Hard to believe, but it’s already November. Where has the year gone? Every year in November I write about the importance of having an attitude of gratitude. But I certainly understand how wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, mass shootings in the US, and other tragedies dominating the news can make it a lot more difficult for folks to focus on feeling grateful. What can we do to keep our thoughts from sinking downward?
I’m going to offer up a few ideas in the hope they will help motivate you to move toward feelings of gratitude for the simple things you have to be thankful for.
- Margie once created a simple model she calls PACT—Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, and Tone—that addresses both life balance and stress reduction. In teaching this model, Margie and I found focusing on the four elements of the PACT model helped people not only manage the demands of a busy life but also deal with unexpected stress.
- Be grateful for perspective. Perspective is a picture of where you’ve been and where you’re going that sets the context for your day. When you watch “Breaking News,” it can seem like nothing good is happening anywhere. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your own well-being is to turn off the news and find a good book. Go outside and play with the dog or watch the wind blow through the trees. Put on some uplifting music. Have a meal with a friend. You have the option to change your perspective. Once you ground yourself and reclaim your own real life, it is easier to find things that make you feel grateful.
- Be grateful for autonomy. Autonomy is the feeling that you have some control over what happens to you—the freedom to make your own choices and steer yourself toward your goals. When current events cause you to feel anything but in control of things, remember that you have the ability to control where your thoughts go, and you can choose how you react to current situations. Start by being more intentional about the messages you pay attention to. Look for the good—it’s out there! Mr. Rogers said he was taught by his mother to “look for the helpers” in tragic situations. Be grateful for the helpers—people who are helping others and working to make a positive difference in the world. Be grateful for who you are—a person with autonomy—and for being alive.
- Be grateful for connectedness. Connectedness is generally about your relationships with others. Be grateful for how many ways you can connect with your family, friends, and colleagues. We’ve all learned that connectedness can happen even when we aren’t face to face with another person. I’ve said often how grateful I am for Zoom. I became a true Raving Fan of Zoom the first time I attended an all-company meeting and saw everyone from the office that I had missed seeing since the shutdown. It was fabulous! I soon learned that I could see and talk with clients around the world without getting on a plane! It changed my life. Even when you can’t connect with someone in person, you can still let them know you are grateful that they are in your life.
- Be grateful for tone. Tone is how you feel about yourself physically, your energy level, and how you present yourself. This is the most important element in the PACT model because high or low tone can affect the other three elements. When you feel good and have a positive perspective, your tone is high. You make good choices for yourself and want to stay connected to others. But you can tell if your tone starts slipping into a lower state—you may feel like staying home more, staying up later or sleeping in, or not caring if you wear sweats every day. When you feel your tone sliding down, work on the other three elements of the PACT model—your perspective, autonomy, and connectedness with others. You’ll soon feel less stressed and more balanced.
- Here’s a wonderful perspective: a poem of gratitude from the late Thich Nhat Hanh, who was one of the most beloved Buddhist teachers in the West. This was his morning prayer, which can be practiced by anyone of any faith or no faith:
Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky.
I join my hands in thanks
for the many wonders of life;
for having twenty-four brand-new hours before me.
- Every night, Margie writes down three positive things that happened in her day. These could be as simple as hearing from an old friend, or finishing a great book, or the joy she gets from teaching her career planning class at work. It’s her way of ending each day with positive thoughts and a peaceful mind.
- As the holiday season approaches, think about giving your loved ones, friends, and colleagues the gift of your presence. We all get busy with work, shopping, and other tasks and sometimes forget to simply make time to be present with people we care about. Let them know you love them and are thankful they are in your life.
Finally, we need to keep our hearts open to the innocent victims of war—the citizens and families of the Middle East and Ukraine. However you wish others well, be it through caring thoughts, meditation, prayer, or another type of reflection, let’s send safety, peace, and love to those who are suffering.
This November, I hope we can all find a way to feel and express gratitude for everything we have and everyone we love, including each other—and ourselves.