What does it mean to be thankful

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                                      An exercise in writing

What does it mean to be thankful?
It’s not just about being polite after someone has opened a door for you, or someone says,
“God Bless You” after you sneeze. It’s about feeling thankful for the true blessings in your life.
True Blessings mean the things in your life that resonate importance - the things that touch the
core of who you are.
Being thankful
At this time of year, it is easy to take a moment and reflect on all the wonderful things that have
happened to us over the past year and offer up thanks. Even if it has just been a few things, we are
encouraged to take a moment and be thankful. It just takes a little thought; that’s all.
So let’s start by writing down three things that you are thankful for today:
Can't think of anything for which you are thankful? How about the simple fact that you are
breathing? What about the fact that someone else did something for you today? Where did your
last meal come from?
Why are we thankful?
Being thankful opens us up to receiving all kinds of wonderful opportunities. A thankful state of
being is a welcoming state of being.
Why it's important to feel thankful
Learning to be thankful for things beyond the standard "my family", "my friends", and "my
belongings" and seeking out events in our lives that have brought positive change, provide us
with a vehicle for viewing our lives in a new light. Seeing the benefits of being conscious of
thankfulness keeps us focused on the great and wonderful things in our lives. But, being thankful
is more than paying tribute to the things that go well in our lives. The real challenge is learning to
be thankful for the impact brought upon our lives when things didn't go so well.
What about the bad stuff?
What about a tragedy or a loss you may have suffered? A friendship that ended, a hurt inflicted
on you, or the loss of loved one? Maybe you've gone through an experience like that recently.
How does one be thankful for that? On the surface, it certainly doesn’t seem like something one
should be thankful for, right? Why should we be thankful for the bad stuff that has happened to us
in our lives? Everybody experiences pain in life. It’s just a part of the experience. Without pain
and sorrow we would never really know happiness and peace. It’s the way the universe is set up.
As Sir Isaac Newton put it, for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. It’s just the
way it is. So I am not stating that I am thankful for tragedies in my life, per se, but I am thankful
for the experience and here’s why.
My story
         When I was little, I always imagined growing up and having a wonderful husband,
         beautiful family, and a nice home. I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that after 12
         years, my marriage would end in divorce and that my entire adult life would forever be
         changed by that heart-breaking experience. But it did. What I did not expect to happen
         was that new doors would suddenly open, and rather than focus on someone else as a
         priority in my life (my ex-husband), I began to make myself a priority and find true
         happiness in doing so.

        In my most desperate of times, I began taking long walks to sort out my thoughts and
        think things through. It was therapeutic for me to pop my ear buds in, crank up my I-Pod
        and walk for miles. As the weather grew cold, I began to walk faster only to stay warm,
        and before long, I began to run. I had never been an athlete in high school; had never
        taken a class more strenuous than Jazzercise, and suddenly, at age 40, I became a
        runner. Now, it may not seem extraordinary to some, but to me, it was an astronomical
        feat and I was able to prove to myself that not only was I physically strong, but I was also
        mentally and emotionally strong enough to survive the greatest disappointment of my life.
        Maybe some would say that I was running away from my tragedy, or from my problems.
        But I don’t think so. The most negative event of my adult life has had some of the most
        positive impacts on me as a person. And for that, I am truly thankful.

Another story
I read a story once about a Major in the Army National Guard who was a company commander
during a tour in Baghdad, Iraq. I don’t think we always realize the sacrifice the service men and
women make to keep our country free. Their entire lives are changed with the experience,
sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. He said this,

        “Having gratitude in all things is rooted in attitude. When I was in the army, one of my
        best soldiers was Sergeant ***. He had his fair share of difficulties during our year in
        Iraq. While overseas, his wife ran off with another man and then ended up in jail, his
        cars were impounded, his credit cards were maxed, he was involved in an accident on
        one of our missions and ruptured a disc in his back, and then his father died. The hits
        just kept on coming. But he always had smile on his face. Fearing some building
        eruption, I pulled him aside and asked him how he was doing – really. He gave his
        typical response, “Sir, never better!” I pressed him further noting all the events that had
        happened in his life. He took a step back and drew an imaginary circle around himself
        and he said,
        “Captain ***, this is the only thing I can control. How others behave is their choice, but
        only I can choose how it affects me. And I choose to be happy.” It is within our power to
        choose gratitude in any situation.”

Your turn
Now, I will ask you to dig down and think about a negative event that provided a positive effect
on your life. Perhaps being grounded for a week provided you with the opportunity to develop a
new hobby that turned out to be an important aspect of your life. Or, perhaps once you were
running late for an activity and because of that, it prevented you and your parents from being in a
car accident. Be sure to look back at all the mountains you've climbed and acknowledge the
growth and progress you've made since then. Be thankful for the experiences because without
them, you wouldn't be where you are today.

In a well-written, holistically correct essay, explain about a time in your life when a negative
experience turned out to eventually have a positive effect on your life, and in what ways you are
thankful for that experience. (Remember, seeing the benefits of being conscious of thankfulness
keeps us focused on the great and wonderful things in our lives!) A rough draft of this writing
exercise is not required. On the contrary, I would like you to use Microsoft Word to create your
response and to revise as you write. However, the final product must be holistically-correct and
error free.

One step further:
If this experience directly relates to a specific person in your life, turn this explanatory essay into
an explanatory letter and either mail it, email it, or share it with that person at Thanksgiving.
Remember, “It is within our power to choose gratitude in any situation.”

This writing exercise is due on Tuesday, November 23, 2010. It must be typed, and if you are
writing an explanatory letter, you must print two copies: one to send and one to turn in. You will
receive a composition grade for your efforts and new insight toward what it means to be truly

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