When my children were all in elementary school, we loved to go to the Public Library. The library in our town was wonderful for children. There were tons of great books, videos, listening centers, games, art, and other activities. On one of our trips to the library, as we were checking out our books, videos, and cd’s, one of my sons noticed that the basket of free lollipops was empty. He was quite disappointed so he asked the librarian if she had anymore. She replied “I’m sorry sweetie, I forgot to buy them this week.”
My son was actually angry with her. Thankfully (for him) the only thing he did to show his anger while in the library was pout. However, when we got to the car, he let out his frustration. He began to rant “How hard is it to remember to buy lollipops? I mean she knows kids are coming in here every day expecting lollipops…” My other two little ingrates quickly agreed (my kids were sugar deprived). I interrupted their complaints: “Uhm, EXCUSE ME! The world doesn’t owe you a lollipop! That sweet librarian bought those, every week out of the kindness of her heart. Do you thank her each week? Do you thank her for the great job the library does in providing fun things for you to do? How dare you complain about a little oversight like this!!!! You need to focus on being thankful for all of the good things instead of complaining…” (continue inspirational mom rant ad nauseam…)
When we got home, I made my kids create a thankfulness box and we all wrote things we were thankful for and put them in the box. We also wrote thank you notes to lots of people that we normally don’t think of thanking (like janitors, bus drivers, LIBRARIANS!)
The lollipop incident signified a much bigger problem. When you walk around feeling like the world owes you things, you will always be disappointed and angry. Feeling like the world owes you separates you from other people because you are always disappointed and focusing on what they didn’t do for you. You will never be satisfied because you are always looking at what others have and you don’t.
Choosing to be thankful refocuses us. When we focus on what we have and the good that others do, it has a tremendous impact on how we see everything. We are actually able to enjoy the things we have more. Thankfulness allows us to live in the moment and focus on what we have rather than wishing our life away wanting things we don’t have. Thankfulness binds us to people and it teaches us to take responsibility for ourselves. We recognize that other people are doing great things and we are benefitting so we want to contribute.
Of course, making the choice to be thankful sounds good, but it isn’t easy. Trust me!!! I battle with this. I can be as snarky and unappreciative as anyone. So…how do you focus on thankfulness? Here are some of my tips:
Make lists of things you are thankful for. I pray almost every day. Not because I’m so super-holy, but if you read my story, I depend on God. The time I spend with him every day keeps me balanced. I start my prayers with a list of things that I’m thankful for. (I write out my prayers b/c I have a little adhd action happening…) Even if you don’t believe in God, starting out each morning writing a list of things you are thankful for is a super positive thing to do for your mental health.
Tell people that you appreciate them. Make it a habit to tell at least one person a week that you appreciate them. Send emails, call them, or even text them. Just let people know that you appreciate what they do for you. This does wonders for making you feel good about the world. When you focus on what others are doing for you, all the “lollipops” that you miss out on don’t seem like such a big deal.
Find the positive in every situation: Even in the midst of horrific tragedies, we can remember to be thankful for the people around us who care and support us and for the hope that life will not always be this way. In everyday life, there are usually many positives that we can focus on. For example, one of my biggest struggles these days is being so far away from family members. I’m extremely close to my family and I rarely get to see them. When I get particularly bummed about this, I focus on how incredibly blessed I am to have a family to love (and I’m thankful for CELL PHONES so I can call with no long distance charges!)
Ask people what the best thing that happened today/this week was: My husband and I are trying to do this with each other more. (We wish we had done it with our kids). It is surprising how this simple question forces you to replay all of the positives of your week.
Share the positives in your life with others. Complaining is a habit. It is easy to feel connected with other people when we complain. Being happy also draws people to you. When I was working as a substitute teacher, I got incredibly discouraged. I started posting complaints about school, politics, life, etc on line almost every day. One of my friends asked me “Why are you so angry on FB?” I was really struck by this, because I admire this friend so I began to really work on being more positive. Trust me: It is a million times more rewarding to connect with people over laughing about life than over complaining!
Find people to hold you accountable. My kids are now adults and they seem to delight in pointing out when I’m not following my own advice (sooo aggravating!!! Lol) and I have a few friends who know me well enough to call me out when I start going negative. (and I started a blog where people can comment freely) :-/
Learn to laugh at yourself. When you aren’t too hard on yourself, it makes it easy to not be hard on others. We are all imperfect people trying to get through the messiness of life. Let’s give each other some grace and be thankful for all the good that people ARE doing!
Don’t compare yourself to others. If you make yourself feel better by comparing yourself to others, you are demeaning the other person. If you feel worse, you have just demeaned yourself. When I feel myself slipping into this nasty habit, I remind myself that I chose the way I live and why I’m happy with my choice (I don’t have a ton of $ but I have a lot of freedom)
Volunteer: I’m not saying “use other people’s suffering to make yourself feel better”. I am saying, start thinking of all the things you have as resources to make the world a better place. It’s surprising how this change of focus will make you more thankful!
Ask God for help. I believe in prayer. I know that on my own I am totally selfish and I believe the world owes me a lot more than a lollipop! Praying and getting to know the not-judgmental Jesus helps me be a much more thankful person.