Gratitude doesn't stop at Thanksgiving

written by Erica Quam

There's a ramp up to Thanksgiving where an awareness of gratitude escalates...but it's much more of something to check off the to-do list than it is an attitude or a practice. 

I'll tell you when I've really felt the strongest sensation of gratitude in my life...

I've worked as an instructor for NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School) leading backpacking trips for the last 8 years.

It's always a little scary when you step away from the van and step foot onto the trail - leaving everything behind except what you're carrying on your back - until you see that van again.

There's so much gratitude that permeates through the simpleness of life during those trips...there's gratitude for everything:

  • for having a tent that provides shelter from the driving rain
  • for having fuel to cook delicious meals after a long hiking day
  • for finding a campsite that is actually relatively close to fresh water 
  • for a tent-mate who got out of their sleeping bag first to make coffee for everyone
  • for taking a wrong turn and learning an important lesson about how to deal with adversity
  • for being in a wild place and living with the rhythm and sound of nature

When I come back, re-entry can be abrupt and hard. Yet I become deeply aware of gratitude once again. This time, I'm grateful for a whole other list:

  • for my relationship with my friends and family...who I really miss when I'm gone
  • for running water - to wash my hands, to shower, to use the bathroom (without a game-plan)
  • for a juicy hamburger, greasy fries, and an ice cold beer

I've found myself pondering, "why is it that during these trips, it's easier to be in tune with this deep sense of gratitude - rather than feeling like it's is another contrived item on my to-do list?"

I think it's because life gets so busy. We have so many distractions. We've allowed our lives to get so complicated.

When I sense the busyness, the distractions, and the complications of life, I know that's a signal to me that I need to be proactive to tune back into the attitude of gratitude I have when I go backpacking. 

Yet, I can't just pick up and go out into the woods anytime I want.

For me, it's about finding other ways of slowing down and keeping things simple:

When I can make time to get on my mat and do yoga - I am grateful. When I find time in the morning to do some writing before jumping into my day - I am grateful. When I decide to go for a walk in the woods before rushing into the next thing on my to do list - I am grateful. When I can pause long enough to take a deep breath before my knee-jerk reaction - I am grateful.

I think it's much more about making the time or space to really FEEL grateful.

Our minds have a negativity bias. Most people are exposed to a constant drip of negativity: news headlines, financial fears, relationship turmoil, and the drama of daily life. This energy can hijack even our best intentions. It can be exhausting! 

We have to stay diligent to offset the negative. We do this by surrounding ourselves with more positivity to tip that scale back! Think of gratitude as our best weapon, if you will.

So, don't just fill out your gratitude list and leave it on the Thanksgiving table until next year. Find small ways to incorporate a genuine feeling of gratitude into your daily life.

I'd love to hear what you think. Does it resonate? Are there specific things you do or practices you've found to help you be more grateful or be more positive? Share in the comments below. (Your comment may be just the thing that someone else needs who is reading this too.)