How to be thankful
We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in Europe, and I have never joined my North American friends for this festive dinner party, but in my mind, this holiday was all about the abundance of delicious food and family reunions, similar to Christmas (as it is celebrated in my family). But later in my life I learned more about why thanksgiving was originally celebrated, and that part of why people in the US and Canada still keep this tradition alive is, as the name Thanksgiving suggests, showing gratitude and being thankful. Although this holiday has its roots in religious traditions, being grateful and appreciating things in life has nothing to do with religion and from time to time, we all should pause for a moment, look around at everyday things, and realize how many of them we take for granted. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Thanksgiving for us to try looking at things with a different perspective and greater respect, but lets take this opportunity to pause and reflect.
WATER, AIR, AND SUN
The water we drink, the air we breathe, and the sunlight we all live and grow under is something we rarely think about. While there are people in the world that don’t have access to safe drinking water and literally cherish every single drop, we waste so much of it on a daily basis. Some people say they don’t like the taste of water, that it is so bland and tasteless, while this clear liquid is more than just two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen, it is the very reason why life can exist on this planet. Water is important for every living organism on earth; it nourishes our bodies on the cellular level, and it also makes our food grow. We are so used to turning on the faucet and having a basically unlimited amount of water on hand in our kitchens and bathrooms, it never registers as something we should cherish and value. The air that goes into our lungs and the rays of sunlight that nourish our skin are also under appreciated gifts of nature we enjoy every day, without thinking twice about their value and importance. The air around us is already polluted by industry to a massive degree, but just as the green plants in our homes clean the air of our living rooms, forests all around the world work like giant lungs of the Earth, oxygenating the atmosphere with their impressive abilities to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, and making the air breathable for humans and animals. Water, sunlight, and air are like the holy trinity of nature; make sure you use them, not abuse them.
How to show gratitude: Be mindful. Next time you pour yourself a glass of water, think about the kind of nourishment it gives you. Think about whether you really need a full bathtub every day, or if brief shower is not a better option for you and the environment (it definitely is a more economical option for your wallet). Install water filters and faucet aerators that are both ecological and economical, so you avoid wasting too much water, minimize chemical exposure, and also save money. Breathe deeply. Find a few minutes every day and try some mindful breathing techniques. Read this great post about deep breathing exercises, use meditation, or try pranayama breathing during your yoga classes. Loving-kindness meditation is a particularly excellent form of practice. Simply take a few moments each day to really experience mindful breathing, feeling the fresh air filling your lungs with every breath. Sit still and enjoy the magic of this simple, invisible, but powerful natural manifestation of being alive. Water your house plants or garden. And also, read this post we created about the importance and value water and sunlight have for human life.
In days gone by, people used to hunt and gather, and later to grow all their food. There were no supermarkets, grocery shops, or farmers markets they could go to and get food in exchange for money the way we can conveniently do today. In the modern world, our food comes in colorful plastic or cardboard packaging, neatly arranged on the shelves of supermarkets for us to just pick up anytime we want. No matter what eating style is the closest to our heart (and metabolic type), we don’t treat our food the way our ancestors did. And most of us have probably walked by a garbage can that was overflowing with wasted or spoiled food that could easily have fed a whole family for a few days. In my country, there is a policy that supermarkets cant actually give food away to those in need, even if it means throwing tons of perfectly good food away in the trash. This is tragic, and I am encouraged to see more and more countries creating policies prohibiting such practices.
Too often I find a spoiled or rotten piece of produce in my fridge or pantry (sometimes I forgot about it, sometimes I just didn’t store it properly). I also know people who have lived their whole lives in the city and have never actually seen what a crop field or living chicken looks like. In a cooking show on TV, there was a young girl recently, saying: I know that pork comes from pigs, but I have no idea where beef comes from. This was a twenty year old girl, competing on a cooking show! Unfortunately for many people, food means something pre-packaged I can buy, take home, maybe reheat, and eat.
How to show gratitude: Watch this great documentary about food waste, or just this short (and funny) video by John Oliver. Nothing will make you appreciate things more than actually growing or making them yourself. There is so much hard work farmers have to do every day for our produce to fill our stores and kitchens, and we tend to overlook that effort. If you have a small garden and you already grow a part of your produce yourself, you know how much hard work this can be and how satisfying it is to take a huge bite of your own home grown tomato, or how delicious the scrambled eggs from the free range, happy chicken that runs around your own back yard, nibbling at bugs and earthworms, are.
Start with something small today. The easiest thing you can do is plant your own herbs at home. It is not very different from having a standard house plant, only these ones you can eat. Adding a handful of fresh parsley or basil is a huge flavor boost for your meals, and no store bought options can beat a cup of peppermint tea made with fresh leaves. You don’t have to slaughter your own hog (although it is a popular tradition in certain villages in my country), but you can make your own sourdough bread for example. If you put your own work, your own blood, sweat, and tears into it, you will have a completely new outlook on your food, and you are much more likely to appreciate the work of the other people who are responsible for your daily meals.
