Here’s a little secret about me. Every night before I go to sleep I try to take a minute and make a list in my head of things that I’m thankful for. This is sometimes called a “gratitude practice.”
I’m not perfect, I skip nights and I forget sometimes. It’s not a massive list and most nights I think about the same things – usually about health and my family and my kids.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m bragging… Oh, look at me miss grateful. That’s actually something that I find bothersome about social media these days. People seem to spend more time saying stuff than actually practicing it. Sometimes I want to remind folks that you can pray for something without actually posting that you’re praying for that thing. Anyway … I’m not trying to brag.
Can you learn to be grateful?
I think I learned about being grateful as an adult. I hate to admit that but I think it’s true.
I don’t remember my parents putting a lot of emphasis on gratitude as a kid. Maybe that’s just my kid memory in action and maybe they did and I forgot. I’m certainly not trying to say they were bad parents or that I’m better than they were. But other than the occasional reminder to say thank you I don’t remember either of my parents doing much that was simply just to serve others or give thanks.
As a young adult I honestly didn’t get it. I was required to do some community service stuff and I heard people talk about giving back but I was too busy just going from day to day that I didn’t get it. I was a part of Junior League for years and even put together an event where we rehabbed a community garden. I was stunned each time I asked people for donations and they just said – yes. I really didn’t get why these people and companies were willing to help. I helped put together a community walk-a-thon and I remember being stunned that every person that I asked to help said yes. I didn’t get it. I even had a hard time saying “thank you” and in receiving compliments. I remember one time at work I was complimented in a meeting and I awkwardly responded. Later one of my mentors took the time to just teach me to smile and say “thank you.” Which is really so simple but wasn’t natural to me.
What changed my perspective on gratitude
A few years ago,I stumbled onto an online article or graphic that totally changed how I see gratitude. Seriously this is a little embarrassing to admit that my perspective was changed by a goofy online thing. It probably wasn’t even an article but a picture of a poem on a poster or something inspirational floating around. I tried to find it with some google searching. I didn’t find a single result but I found a lot of similar things. Which just goes to show that this is probably something most people understood way before me. This was a something about being thankful for dirty dishes and busy days.
So many things in life really come down to our perspective and I had never seen that before. It was about being thankful that I needed to do laundry because it meant that you had clothes to wear, being thankful for kids making a mess at dinner because it meant there was food on the table. It seems very silly but I had never thought this way. I spent a lot of time in my 20s being upset about things because I looked at the wrong part of the situation. Seems silly that an online poem would turn that around but it’s true.
As I read this online snippet I found myself thinking … I’ve had this all wrong. How could I not see it this way before? But I hadn’t. I just hadn’t and I still struggle with this today.
I thought of this of course on Thanksgiving. My mother in law wanted us to go around the table and say what we were thankful for. Health, family, etc. We had a small thanksgiving group and it only took a minute. Of course, my kids had trouble with this exercise…because they are kids. I didn’t worry about it at all because Thanksgiving is a busy day, I had already had 2 glasses of wine and also I think gratitude is a daily thing not just reserved for one day a year.
Later, standing in front of a sink full of dirty dishes super annoyed because the dishwasher was already full and yet the sink and counters were covered with dirty dishes and I was the only one left to clean them. Then, I did something I have worked hard make a part of my life which is be thankful for the things in my life. So I said to myself (inside my head … because talking to yourself worries people around you that you are crazy … or drunk … or both) I’m thankful for this mess.
Why am I thankful for the mess? Because I am amazingly fortunate to have so many dishes that I can host my family for dinner and that I have so many dishes that it’s more than my dishwasher can hold. Also, this is a situation of my creation. If I don’t want the dishes I don’t have to host big meals so it’s not worth being upset.
Also, it’s not true that I’m the only one who will clean up. That’s only true if I let it be. So, I did some dishes and then asked my family to help. And you know what … my husband cleaned up most of the kitchen later that night and I’m thankful for that.
My life isn’t perfect. I’m human and life is messy. I don’t always show off the mess but it’s there. We’ve all got it. The trick is to find the place to see gratitude within the mess. To appreciate the mess for the greatness that it represents. To take control of the perspective and understand that all I control is my thoughts.
