11.30.2010

THE MONTH OF GRATITUDE



We are in high holiday season, with a month ahead of parties to which we are:

1. planning to attend with bells on our toes...
2. planning to attend but good intentions aren't always enough...
3. not invited but have heard through the grapevine and would have attended...
4. unable to attend for reasons of being in the wrong place at the right time...
5. unable to attend for reasons of exhausted grumpiness...
6. unable to attend for reasons of overwhelming introversion.

Good cheer is required for an entire long month. This is not an easy feat if one is afflicted with Thanksgiving post partum blues. The house is so quiet. (Never mind that we like a quiet house.) When darkness falls at 4:30 in the afternoon, good cheer might have to be forced.

But hey! Muscling our way into a positive attitude might be a terrific exercise in remedial good humor. To that end, I am declaring December to be The Month of Gratitude.

This idea came upon me last night when I was startled by a nativity scene in front of a church in Tiverton, Rhode Island. I sped past, did a double take, and then made a U-Turn and parked in front of it, to make sure of what I thought I saw. This is probably the most provocative, eccentric Christmas set-up I have ever seen. And it is perfect: a reminder that many people are homeless and hungry. That they are finding warmth from a fire burning in a barrel, and company among destitute others. That out of suffering, and the relief from pain, can come hope and gratitude. That one never knows where and when miracles will happen. That we must offer a hand.

The figures are carved by an artist who used to live nearby; I often thought of him as a chainsaw-wielding maniac, as he left quite a mark on the landscape. During my rambles I often come upon queer, misshapen owls, or parrots, or people grinning from tree trunks.

So, for December: In the spirit of making lists to stay focused, I propose that we begin the month with gratitude for the incredible abundance of food so many of us enjoy. Yes, I know, we all said thank you during our Thanksgiving feasts. But that felt good, didn't it? Some of us held hands around the table and gave voice to our thoughts, or wrote them down on a slip of paper to read aloud (which, at my table, revealed people who were thankful for the Tao and people who were thankful for the Dow...)

It isn't just about feeling gratitude. It is about expressing it. Early and often. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, teatime. Contemplating it, saying it, sharing it. Thank you to the farmers among us who raise their produce and animals with love and care. Thank you, of course, hens. Thank you, as well, lovely tea leaves. Thank you to the shop keepers--including the supermarkets, which, if you stop to think about it, are overwhelming in their abundance. Thank you to the amazing cooks who know how to bring out the best of the cornucopia. And thank you to all who gather us at their tables.

And now, time to smile. All month. That's the other thing I have realized lately; how often, nowadays, we substitute emoticons ;) and smiley-face doodles for the real thing. Just try it: Sit at your desk and smile. Just let the smile play lightly across your face; you don't have to grin idiotically--but soon you just might be, that's how good it feels to smile. Smile when you hand over your credit card to pay for a gift. Smile when someone says something truly stupid or annoying. Take a walk and smile at everything that delights you. Something wonderful and very real happens to your brain--you can feel it kick in--when you smile (to say nothing of your face: A smile is the world's best face lift.) Smiles aren't just for sharing. You can smile all by yourself, just for yourself.

There is so much darkness in these times--not just in the news, of course, but in the brevity of sunshine. It falls to us to turn on the lights. Perhaps that's the best gift we can give one another--the incredible lightness of being.

24 comments:

Bruce Barone said...

We stay focused during this month of gratitude by reading from an Advent Booklet from Unity; it is quite beautiful.

Peace be with you!

Lindsey said...

This is so incredibly lovely. What an excellent reminder. And an extraordinary Christmas scene indeed!
xox

Madgew said...

Loved your post today. Also, take part in a random act of kindness. Pay for someone behind you at the market, in line for a movie, let someone in from another lane of traffic. When passing a homeless person look them in the eyes and say hi. Tip more and enjoy your freedoms to do almost anything in America. It is still the best country in the world-not perfect with plenty of room for improvement but let's make it better by helping others.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

My husband's natural expression is a smile. He smiles in his sleep. Something I've always found so charming.
It's quite true that just the simple act of smiling, even by oneself, is a miraculous mood changer.

quintessence said...

Lovely thought for the season! I do try in general but I am going to make a more concerted effort starting today! And what am amazing nativity scene!! I've never seen anything like it! Hope you had a lovely holiday with the boys!

