There are moments when I am overwhelmed by the good things in my life and my heart fills with thanks. There are other moments when I whine and complain about the way things are and my thoughts are muddled when it comes to being grateful.
A few years ago, I decided to cultivate gratitude. In an attempt to unmuddle my brain, I disciplined myself to write down at least one thing I'm thankful for every day. I cut up little strips of paper, like the ones you use to make paper chains at Christmastime.
However, instead of making a big chain to count down the days to Christmas, I started with just a few loops of gratefulness and added a loop every day for a year.
By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, the chain wrapped around my room threatening to smother me in gratitude. Many strips had names of people on them — people who inspire me and lead by their example, people who came to my rescue any given day, people who put up with me, people whom I don't even know but am glad exist in the world, people who give my life meaning and love me well.
Other strips represented days I was grateful for the simple things in life: hot baths, my garden, my dog, coffee, rain, bicycles, music, legs that can run, pretty scarves.
I noted down the less tangible, too: joy, a peaceful heart, friendship, inspiration, loyalty, the things that take your breath away when you really notice them.
Looking for something each day to be grateful for became an adventure. It opened my eyes to see my life in new ways. I felt less needy. I was less likely to be envious or feel sorry for myself. I was more appreciative. It was a good year.
On Thanksgiving Day when we go around saying what we are grateful for, it seems appropriate to pull out the big ones: family, health, friends, etc. In my year of gratefulness there was something sweet about spreading out the thanks and being able to delight in the details of life.
Now as the official holiday rolls around, I am reminded again of my megalong chain of gratitude. Even though I'm out of the daily practice of writing something down, there is a place in me that sees the good things in my life and calls out in thanks to God, the giver of good gifts.
Next week I will give thanks with several different groups whom I love. I will eat turkey cooked with chili in a carport with dozens of my neighbors and a few cops on Baker Street. My family will eat Aunt Jeanie's fruit salad on my mom's china, and kids in the after-school programs will say what they are thankful for while shoving cupcakes in their mouths.
My guess is that the common denominator again this year will be the joy and thanksgiving we feel in being together. In each setting, we are most grateful when we look around and acknowledge again the people who make life rich.
May your Thanksgiving Chain be filled with many loops of gratefulness and may an attitude of thanksgiving accompany us all year long.
CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.