What Are You Actually Thankful For?

Happy Thanksgiving week! I am changing this post up a bit, and rather than making a list of 5-10 things I am thankful for this year, I’m straying from my list format completely (it kind of hurts my type A tendencies a tad). I want to challenge you to put in the thinking with me. I know, you’re probably thinking well Lauren, that’s easy; I am thankful for my friends and family, my job, my smoking hot significant other, my house…etc. While that is probably a true statement for most (it is for me as well), those responses have become such a default that I feel it’s equivalent to saying “good” to the “how are you?” question. You all know how much I preach that it’s the little things in life that bring me joy- and I mean that quite literally. How about we deep dive to find what little things in your life make more than an impact than you know?…and feel free to change your “how are you?” answer while you’re at it to something more honest and interesting like “I’m actually doing pretty great today” or “I feel like I’ve watched the Sarah McLachlan Humane Society commercial one too many times aka not great.” But I digress…

Have you ever just sat and thought about what you’re thankful for? I mean that literally, just park it in the middle of your living room to think about what brings you more joy than it probably should for the average person. Psychology shows that taking the time out of your day to think of 3-5 things you’re thankful for leads to better mental health and life satisfaction- this is a component of Positive Psychology. I am not one to pass up a good psychology experiment, so I picked up this habit and now use my mornings accompanied with my coffee to actually stop, sit, and think before I start my 7-4 grind. This allows our minds to recognize that life ain’t so bad even when you’ve got a million things to do at work, you despise the thought of leg day later, or you back into a concrete pole in your parking garage (true story). Again as I always say, the little things can mean a lot more than you realize.

How I start my mornings!

I think some people believe that being thankful for something has to mean it is this life-changing phenomenon, person, place, or something they are told they should be thankful for in their lives. While it’s definitely something to be thankful for if you met the peanut butter to your jelly, found out via alpaca the cause of your mysterious disease, or went on a memorable trip (try to guess which one of these is about me); being thankful for something doesn’t need to be big. Heck, most of what I jot down in my journal every morning sounds like I have nothing exciting going on in my life ever…but once you start to view those insignificant little things in life as a big deal, your perspective quickly changes. Then, the days where you feel like everything is going down the toilet…you’ll at least be thankful you have a toilet to flush things down (this is so true though, can you imagine how hard life would be without those things?)

Keeping things too broad won’t have the same positive psychological effect as getting into the little things- and companies know that, and use that against you. A good example of this is the body positivity movement. This preaches that in order to improve negative body image and accept what we look like right now, we must be thankful for our bodies no matter if we don’t feel great. While this all has good intentions, it doesn’t get into the WHY, which leaves people stranded still thinking they aren’t worthy because it’s more of a statement that tries to get you to convince yourself that you believe it, and to buy products to help you do so. On days that I don’t feel great about myself, I don’t write in my journal that I am thankful for my body; I write that I am thankful that I have muscular legs that allow me to jump up and reach high shelves because I am really short. I write that I am thankful for my eyeballs that allow me to watch the bachelorette every week. I write that I am thankful for my stomach that endured all the body slams as a gymnast (proof below). I write that I am thankful for my arms that allow me to show up every cocky body builder in the gym with a simple handstand. You get it- be specific about how it affects you, not just that something exists, because seeing that something serves a purpose to let you live the life you want is what leads to life satisfaction- not the concept itself.

So how do we deep dive to find the little things? Think about your routines throughout the day and what brings you joy. When I think about what brings me joy, I immediately think of coffee post rolling out of bed. The act of picking out my favorite mug, and the fact that it forces me to go slow for once in my life (going fast results in a scorched mouth), is a constant every morning that I look forward to. I’m thankful that I have this pause in my day no matter how hectic the day will be shortly after. What little things bring you joy? Maybe it’s a favorite outfit, goodnight texts, everything but the bagel seasoning, your favorite candle on a chilly morning, the dollar aisle at Target, a good hair day, warm showers, the Vikings aren’t as terrible as usual, a favorite playlist, sweatpants, when your man wears a backwards hat (ladies, you know), a new book, a free weeknight…the everyday things right in front of you that would put a damper on things if they weren’t there!

Next, what makes your life easier? I mean this in the most literal way possible. There’s no rules for what you feel thankful for- all needs are different for everyone at all times! This week, I have been extremely thankful for my bike shorts. Yes, my unattractive padded booty bike shorts. I could easily answer this question with something like: I am thankful for my friends, and the support they give me during a tough week…but that does absolutely nothing if what I need this week is rear end support so a bike seat doesn’t end up in a place I don’t want it to be (I mean I guess friends could help you out with that, but I don’t need to be THAT close with my gal pals).

I find it interesting that a lot of the time, when I ask people what they are thankful for, it isn’t something tangible or visible, it is something like “I am alive today” or “my family’s love.” Not that those aren’t valid answers, but come on people do you actually wake up every morning and the first thing you do is sit up in bed and think about how alive you are or how much your family loves you? No, you go get coffee, hop in the shower, or hit the snooze button etc. People never mention physical things in their lives they’re glad they have, probably because it feels silly, or totally forget about the mundane. So what in your life are you thankful for that makes life easier for you? Perhaps it’s online shopping, your husband’s love for driving you everywhere, your girlfriend’s weird interest in folding laundry, dating apps, dairy free butter (hallelujah), wireless earbuds, wrinkle free dress shirts, working from home, elevators,….you get what I mean. Being thankful is recognizing those little things that ultimately make you feel less strained, more relaxed, relieved, less like you want to cry in the shower, and saves you from climbing 27 flights of stairs to your office!

Now, think about what you dread. We have all heard the “change your thinking from I HAVE to, to I GET to” phrase, right? Practicing being thankful for the things you think you hate, but deep down appreciate because they benefit you greatly, is a prime way to make every day less like Terrible Tuesdays. For me, this is the Sunday Scaries and the daunting feeling of the work week ahead. I get so anxious thinking about all the future emails in my inbox, and how tired I am going to be by Friday…but I am thankful for the Sunday Scaries because that means I have a job to pay my rent, a purpose and a calling, and I have coworkers that appreciate me. What about you? Common things I know we all dread are going to the gym…but some people can’t! We dread going to work…but some out there wish to have a job or the job you have. Some despise grocery shopping, cleaning the house, shopping for a new outfit for a special occasion…you fill in the blank. There’s always a way to put a positive spin on the things we love to hate, we just don’t do it enough.

Well, that’s it folks. No giant list of paragraphs this time around (maybe you’re thankful for that). I truly, TRULY, challenge you to start a daily list of 3-5 of those little things you’re thankful for. I have enjoyed going back through my journal to see what simple pleasures did it for me depending on the stage of life I was in, and picking those simple pleasures back up if I forgot about them along the way. One honorable mention I wrote down during a stressful time in college was “I’m thankful for chairs that are short enough that my feet touch the ground so my calves don’t swell up during finals.” I’d love to hear some of the things that bring you joy, make your life easier, and what things you can learn to love on days you really don’t want to. What do you have to lose other than less stress in your life and less negativity?

Before I go…Here are 5 top things I am grateful for this year (did you really think I could resist my list?)

  1. Free parking at work solely for the purpose that parallel parking downtown Minneapolis makes me want to cry.
  2. Breweries- a lot of great beginnings started at these this year, and I am on a quest for the best sour.
  3. Trader Joe’s because if you know, you know.
  4. Taco salads. That’s it, that’s the sentence.
  5. My step stool because I am short if you did not already notice that yourself.

Go eat all your favorite things this week, and be thankful for your fork!