Whenever someone would ask my grandpa, “How are you?” his answer was always the same: “thankful.” He’d have this huge grin on his face but his eyes would be fixed on yours, checking to see if you were tracking with him.
Honestly, my teenage self thought he could have come up with something a little more exciting if he was going to have a standard answer. Thankful? It’s not even November (I was kind of shallow).
Years later, after several moves across states and continents, I found myself in this pattern: at the new location I would suddenly be aware - too late! - of all the wonderful aspects of my old home.
I had lists of all kinds of things I missed: the way the mist rose off the lake on early morning trips to the grocery store in Maryland and the first neighbor I ever had in Michigan (an old, kind of grumpy man who helped me figure out the laundry machines and lent me quarters and helped me clean up when I spilled soap everywhere) and the way Argentines stop everything in the middle of the afternoon for snacks and a chat and a store with the most diverse assortment of handmade items in southeastern Ohio and the acres of woods that surrounded my childhood home.
At some point in there I kind of had an “aha” discovery that I could very much enjoy whatever was my current situation if I just noticed it and was, you know, thankful.
So I began deliberately practicing gratitude. I write the things I’m thankful for in journals, or on scraps of paper, or chalkboards or white boards. I use my Instagram stories (I have a highlight folder called 3/grateful if you want to check @ebocka). Our family got rolls of cash register tape and wrote a list of what we were thankful for in November each year and hung it up around our kitchen as a reminder.
Studies show these are all great practices, and even help rewire our brains toward greater happiness. But I have found even with doing all these things and more, my approach to the world around me - my family, circumstances, God, even food - is often more about what I need or want than noticing and thanking them for what they have already given.
It seems like maybe there is a greater gratitude. Some people, like my grandpa, stay in this place of noticing the gifts around them and they speak and act and live from there, instead of from a place of trying to scrounge up three good things from the day.
My friend Thomas Lamson is another person who lives a grateful life. I met Thomas several years ago at our Saturday night meal. He is tough and a little scary, but he has a huge, fierce heart. He looks out for people. If I ask him how he is, his answer is always, “Well, I ain’t pushin’ up daisies!” He considers himself very blessed simply because he is alive. If I say, “Have a good week,” he says, “I have to!”
This instructs me. I don’t know that I’ve ever looked at the coming week and felt obligated to consider it good BEFORE IT EVEN STARTS! I’m not sure how. I’m not exactly sure why Thomas has to. But this does point out to me a low-grade assumption I have that the next week will not be good. And I don’t need that.
A bike class I attended a few years ago had a custom that each participant would thank the instructor on the way out. It just took a second, literally. I’m going to try that next: expect to speak gratitude. Grandpa would be proud. Well, thankful.