Quite often I would fall back asleep as I listened to the soothing narrative voice and would have no memory of any words registering in my conscious brain. But the subconscious must have been receptive because the day turned out better than expected.
After a couple of weeks of doing this, I find myself looking forward to my morning gratitude meditation. It’s an easy win.
Try it for yourself and let me know how it went.
Day 3 – Expressing gratitude through letters
Have you tried writing a gratitude letter?
I came across a book called The Thank You Project – Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude as a Time by Nancy Davis Kho. The author wrote 50 letters of gratitude to various people in her life to mark her 50th birthday. It’s an inspiring way to take stock of your life in midlife when you realise that you are a composite of all the people who impacted your life.
Even though you may have had positive and negative experiences, focusing on the people who moved you towards a better version of yourself and telling them of the difference they made to your life is a great way of turning towards positivity.
Many years ago I spent 5 years in a university in the USA pursuing a Ph.D. As a young person who had moved from India to America, there was much I had to learn, not just about academics but also about life.
I interacted with learned professors who were filled with knowledge and humility in equal measure. How they treated students as valuable resources and as equals, was the biggest lesson I learned and carried forward with me in life.
Since I studied on a scholarship which included a stipend, I am filled with gratitude to the university and the professors for the gift of education which I can never pay back.
How could I express my gratitude in this case?
I wrote an email to my academic advisor. Although he was retired by then and I wasn’t sure he would reply, I was pleasantly surprised when he did. Although there is no way to pay back teachers, I felt I had made progress towards closing the gap between us.
Who can you write a gratitude letter (or email or a short note) to? Parents, siblings, teachers, bosses (old and current), friends (past and present), therapists, yoga teachers, gym trainers, anyone whose life intersected with yours and made a positive impact on you.
Did you know that the benefits of expressing gratitude can be received even if you don’t mail the letter?
Who would you like to write a letter to?
Day 4 – Shopping locally
Do you support local businesses?
Last week I wrote about how thrilled I was to have my book appear at a local bookstore, The Moon, in Singapore. Soon, a quaint bookstore in Goat will also stock my book (not local to me but an indie business that is keeping the joy of reading alive in a personal way).
Why does this make me happy?
I have lived in three countries and many cities. Each of the places I lived in was ‘home’ to me for a while, no matter how long I lived there.
Beginning with Mumbai (or Bombay it was called then) which may seem like a huge city (and it is) but for a child who grew up in the same apartment for the first two decades of her life, it was a cosy village.
I knew the vegetable vendor, the milkman, the postman, the vada pav stall near the station, the tuition center at the corner, and everyone else who came in contact with me. My grandfather, father and brothers got their haircut at a salon where the barber knew everybody by name.
There was something personal in all these small interactions. Not all interactions were transactional. And over time, they became the strong links that tied us to the community.
I firmly believe that shopping local, patronising the businesses close to your home and keeping a circle of giving and receiving in motion, is the best way to feel at home.
In the eight years I have lived in Singapore, I have formed personal relationships with the businesses closest to my home. I am either on first name terms with or known to the neighborhood including the florist, dentist, hair salon, optometrist, doctor, furniture store and grocery store.
By shopping locally, I express my gratitude by preferring to give my business to people whose faces are familiar to me instead of nameless/faceless corporations.
Do you know the people/businesses in your neighborhood? How do you integrate into your community and express gratitude
Day 5 – Savoring small joys
Do we acknowledge the small joys of living?
One thing that was revealed to me in the last few weeks of suffering from a painful condition (whose cause continues to remain undiagnosed), was all the things I take for granted in my everyday boring life.
- Until walking to the bathroom to brush my teeth became difficult, I always assumed that walking without pain was my birthright
- When I was unable to go for my daily strolls through the nature reserve behind my house, I understood how the greenery used to rejuvenate me after a day spent in front of a screen
- When I could not participate in festivals and celebrations, I realized the place these communal gatherings have in my life
It’s perhaps a human tendency to ignore the blessings of what ‘is’ as we focus on what ‘next’ when we focus solely on our goals and targets and ambitions.
As I see posters and ads for Black Friday sales, I wonder why it’s called “Black” Friday.
I think it’s a BEAUTIFUL Friday. The rainy spell seems to have ended. The weekend beckons.
There’s much to feel thankful for – in my case, it’s the gradual reduction of my aches and pains and a corresponding rise in my spirits.
Here’s what I want to appreciate this beautiful Friday
- the blossoming flowers in my vase
- a refreshing cup of Darjeeling tea
- Lunch with a friend
- seeing my books in bookstores in Singapore and India
- receiving notes, emails, messages and photos from readers
- making plans for a long-waited holiday
Moving from a future-focus to an appreciation for the here and now is not too difficult to do. Like most activities, we need to take one step and next and soon it becomes a treasure hunt to find more.
What are you grateful for in your everyday life that you otherwise take for granted?
Appreciation is the first step of gratitude.
Do you agree?
Day 6 – Writing reviews of books to thank authors
Gratitude takes many forms.
Have you ever wondered how we learn things?
Babies come programmed to pick up cues from their environment – they watch, they listen, they try to imitate the people around them. And before long, they have figured things out and over time, they master so many skills.
Before I began writing, I was a reader. And now that I am owning the tag of ‘author’, I continue to be a reader
As a self-taught writer, my learning happens during reading. And in the years before I wrote my own memoir, Rewriting My Happily Ever After, I read several memoirs.
One of my favorite things to do is read memoirs and write reviews of those that I like.
Take a look at the picture – these are memoirs that I enjoyed, not just reading, but also dissecting to see how the author had conveyed their personal story in a way that resonated with readers like me. You can find the full reviews on my blog.
While I read a variety of books, fiction included, I’m grateful to memoir writers who bravely told their own stories, sharing their joys and traumas, their struggles and victories in a book, not knowing who would read it and where and how they would take it.
My preferred method of expressing gratitude to these writers is to publicly share my opinion about the books I like (there are a few that I read but either did not finish or did not like – more about those in a different post).
And now I am at the receiving end of glowing reviews from readers of my book and I feel immersed in a wave of gratitude.
Do you write reviews of books you like? How do you express gratitude to writers?
Day 7 – The cycle of gratitude
Every Sunday I document 3 things that made me happy during the week. On the final day of my 7-day gratitude challenge, this is what I listed.
- Gratitude challenge – Coinciding with the Thanksgiving Holiday in the US, I decided to make a list of all the ways in which we can stay in a state of appreciation for our life, right here and now. From writing letters, shopping locally, savoring everyday experiences, it was great fun to stay tuned to what we enjoy but seldom appreciate.
- Food and friends – the best combination. With the restrictions easing up a bit, I was finally able to meet colleagues and friends, for lunches and coffee dates and try some new places. And in a totally surprising twist, I also had the pleasure of enjoying great homemade food with caring friends who insisted on whipping up regional specialties. It felt good to see familiar faces we hadn’t seen without a screen separating us and have those fun conversations that I had missed so much.
- More personal messages pouring in for my book. My book has 25 reviews on Amazon and 40 on Goodreads!! I’m thrilled. But what makes me happier is when I receive personal messages like these (swipe to see) where people have taken the time to tell me about the impact of my book. Every week I have great conversations with people who have connected with me after reading my book.
In case you haven’t guessed it yet, there is a direct correlation between being grateful and being happy – the best kind of virtuous circle.
Have you tried a gratitude challenge?