By Valerie Young
This week most Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving. Our Canadian friends celebrated their Thanksgiving in October. Other countries and cultures around the world have their own days and ways of expressing appreciation for life’s abundance.
I happen to believe every day is meant for thanksgiving. I also think that recognizing the riches in our lives is integral to the process of changing course. Let me tell you what I mean.
Chances are, the reason you’re considering shaking up your life is that you’re unhappy with the way things are right now. In fact, you’re probably painfully aware of exactly what – or who – is contributing to your current misery. It’s your lousy job… or disagreeable boss… or annoying co-worker… or maddening commute… or the day-to-day pressures and stress of the job… you fill in the blank.
You’re “here” but you desperately want to be “there.” And while you may not know exactly what “there” looks like yet, you do know this: You want your future to look very different from your present. And herein lies the challenge. How do you strive to fashion this future life, yet still live happily in the present?
In a word: gratitude. If you don’t like that word then try “mindfulness.”
You see, I believe that the key to our current well being AND our future success is the ability to be mindful of all that we have right this very minute. This is all the more true if the present is less than desirable.
That’s because, as Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin point out in Your Money or Your Life, “So much dissatisfaction comes from focusing on what we don’t have that the simple exercise of acknowledging and valuing what we do have can transform our outlook.” Let me share with you two personal examples of how living in the present and gratitude have transformed my own outlook.
I was on a road trip through Connecticut. I don’t remember now where I was going but I do know that as usual, I was in a hurry to get there. I was making pretty good time when suddenly traffic on the interstate slowed to a crawl.
As I sat there fuming a big tractor-trailer truck edged alongside me. Even in my agitated state, I couldn’t help but notice that the side of the truck had nothing on it. It was completely devoid of advertising, company name, or words of any kind. There were no clues as to its contents whatsoever. It was completely white.
As the truck inched ahead, I could see some writing along the back. Maybe it was one of those “How’s my driving?” messages encouraging motorists to call in to report the driver’s performance. As the truck slowly pulled in front of my car, three simple words written in neat black letters came into view. The words were: Be Here Now.
I don’t know what the truck company had intended by that message but I do know the effect it had on me. The first thing I did was take a long, deep breath. My breathing slowed, my muscles relaxed. Heeding the message, I decided that instead of raging at the traffic gods I may as well pop in a CD, sit back, and do the only thing I could do – enjoy the ride.
I began to compare the simple, yet powerful, message to “be here now” with the popularity of those “I’d rather be…” bumper stickers. Some of our fellow drivers would rather be fishing. Others would rather be shopping. A personal favorite common here in this college town is, “I’d rather be smashing imperialism.” We may all fill in the “I’d rather be…” blank differently but the message is still the same – we’d rather be just about anywhere but “here.”
To be fully in the moment is no small task. Even on a good day our minds have a tendency to race ahead with plans or worries or ideas. Being present is even more challenging when the current state of affairs is the very thing we so desperately seek to change.
And yet, neglecting the present invariably leads to future regrets. Being too busy to spend meaningful time with our children, visit a sick or aging relative, exercise, or even have fun is the stuff regrets are made of. None of us will look back at our lives and wish we’d done less, but we will all wonder why we didn’t do more.
John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” Lennon understood that life is for living… today. What I’m trying to say is this: As you work to create that new and different future remember that changing course is as much about the journey as it is the destination.
To fully enjoy this ride called life requires that we appreciate each and every day and that we be mindful of all that we have. I realize this may not always be easy… especially when faced with illness, or hunger, or loss.
Yet even in the most dire circumstances, I’ve learned that there is always something to be grateful for. My friend’s Aunt Nancy had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was given no more than six months to live. She hung on just long enough to attend her grandson’s graduation. As we were driving Aunt Nancy to the ceremony, we saw the most beautiful sunset. Grinning from ear to ear I heard her whisper, “I’m so lucky. I’m so very, very lucky.” I can tell you, we all felt pretty lucky that night.
“Once we are above the survival levels,” say Dominguez and Robin, “the difference between prosperity and poverty lies simply in our degree of gratitude.” When you consciously focus on life’s gifts instead of its challenges, you’ll begin to feel rich beyond measure.
So as you enjoy a drink of clean water, a warm bed, or the company of a loved one, pause and be grateful for who and what is in your life right now. Strive toward that new future, but remember to be here now and savor the journey.
To all who celebrate this special holiday, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.