“Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.”
Flexing the Gratitude Muscle
I have run exactly one Turkey Trot in my life. I used to be a runner, but I always found the prospect of running the day after I’d inhaled copious amounts of green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie a Herculean task. No, I would rather let the contents of my stomach, and the leftovers in the fridge, have their time in the spotlight.
The Turkey Trot was inspiring though, as are any events where masses of people come together to engage in some kind of physical activity. It was connective, and it was community health in quite a literal way. Research certainly shows the benefits on our bodies and minds of running and physical exercise. Similarly, there is outstanding research out there on the benefits of another kind of exercise: gratitude.
Of course, Thanksgiving is THE paragon of gratitude in America. However begrudgingly, I appreciated when my parents would make us say something we’re grateful for before we touched our food. It felt good. At the same time, it felt perfunctory. It felt as if I had not exercised any other day in the year and then I showed up to the Turkey Trot, ready to run my 5k for the year. Of course – most people don’t do that. Most people practice exercisethroughout the year – and the best practice for running is running! This got me thinking: what if we treated Thanksgiving more like we treat the Turkey Trot? What if instead of treating Thanksgiving as a blip of gratitude on an otherwise flat-ish line, we approached it as the symbolic, culminating peak in a vibrant foundation of practicing gratitude throughout the year?
Luckily, the entire world is our training ground for this practice. And, unlike running, we usually don’t need a shower when we’re done. Similar to running, though, the best practice for gratitude is … gratitude. And we can start right now – think small scale! The smell of clean sheets; the fact I can see or hear or move without help; the incredible lyrical dexterity of Lin Manuel Miranda’s “My Shot” from Hamilton. If we treat gratitude like a muscle, it becomes stronger. If I wake up every morning for a year and consciously think about what I’m grateful for, I’m able to tap into that muscle more readily when, for example, I feel sad at something disheartening happening in the world. I build resilience to the negativity, and I build a steady and powerful foundation with which I approach the world.
I listen to a lot of teachers in my line of work. Tony Knight, a P.E. teacher in West Oakland, once told me (paraphrased), “I didn’t know I’d done anything great until I left my last school. Then the thank you letters poured in.” Let’s not wait untill Thanksgiving, or until our favorite teacher leaves, to put some love out into the world. Flex that muscle. That’s why we say “practice Gratitude.” So, what are you grateful for?
Om Chitale is an Inclusion Strategist and the Founder of Teachers of Oakland, a platform that uses storytelling to amplify teachers, unearth empathy in communities, and inspire people to meaningfully support teachers around them. Practice your gratitude muscle with us through our #raiseyourhand campaign at www.facebook.com/teachersofoakland. Om would love to hear from you at [email protected]!