Like many people on the social media website Facebook, I have been participating in the 30 Days of Gratitude project for the month of November. This has been a daunting challenge, as this month is always a difficult one for me.
The anniversary of the loss of two people who were very important in my life falls in November, and earlier this month, a friend I have known since elementary school passed away.
The skies are often gray here in northern Indiana, and a freezing rain falls because it is too early for snow but too late for warm autumn breezes. The days grow shorter because of the dwindling sunlight in the northern hemisphere. So during most dark Novembers, I long to just curl under my covers and hibernate.
Participating in this 30 Days of Gratitude project, however, has forced me to look on the bright side and find something (however small) to be thankful for. It reminds me that even in dark and gray November days there are people and comforts in my life that I should appreciate because life is fleeting.
It also causes me to think of how I express my feelings of gratitude to the amazing people in my life and remind them how important they are to me. For instance, after the memorial service for my childhood friend, my stepsister embraced me and told me that she loved me. This genuine act of caring on her part surprised me. Not because we don’t deeply care for each other, but because we (like most people) don’t really express these feelings frequently enough.
So I started thinking about how important it is that we express gratitude toward others. Inevitably it came down to considering how we as Unitarian Universalist parents teach our children to express their thankfulness. If we do not model this gratitude ourselves, how are they ever going to feel comfortable doing it?
There are people who keep gratitude journals and families who say grace before meals, but how often do we communicate our thankfulness for the small things in life to one another? What venue can we use to express our appreciation as a family and share with each other how important every member of the family is?
Then it occurred to me that an advent-style or 30-Days-of-Gratitude-type project in our homes might be a great vehicle for expressing our gratitude during this dark time of year. My family for years has created a chain of links to count down the December days until the Winter Solstice, when the shortest day of the year means the light will slowly return each day afterward. This year, I will suggest that as we cut the link off of the chain at the end of each day, we take the time to mindfully express our gratitude for someone or something that holds meaning for us. This will deepen our family ritual and, even more importantly, will lift up the importance of recognizing those things and people in our lives that we are most grateful for.
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).
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