I am getting ready to celebrate a season of gratitude. Ever since the year I celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada at the beginning of October, and American Thanksgiving at the end of November, I have designated October and November as my gratitude months. This year I feel I need the season more than ever. The ongoing challenges of COVID, the impact of Hurricane Ida, the horrors of Afghanistan, and the struggles with racism and economic inequality weigh heavily on all of us. The practice of gratitude is one of the tools we all need to cope with the exhaustion and looming burnout that besets us.
In preparation for the season, I am reading Diana Butler Bass’s book Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks. She helped me realize that one reason it is difficult for us to establish gratitude practices that stick is because we do not fully understand what gratitude is. She explains that gratitude involves both emotion and ethics (moral principles). We feel grateful when we see something beautiful or receive unexpected gifts from someone—that is definitely emotion. Writing a thank you note to show we appreciate the gift is a choice, an ethical decision that comes from our belief that thank you notes matter
Most of us, she points out, have a distorted view of gratitude emphasizing only one aspect, usually relegating it to feel good emotions that come and go in our lives. It is this confusion that makes it so difficult for us to choose to practice gratitude as a way of life. When we get depressed or anxious or stressed we are less likely to feel gratitude as an emotion.
Gratitude is a habit of awareness that reshapes our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. In other words we can choose to be grateful people and establish practices that develop it into a lifelong habit. In the process we become happier, healthier and less stressed people. Gratitude as a way of life is, I think, an essential tool to help us overcome burnout.
Many of us, myself included have tried keeping gratitude journals that lasted a week and then got discarded. To be honest, making a list of things I am grateful for just does not seem to resonate with me, but I knew I needed something to help anchor me through this challenging season. Years ago I read that there are three simple steps to make a routine into a lifelong practice:
Keep it simple
Make it meaningful
Stick to it.
This is still good advice that certainly stood me in good stead as I developed my new practice. Hopefully this advice and my gratitude practice will help you, too.
When I wake up in the morning I make a cup of tea and sit quietly in my sacred space for a few minutes enjoying the early morning sounds and sights. I close my mind, take a few deep breaths in and out, and recite what has become my morning mantra:
Thank you God for the gift of life
A wondrous gift so freely given.
I continue to sit quietly with eyes closed, breathing slowly in and out, receiving that gift and allowing the wonder of it to sink down deep into my soul. Sometimes a list of gratitudes flows out—thankfulness for breath, sight, a warm house, a loving husband, a silly dog, and food on the table each day. Some days the list seems endless. On others nothing comes to mind and I sit content in the presence of God knowing that if nothing else the gift of life provides me with the opportunity to appreciate the glory of God.
When I sense my time of quiet contemplation is over I open my eyes ready for the day. If I feel prompted, I jot down what I felt thankful for that morning and end with the words:
Thank you God for you.
Evidently it is much easier for us to focus on the negative aspects of life than on the positive, and practices like this help shift the balance. When we begin the day with gratitude, not only does our stress lift, but we are able to see the silver lining in clouds throughout the day.
I hope you will try this practice or something similar to begin your day and ward off the burnout that is hanging over us.