For nearly a decade, I’ve been participating in or leading a November Gratitude Challenge. I’m all-in on the concept and fully believe in the benefits, but this year has been a test for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons.
Someone recently said to me,
“I get it, I mean, it makes sense, but gratitude is pretty surface-level, isn’t it? It’s not really addressing the tough stuff, and I don’t know, it just feels like I’m faking happiness or something.”
I can’t stop thinking about that conversation, and I want to go there, but first, let me say this, what works in life is what works.
The answer is and has always been a handful of a few proven methodologies — success secrets, happiness strategies, paths to the good life — applied to the times. Yes, these are challenging times, but the basics, the foundational truths, still will work.
Every generation thinks their problems’ sophistication exceeds the solutions’ validity, but it’s not true. You’ve just got to decide what you believe, what you’ll try, then apply it, stick with it, and keep playing your hand, keep engaging with life, until you hit a natural Royal (the highest paying poker hand there is).
Winning on that level is inevitable if you can stay in the game long enough. Think of gratitude as what makes sustainability possible and even fun.
So, if you were a part of this year’s November Gratitude Challenge, you’ve noticed there’s an ebb and flow to the posts, energetically matched throughout the month. I like to anticipate what will work when and push a bit too.
For instance, during Thanksgiving week, your availability and attention might be waning, so you’re getting some softball prompts this week. That’s not cheating.
We started gently, layered in some more challenging, provocative concepts, built momentum, eased up a bit to coast and conserve energy, and will finish the month strong with significant discoveries.
Consider if you can plan anything in your life like this, using self-awareness to anticipate your family’s needs and bandwidth, shifting accordingly.
Take this winter, for example. We can assume that it will be hard for almost everyone. Behavioral fatigue is setting in, and cases are up. Collective resolve to be without extended family and friends, especially over the holidays, is weakening.
Plus, the weather won’t help logistically or improve our outlook. It feels bleak, and it isn’t even here yet.
Knowing that, we can make adjustments that help: schedule lighter workloads, more time outdoors at the warmest, sunniest parts of the day, put Christmas decor up early and leave it up longer, recommit to healthy habits, prioritize comforting routines, and loving self-care.
And, we can lean on gratitude to remind us how good life is, even in, especially in, hard times.
Gratitude seems too simple, too basic, too easy to make a difference, even after weeks (or months) of practice, but it works wonders, and I’ll share a personal example to illustrate how.
We were hoping for good news on the career front this month, and it came through, which given the times, is phenomenal. However, it was a low-ball offer, like wildly low, practically insulting.
What we do with it remains to be seen. Gratitude can’t change the offer, but it can shift how we feel about it.
We are choosing to focus on the fact that it came through, has distinct advantages, and even if it doesn’t match our goal in all the ways, it is a step forward. Put into context — progress during hard times is rare and essential — and it becomes even easier to appreciate. We are grateful to have options.
You could say that’s just dressing up sh*t, but here’s the thing, it works to appreciate it as it is for three reasons.
First, nothing is all good or all bad — it’s always a mixed bag. Accepting something as it is neutralizes it, making it easier to evaluate, analyze, and, yes, decide what to do next. Transitioning from judgment to gratitude is a profound reframe.
Second, when we appreciate something precisely as it is, not as we wish it would be, we can see more broadly and deeply the nuance and potential that we can’t fathom when we are outraged, injured, or disappointed.
Gratitude, in this case, lets us find our footing, determine a response, including opening the door to a poised, confident counter negotiation. It helps us solidify what can be in the context of what we want for our life, not just what we want at the moment.
Third, it feels better. Who wants to be continuously affronted or go through life looking for wrongs, injustices, potholes, assuming the worst? It’s no way to live.
If we can accept the best, believe in the good, give the benefit of the doubt, and see the sunny side, that’s what shows up, that’s what we see — it’s self-fulfilling.
Gratitude is not faking it or glossing over anything. Gratitude builds resilience, self-awareness, and composure by training our brains to focus on the upside. It’s a life skill that makes life better now and in the future.