Speaking of the work of other people, we often don’t look outside our own bubble. We tend to take other peoples actions for granted too. Bus driver, mailman, baker, shop clerk, or nurse they all might have an impact on our daily existence, yet we rarely stop to appreciate them. Every time my bus or train is late, in my head I tend to blame the driver, without even thinking about the real reason. There might have been traffic congestion or an accident. Maybe he is tired, maybe he is stressed and not performing as well as he could. Maybe there was a really annoying passenger who started fighting with the driver, causing the three minute delay. Waiting in line at the post office is a completely different story, it always takes over an hour for me to actually get to the counter. What are they doing back there? Are they having a coffee break while all these people are waiting? goes through my head. Do they even know I am here and I need to be somewhere else in an hour?
We play the leading role in the story of our life, but we often forget that while other people are just a supporting character to us, they are the leader in their own life and they are not here just to please us. They do their job as well as they can, just like we do. But blinded by our own sense of self importance, we usually ignore other people, unless they do something wrong that affects us. Many times in my life I thought: That doctor is stupid, that customer is so annoying with his requests, or why is the cashier so slow? But when I was treated badly by other people I was serving, it seemed so unfair to me. I was not very humble in the midst of those experiences, and it has been a very long learning process to get to where I am now.
How to show gratitude: Say thank you. Smile. These two simple tools are very effective and they don’t cost a thing. Don’t command, ask politely. One smile can brighten the other persons day. You don’t know their story, you don’t know their struggle, but you can have a momentary impact on their current situation simply by showing appreciation. I have a favorite cashier in my neighborhood grocery store she always welcomes me with a huge smile, because she remembers me being kind, caring, and positive. We usually engage in some small-talk during my checkout and I love her positive feedback. Hug someone you love today, send a card to an old friend, just to show you care and you don’t take your friendship for granted. Bring your mother, daughter, or wife some flowers, don’t wait until their birthday or any special occasion. Do something for your spouse, something they are usually in charge of, or do something extra to say thank you without words. From years of experience I know that being nice to people is mutually beneficial, providing a positive experience for both sides. And even if you are in a bad mood, those people don’t need to know, or at least they don’t deserve to become a target. We are not suggesting that you should be fake nice to hide your own feelings, but making a choice to be kind to people will come back to you in no time, trust me.
Our body is our home. We will never get another one, we must treat the one we have with the best care we possibly can. Just as with our approach to most things in life, we don’t really notice the amazingness of our physical bodies, unless there is a problem. We don’t typically wake up each morning thinking: I am so happy that I have two amazing legs, two wonderful arms, one brilliant brain, two eyes that allow me to see the beauty of the world, a nose that allows me to smell the divine aroma of my morning coffee, and a thumb that allows me to write text messages on my iPhone. But we really should! Our bodies are very fragile, but also very strong and powerful. They are perfect the way they are, and as long as we take care of them properly, they do their job perfectly.
The human body is able to heal itself, when given the proper tools, but unfortunately it is also able to turn against itself when treated poorly. Sometimes we make choices that have a really negative impact like poor diet, smoking, drugs, or too much alcohol, but sooner or later it catches up with us. Very often, trauma applies pressure to our genetics, flips on a switch, and activates a cascade of illness(es). These traumas can be both physical and emotional; different people carry a different burden from their past. All too often, we experience certain discomforts or health issues, but we don’t pay attention to them until they begin limiting our daily activities. I have suffered from chronic lower back pain for a few years now, but unless I am crying in my bed, unable to get up, I don’t really focus on this problem. Two days ago, I lost a friend to cancer. She left so quickly, her family didn’t even have time to deal with the fact that she was this sick. She ignored her symptoms for a very long time, and didn’t go to a doctor because she was scared of the diagnosis. Health and wellness has been my passion for years, but it was this particular loss of a friend, former colleague, and fairly young woman with two young daughters that got me to reconsider my own actions.
How to show gratitude: Love yourself. Please, really love your body and your mind. The Loving Diet we reviewed recently is an excellent source of knowledge about healthy self love, acceptance, and coping with any health condition. It helped me a lot in the process of finding peace with my own body. The Last Best Cure is another wonderful book that focuses on healing from the inside, understanding how traumatic experiences impact our health, and finding health, joy, and peace in our lives through the use of tools like meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and counseling. Realize once again that your body is your only home, and a solid home needs to have a solid base. Don’t love yourself after you lose those ten pounds, don’t love yourself outside your illness, love yourself the way you are now. You cant fix a body you hate. You take care of your loved ones and you love them unconditionally, so make sure you give yourself the same amount of love and respect.
Here is a suggestion: Get a simple notebook and every night before you go to bed, write down three things you are thankful for that day. Even superficial things like a good-hair day or Black Friday sales or a delicious dinner. The idea is to stop for a moment each day and appreciate little things. A beach is made up of tiny grains of sand, just like little details that might seem unimportant on their own, but together they create this big miracle called LIFE. Don’t take anything for granted. Be grateful.