Giving Thanks

The açt of giving thanks isn’t something that comes natural for most of us. Most of the people reading this article have a life that’s absolutely chock full of things to be thankful for, and yet our minds come back to the negatives, the regrets, the things that we wish could be better rather than the things that are great.

It is really easy to overlook all of those things in our lives that really are great in an effort to seek out more and more and more.

Let today be a call to be thankful for the many, many things that we have in our life that we often take for granted, so that we might see the abundance we already have and be a little less driven to excess and perhaps use the gifts we have to secure our own prosperity and gifts instead.

It is easy sometimes to get caught up in the things that aren’t right, the pains, the problems, the mistakes, the regrets, the things left undone. Today, I’m turning my eyes away from that and looking at the bounty that I have.

With that, here are some of the many thing I am thankful for today.

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I am thankful for my family, particularly my wife Sarah and my three children, as well as the numerous extended family members that I’ll be seeing over the coming days. I am incredibly lucky to have an abundance of family members who care about me and choose to spend some of their free time with me. I’m incredibly greatful that those opportunities we have to spend time together tend to be peaceful and joyous and full of laughter.

I am thankful for my close friends, both present and past, who are both local and spread out all over the world. I have had people come into my life from all walks of life and profoundly change me in untold ways, mostly for the better. I am thankful for the opportunities I have to spend time with them in conversation and laughter and do many things together.

I am thankful for my own health, both mental and physical. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to get up in the morning and largely feel quite good in terms of my health and my mental state. I am particularly thankful for having discovered taekwondo and yoga over the past two years, as they have had a profound positive impact on my life.

I am thankful for the opportunity to write for various organizations and cobble together enough income to make a nice living and adequately care for my family and prepare for a wonderful future together with Sarah. There are moments when the work is incredibly challenging, but it brings me joy and meaning on an amazingly consistent basis, and that I also make a living doing it sometimes feels like a miracle.

I am thankful for the simple pleasures of nature: the warmth of sunlight on my skin, the smell of fresh air, the rustle of leaves, the colors of the fields and the forest.

I am thankful for countless little things in my life that add up to so much: reading a good book, playing a tabletop game with friends, making a great meal, tasting a really flavorful full-bodied craft beer, feeling my legs really stretch out when I’m warming up for exercise, holding my wife close to me, getting into a comfortable bed after a long and busy day… those little things really add up.

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I could go on and on and fill up thousands of words listing things like this that I’m thankful for. As I write one of them down, two more pop into my mind, and the article could continue on like that forever.

I write down things I’m grateful for almost every day and even though my life is incredibly full of things to be thankful for, there are still some days where it’s a challenge to even list a few. This used to mystify me – I know that there are many good things in my life, so why does it feel hard and awkward to list them?

The reason is that our minds are conditioned to look not at the good things, but at the bad. We don’t think about what we’re good at most of the time. Instead, we look at our flaws. We don’t consider the many things that are good in the world. Instead, we focus on what’s bad.

Sure, one could point a finger at the media for this, as they breathlessly report every bad thing that’s happening in the world without giving half a second to the good things, and constantly strive to make ordinary people seem menacing and evil. However, the media reports such things because they get ratings, and such things get ratings because we are drawn to watch them. We’re drawn to look at the negative, to strain our neck to see the car accident, to look at our own flaws and the flaws of others.

It is often because of those negative feelings and those perceived flaws that we end up feeling like our lives are emptier than they really are, and we respond to that by wanting more and more and more.

In that process, we often wind up neglecting many of the wonderful things we already have in our life. We start taking things for granted. Our spouse. Our children. That gorgeous view out of our back door. The taste of coffee in the morning. The warm touch of our spouse’s hand on our back. The good things we’ve done. The good traits we have. We just take all of it for granted and turn our eyes to the negatives.

The singular best antidote I’ve found to that is the simple daily routine of stopping and giving thanks and gratitude to a handful of things in my life, things I haven’t been grateful for lately. That simple act reminds me of how incredibly much I do have in my life, and how silly it really is to keep chasing more and more and more.

Giving thanks shouldn’t be cordoned off to just one day a year. Rather, it should be a daily part of our lives, a routine that reminds us of how much we have in our lives. It should be an intentional thing, because, as I noted above, we have a great tendency to turn our eyes toward the painful and negative things in our lives – the things left undone, the things we want but do not have, the things we see as flawed in ourselves.

In truth, every one of us has great things about ourselves that we often don’t give even the most fleeting thought about. Every one of us has done a lot of worthwhile things in our lives. Every one of us already has an overwhelming abundance of good things in our lives, far more than we can count and far more than we probably ever realize.

Rather than looking at the bad in our lives and in the world, make a conscious effort to spend some time each day reflecting on the good things in our lives and in the world.

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So, here’s what I propose to you, starting with this Thanksgiving Day and repeating for each day forward.