I wish I had learned about gratitude earlier in my life.
I hope I can teach this to my kids. I spent a lot of time when I was younger letting things annoy me that I could not control.
One of the biggest hassles in my life is that I spend a lot of time driving my kids to and from school and practice and just “stuff.” This isn’t very personally rewarding and at least once a day I will think to myself I can’t actually believe that I went to college and studied only to end up to be an unpaid driver.
That’s the wrong way to look at it. Yes, it’s annoying to be stuck in traffic … so very very annoying. But if I can take a moment and reframe it and think I’m very grateful to have a safe and sturdy car. I am very grateful to have the means to be able to be involved in my children’s daily lives. I’m very grateful to live in a place where it’s safe to drive as a woman or I guess in the most extreme form where a woman is allowed to drive. I have a lot to be grateful for and really being stuck in traffic isn’t the worst thing ever.
Service is an expression of gratitude
Why do we give back? Well I can only speak for myself but I choose to give back because I am grateful for all the people who have done things for me in my life. When my dad had heart disease I turned to the American Heart Association for information and there it was … for free. When I’m thirsty on my run my local running store has coolers of water out for support. I am thankful for that a lot.
I’m thankful for each and every volunteer at races and I try to tell them that. I also try to give back by volunteering at races.
I’m thankful for every driver who doesn’t run me over when I’m out running or on my bike. If you ride with me you’ll hear me say “thank you” as I go by cars in intersections. My daughter sometimes points out that the drivers can’t hear me and I tell her – that’s not the point.
I didn’t understand the point of service when I was younger. I’m not sure I fully understand it now but I’m working on getting a better understanding.
I’m thankful for my worn out running shoes
My hobby in life is endurance sports. Running and triathlon. It’s something that nobody “needs” to do. If I never did another race I could probably still have a very full life. But I do love it and I’m extremely grateful for all that running and triathlon has given me. My running circle which started with a running group from a local store is where my closest friends have come from. My acceptance of my totally imperfect human body has built from my ability to train and complete these crazy races. My confidence to overcome business failures and try new things has come from the ability to take these big projects and break them down into manageable bits and make them happen. I have so much to be thankful for in sport that I just can’t even list it all. So I’m thankful to my worn out shoes because each pair of worn out shoes represents those miles I’ve been able to do.
With age comes wisdom … at least that’s how it’s supposed to work, right?
When I started triathlon I was very impressed by the new fast gear. I tell people all the time though that I pretty regularly get my butt kicked by old guys on aluminum bikes. So, it’s not about the gear. If you always chase the next new thing you can never find happiness because there is always something newer bigger, more expensive. There is a lot of pressure in the world of endurance sports that is focused on being relentless in forward motion and pursuit of the next finish line. People put a lot of emphasis on being “badass” or “hard core.” I think that’s the path to burn out and sadness.
There will almost always be somebody out there who is faster. There will always be somebody who can go farther. There is a well known book, Man’s Search for Meaning. One takeaway from that book is that joy doesn’t actually have anything to do with what’s actually happening but instead your thoughts about what’s happening. While we can’t control much most of us have control over our thoughts.
After I finished Ironman Boulder a friend asked me what I was trying to prove. And I was stumped … because I’m not actually trying to prove anything. I did some soul searching to make sure that was honest but it is.
I find training very helpful in keeping my life in order. I truly enjoy training and racing. I try to find joy in running my own race wherever that takes me. For me I have learned that joy comes from working hard to accomplish something. That without the work I don’t always feel the joy. And that I feel peace and happiness when I reflect on the things I am doing and have done…not things I’m in the process of doing. Everybody is different but for me gratitude is tied very much to happiness and while it’s something I have to work on constantly it’s worth it.
At the end of this year getting ready for Ironman Florida I was super tired and worn out and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it anymore. Now after almost a month off my reasons for continuing are coming back into focus. I love this sport for what it teaches me about who I am. I am thankful for triathlon and Ironman for showing me who I could become. There will be a day where I won’t be able to run Ironman races but as the saying goes – today is not that day and for that I am grateful.
Thank you for reading.