“Things are good”
So said one of the participants in last week’s Jewish Wisdom For Coping with a Pandemic gathering. We were focused on Truth, and with a partner, we tried to look at the Truth of our lives, with an eye out for what is good.
She acknowledged that she had not touched another human being for months because of the pandemic, and that she missed her community. Yet she was ok and could do what she needed to from her home. The realization was on empowering for her, and an inspiration for all of us. (You can see it here).
As we approach Thanksgiving, there are invited to look for the good in our lives. 2020 has been one of the hardest and saddest of my life. I lost my mother to Covid, and yet I’ve tried not to lose the whole year. There have been real moments of joy, community and connection.
This Thanksgiving, will you join me in taking the 15 minute Gratitude challenge? Carve out 15 minutes for yourself, and sit with a journal or a piece of paper. Start a timer, and write down everything in your life that you are grateful for. When I first did this in 2016, it was absolutely transformative. Before I started, I reviewed some key teachings about Gratitude that helped me a great deal.
Mussar teaches that Gratitude is the ability to recognize the good in any situation, and to give thanks. Thus, we are enjoined to be grateful for both good and bad things that happen to us. The latter can be a challenge. For example, when we are in shock over unexpectedly losing our job, and the mortgage payment is coming due, it may be hard to feel grateful. With the fullness of time we may end up with a better job, or being home may allow us to reconnect with our friends and family. Thus, in the moment, we can be grateful that we have an opportunity to spend our time doing other things. In addition, Mussar teaches us to be grateful for inanimate things. For example, right now I am Grateful to the nice lazy boy that supports me in comfort as I write to you. Not only that, I nap regularly in this chair with a cat on my lap.
In the 11th century Mussar classic Duties of the Heart, Rabbi ibn Paquda teaches that there are three things that keep us from being grateful.
- We become too occupied with material things. For example, we want the very latest iPhone, and forget how useful the version we already have is.
- We take things for granted. Here, we fail to recognize the bounty of everyday blessings, like a comfortable bed, a safe neighborhood, and being alive.
- We focus on the negative. We tend to focus on mistakes people make, and the small hurts we receive from loved ones, and don’t notice the positives they do for us.
Before you start, write the three barriers to gratitude at the top of your paper. Then write down the three categories of things we should be grateful for. As a reminder they are:
- Good things
- Bad things (by finding the good in them)
- Inanimate things
Then, start the clock and write your list of things to be grateful for. As you are working on your list, try to overcome each of the objections, and remember to write down things in each of the categories to be grateful for. Don’t stop writing until the timer reaches 15 minutes. Some people find it very hard to write for the entire time. Frankly, this is what I expected to happen to me the first time I tried it.
In contrast, I was quite amazed to discover that at 15 minutes, I wasn’t done. I kept writing for another ten minutes! In those final minutes, I started to feel a sense of calm, peace, and fulfillment. I was amazed, because prior the the exercise I was feeling a bit restless and fretful. When I was done, I was filled with energy and confidence. I still feel the residue of the experience a day later.
So did that change my life? Heck Yah! Even had I only felt those positive feelings for part of a day, that in itself is life changing. Yes, making your today better is life changing. And I have the opportunity to keep making my today better each and every day. Beyond that, I know that I filled almost four pages in my journal of things to be grateful for. When I have such abundance in my life, it is hard to worry about even the big things that can be overwhelming. May this wealth of things to be grateful for give me strength and help me through these challenging times.
So, do you agree that 15 minutes of Gratitude could change your life?
Will you join me? Comment below me and let me know how it goes.
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An earlier version of this post was published in January 2016 and again in December 2018.