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6 ways to help find gratitude in contentment
With Black Friday around the corner, we all could use a reminder of what we already have. - photo by Erin Stewart
Is it just me or is Thanksgiving disappearing?

Squeezed between the Halloween sugar high and the Christmas extravaganza, Turkey Day desperately clings to its stake in the holiday world until about 2 p.m. when the stores officially start their Black Friday sales, which have actually been going on since the last trick-or-treater rang the final doorbell.

We take a few hours to celebrate everything we have, everything we are thankful for and the rich abundance of our loves, and then go buy all the things we believe we still need to make us happy.

I refuse to give up on Thanksgiving, and each year, I try new ways to resurrect the holiday in our home and focus on actual thanks giving. This year, gratitude comes down to one idea for me: contentment.

In a world where we are constantly bombarded with the message that we need more, more, more, this desire to have the best or at least better than someone else is ripping any sense of real gratitude out of our hands. We are buying into the idea that what we already have is not enough.

In Buddhism, one of the main truths is that all suffering comes from desiring that which we dont have. I feel this idea often in my life as I create a mental list of things that I believe could make me happy. If we could only have a house with a bigger kitchen. If we could have a bigger car. A better job. More money. Longer eyelashes. If we could have those things, we could be happy.

We talk ourselves out of contentment by focusing on what we lack, making it almost impossible to actually be grateful for what we already have.

Going back to Buddhism, the word nirvana, or ultimate enlightenment and peace, includes an extinguishing of all desire. This year, Im hoping to get a slice of nirvana in my daily life by curbing some behaviors that strip away my contentment and gratitude, and adding in others to refocus on the blessings I already have.

Stop the comparisons. For me, this is the biggest adversary to contentment. We see the lifestyle porn of women baking gingerbread cookies in a spotless kitchen wearing adorable outfits with sassy braids in their hair, and we want it for ourselves. We see posts of our friends on social media and wonder why our lives arent as fun/adventurous/perfect/humble/inspiring. Whatever you have to do, stop. Limit time on social media. Step away from this most dishonest and disheartening lens.

Let go of impossible standards. As those social media comparisons seep into our lives, we feel like we cant live up to this high standard. Even worse, we push those standards onto the people we love most, and inevitably, they fall short. This is a hard one for me, and I often find myself in what my husband calls a continuous state of dissatisfaction. Its an ugly trait and one Im working on. I never want my family to feel like theyre chasing some ideal to make me happy. If Im going to find true contentment, that means accepting my loved ones for exactly who they are.

Count your blessings. This tried-and-true recipe for contentment. Keep a gratitude journal. Just write one you are grateful for each day.

Declutter. Some of the happiest times in my life were when we had next to nothing. No crammed closets and overflowing drawers. In the times when we arent enslaved to our stuff, we are able to spend more time together and feel content with the little we have.

Meditation. I like to think of this as decluttering the mind. Take a moment each day to focus on existing. Not wanting. Not doing. Not even having. Its amazing how a quick check-in with yourself in a quiet space can refocus you on what actually matters. Plus, finessing those mind-control powers will come in handy when you get that advertisement in your inbox telling you, Hurry! This sale wont last! The more you meditate, the more youll be able to harness the impulses those marketing geniuses are counting on.

Slow down. Speaking of shopping, when you feel that need for more, that desire to have that one thing that you know could make you eternally happy, stop. Think about why you want it. Get to the root of your desire. When you do this, perhaps youll see that your real desire is not for the object at all. Your desire is to end the longing for that object to fill a deep void or need that goes way beyond a shopping spree.

Its a pretty bleak picture when you look at desire like that. And the saddest part is as soon as we get the object of our desire, well want something else. Thats the problem with needing more: Its a never-ending cycle of longing and suffering that only ends when we take a step back and decide its enough.

We have enough.

We are enough.

The people we love are enough.

And when we get to that place, the real gratitude can begin.
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