Spend just a minute or two today thinking intentionally about the good things in your life and how you’re grateful to have them. Make this into a daily routine, and try not to repeat anything for a week.

I find it useful to actually write them down, though you don’t need to keep a journal per se. I just find that the act of writing something down helps me to really focus on it. I usually aim to name five things each day, and they can’t be things I’ve named in the last few days. They have to be new things.

I find that this practice achieves several things that make my finances better and, frankly, my whole life better.

It forces me to look at the positives in my life. I am so often drawn to my flaws and the things I don’t have in life. I think about my character flaws. I think about the mistakes I’ve made. I think about the things I wish I had. I think about how people have treated me poorly.

Those thoughts lead to a pretty awful place. They lead to a place where it’s very easy to convince myself that I need more in my life, when I really don’t. It’s a place where I want to believe that a product can change some flaw about me, when it really can’t. It’s a place where I’m driven in my decisions by emotion, not choice.

Looking at the positives in my life in a careful and deliberate fashion, if only for a couple of moments, is like lighting up a lantern in a dark cave. It pushes away a lot of those critical negative feelings in a subconscious way. I simply don’t think about them for a while.

Furthermore, chaining together many days of being thankful tends to improve my overall worldview and perspective on myself. It becomes harder and harder to believe that I’m inherently flawed if my life has such abundance. It becomes harder and harder to believe that I’m missing out if I have so many good things around me. It becomes harder and harder to believe the world is such a bad place if there are such good things going on.

It’s that constant chain, that incessant flood of reflecting on those good things, that brings sunshine into the darkness. It’s like installing track lighting in the dark cave of your soul, and when you’re able to look around, you begin to see that there’s plenty already there and there’s no need to want more and more and more.

It’s not an immediate overnight change. It takes time and repetition, but it builds on itself. You begin to feel better about what you have and what your place in the world is like, and the desire to have more and more and more grows less and less.

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As powerful as being thankful and reflecting on gratitude is when it’s a thing that you do privately, it’s perhaps even more powerful when you share those thoughts with others.

Telling someone thank you for what they mean to you or what they’ve done for you or the impact they’ve had on you is a powerful act, not just for you, but for the person receiving the thanks as well.

For you, it’s a way to deeply connect with someone who has lifted you up in some way. It’s a way to repay in a small way what they’ve given you, and for you to bring something valuable into their life without cost to you.

That’s important: thanking someone for what they’ve done for you really has no cost to you. It’s one of those acts that has only upside.

For them… well, few things in life are more powerful than hearing someone tell you sincerely that you changed their life in a positive way. It means a ton to them, even if they have lived a life such that they’ve heard such things before from others. It’s one of those things that is always powerful and never gets old. It’s powerful for everyone.

There are many ways to give thanks one on one. A conversation. A lunch together. A phone call. Even a text or an email.

My preferred way of doing this is by sending a handwritten thank you note. It costs less than a dollar to do this and it becomes something permanent that they can hold onto as a reminder that they’ve done something valuable.

If you want to step out even further, thanking someone publicly is an incredibly powerful act. Speaking in front of others while thanking someone for all that they’ve done for you is a wonderful way to honor and give credit to someone in a truly humble way. It’s one of those acts that leaves almost everyone involved feeling good – you feel good for being able to thank someone for what they’ve done for you, the recipient feels honored by your words, and everyone else feels good because of their connection to the two of you.

You can even write up such a tribute and share it on social media or other public places so that your words can be read by a very wide audience.

Beyond that, I’ve found that sincerely and specifically giving thanks to someone else has a very long tail of positive feeling in both the giver and the recipient. You feel incredibly good about having done it, while the other person feels incredibly good for having received it, and it costs nothing. It’s the power of thankfulness.

Today, give that kind of thanks to someone. Look for someone you’re spending some time today with and tell that person thank you for how they’ve helped you in the past. Do it one-on-one if that feels most comfortable to you, or do it in front of others so they can hear it. Regardless of what you choose, do it. Give thanks.

Furthermore, try to make it into a habit. Writing a thank you note to all of the people in your life that have helped you is a great thirty day challenge, one per day. See if you can fill the next month with this.

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Giving thanks, particularly when done regularly, often boils down to revealing one fundamental truth about your life: you have an abundance of truly good things in your life. The reality is that you don’t need more – in fact, more is often overkill as it can push out many of the wonderful things you already have.

In those moments when you feel empty and you feel somehow drawn to try to buy something to fill that perceived empty space, step back for a moment and think about the abundance of things you have in your life. The people. The experiences. The personal pleasures. The memories. The little things. The big things. Remember how full your life really is, and give thanks for those things, either alone or directly to someone else or to a wide group of people.

What you’ll find is that such thoughts, particularly when practiced with regularity and sincerity, are a powerful tool for washing away a sense of being unfulfilled in life, and it’s that sense of being unfulfilled that often drives some of our worst impulses and financial mistakes.

Give thanks. You won’t regret it.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.