Barbara said...

Thank you for this Dominique. The nativity scene is profound. Quite the reminder of so many people's reality. We need to stay connected and make this the true season of giving.

Mary Ann said...

Did you notice that the shopping cart is chained to the fellow's legs?
Of course..or else someone in need or want of one would have carted it off. Big sigh...

lostpastremembered said...

The world is so much changed, isn't it? How very brave of the church to put that up to remind the congregation of those in need instead of gloss and lights and eyes closed tight to suffering and wide open to excess. The world needs a little more courage these days... bravo to them and to you for sharing.

Veronica . . . said...

Needed that! Thank you.

Ellen said...

Truly a way to bring ourselves into harmony with the universe....smiles!!

Robert said...

Found your book, found your blog. Thank you Dominique, for both! Thank you too for encouraging us to transmit what I like to call the magical energy of smiles. We cannot transmit it enough and energy is never depleted. What's amazing about smiles is that they create a genuine two way street, good for the recipient but, highly beneficial -physically and emotionally- for the one who smiles the so called Duschene smile, or genuine smile. This discovery changed my life!
Cheers to you for the Holidays
Robert

Kimberly Merritt said...

Beautiful sentiments. Thank you.

Marnie said...

smiling - and feeling good - thanks - I would have done a double take too driving by the contemporary nativity scene. i love smiling eyes too!

Sara said...

Thank you so much for this beautiful and thoughtful post. I smiled then realized how often I frown without thinking. I have a gracious plenty and am so thankful for so many blessings. Thanks again for this reminder to open our hearts each day to gratitude.

ASH Washington said...

A perceptive (and gently funny) reminder to look more closely and to live deeper in this season of hidden light.

Marlene G said...

Thanks for the reminder.

Gratitude is the gateway to Joy and a smile is the key to the gate. True greatness cannot be known without true Joy.

Elvina Scott said...

Dear Dominique, I found your writing through the now famous "Long Hair" piece in the NYTimes. And, I have a stash of H&G from your tenure. I wanted to share my blog titled "Recipes To Save A Marriage By." Rather than provide a link here, you can connect to it through my website at www.elvinascott.com. The writing is about "mono tasking," about environment, about love, pleasure and gratitude Thank you for your beautiful work. Elvina

Cristina said...

charming post, plenty of wise & positive starting-points. thanks!

karensandburg said...

on a lighter note about smiling when you're by yourself...

i have a friend who i call whenever i think of absurd things to say to her. she never misses a beat and plays along, adding her own absurd responses. we go back and forth like this, cracking up throughout the conversation, then picking up our silly-serious conversation. sometimes, i laugh when i'm alone thinking of some silly riff we did or when i come up with a new and original riff to start up. we have an amazing repertoire of material!!!

Arlene said...

Dominique,

Thanks so much for your recent book; it really touched me, as I had a similar experience as you but with the auto industry. It has been quite a journey since my fateful day in December, 2004.

I have been practicing gratitude since October as a means of keeping me focused on the good in life. Time is a precious gift that somehow we have lost touch with. Being unemployed is truly an opportunity to get back to basics and learn all over again, the true meaning of living a good life.

I have long been a follower of your writing (all your books and your House & Garden articles), and I want you to know that I really appreciate you.

Arlene

Kristin Nicholas said...

Hi Dominique: Lovely post. Have read both your books and hope to read this new one. Sure do miss H&G and your fabulous Editor's Letters. My best for a smiling December.
Kristin

Anonymous said...

Small world. My sister-in-law in FL sent me this link, as we live about a mile from this church in Tiverton. The nativity scene is quite unique. Our local paper ran a series of stories that explained the nativity scene. The story unfolded over several weeks.
Maura, needed help, and with child. Jose, I think it was, was able to help her.
the shopping cart collects food for local pantry and diapers to be donated. While this is not our church, they are very active in the community. This is the church where we vote, too. :)
Dominique, it is true, slowing down to appreciate the little things is a wonderful thing! Glad to see Tiverton in the news. Oh, sadly, someone had stolen part of the scene. It is quite a popular site. Just found the link for the stories! Thanks for this!
http://www.amicable.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=36&Itemid=50

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