The Grateful Game

By: Sandy Churchill

Gratitude is not reserved for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any holiday alone. A thankful heart is a gift that acknowledges, celebrates, and shares joy. Gratitude has a way of noticing the good, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, and has a magical quality of replicating and growing positivity. Especially when things seem tough or stressed or gloomy, a small step toward joy can happen when we embrace the scavenger hunt of seeking the good.

At our house, we play “the grateful game” on walks, during errand drives, or at home conversations. When my teenage son is stressed about his workload during finals week, for instance, he might share that he is grateful for his favorite coffee that morning, a newly-released album on YouTube, or a game he got to play recently. I might embrace the sunny day, a call from a friend, or a cozy fire we got to have with family.

If one of us is battling a cold, disappointment in a job, or other stress, the practice of cultivating gratitude has emotional, spiritual, and even physical power. Even with greater challenges, spanning illnesses and finances, job insecurity, and relationship stresses, playing the grateful game can make a difference. It’s not that the other problems disappear—but they shrink a bit because we focus on the joy amid the challenges. Some days are harder than others, but we seem to experience what we notice, and we notice more positive things once we start looking.

A famous life coach talks about the use of a “gratitude journal” with one special caveat; she tells her audience that you may write about five grateful things only that took place in the past 24 hours. Her reasoning is pretty simple: she believes if you list only high-level “gratefuls” such as health, home, family, work, and friends, you may not genuinely reflect on these joys in the same way because they are not specific and often taken for granted. However, if you recall the amazing dinner your daughter cooked, the sweet note from your spouse, a cheerful welcome by a pet, the smile of your grandbaby, a kind gesture by your son, or the beauty of the sunset—you are more apt to feel the joy of those moments.

I recently experienced a spirit-lift when I happened upon some photos from a hot air balloon festival we attended with some friends this past September. Gleaming with sunlight, beaming faces, and gloriously-inflating balloons, the photos emanated joy, and I couldn’t help but smile. The mood lift was palpable, and I resumed my projects with a lighter heart, joy lingering through the evening.

As we do with scrapbooks and photo albums, we relive the happy moments of vacations, celebrations, and everyday experiences, when we glimpse those pictures again. These “pictures” can be recalled, cherished, and saved in our minds, with the added bonus of being joy-boosters! So the next time you find yourself halted in frustrating traffic, awakening to a gloomy day, or a bit stuck in a negative mood, try challenging yourself to the “grateful game” and watch your spirit rise in response!

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