Paying Attention & Gratitude

I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness - it's right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude. Brene Brown

The morning before Thanksgiving and I have a list of a million things to do as we get ready to host 15 family members for our annual event. It’s so easy to get swept up it the execution of all of the tasks and the chasing of the “perfect holiday,” that I end up in an exhausted heap at the end of the day wondering “what just happened?” 

I took this photograph during our trip to Buffalo this past summer. Traveling is another time when I tend to “chase the extraordinary” and go, go, go trying not to miss any of the sights a location has to offer. Luckily this summer, I fell in love with the work of landscape architect Frederick Olmsted again. We had traveled to St. Louis and then Buffalo and I spent time exploring the parks he designed and appreciating the impact they had on the communities. 

I paused to appreciate this cool flower variety that I hadn’t seen before and then realized that a whole other layer of activity was happening unbeknownst to most of us who weren’t paying attention. I sat mesmerized watching as bees moved from area to area of the flowers. I’m sure scientists that study bees could explain to me the reasons for their movements, but I didn’t need to know. I enjoyed watching and wondering and appreciating the beauty of it all. And patiently waiting for this moment to capture. 

I may have missed a few “Sights to See” in Buffalo that day by spending extra time in the park, but I feel a deeper connection to the city as a result and look forward to returning. I didn’t chase after elusive extraordinary moments, but instead connected with and appreciated what was in front of me. 

Which brings us back to Thanksgiving. Who needs extraordinary? And let’s throw perfect out with the potato peels. Whatever your version of the holiday looks like, remember to pause long enough to pay attention so you can enjoy more of it. 

For me that means:

  • Traditional Menu: When we first started hosting Thanksgiving years ago I complained it was the most boring holiday because everyone wants a particular list of foods and you can’t get creative. Now I realize it’s perfect - there’s no need to reinvent the wheel each year. Same recipes and same shopping list in a spreadsheet. Keep it simple!
  • All Hands on Deck: I used to think guests should relax and kick back. I’m now a firm believer in creating space for people to play a part in the celebration. Whether it’s contributing a dish, helping in the kitchen, or playing some other role, get everyone involved so they feel a part of it and take some of the load off of me.
  • Put Down the Dirty Dish & Play: This one I’m still working on and that’s to leave the pile of dirty stuff for a little while to take part in games or silliness while it’s happening. The dishes can wait - the moment of spontaneity might not. 
  • Soak it In: This one can switch on and off. I can be good about being in the moment and paying attention, but then I can switch into thinking about what comes next. “I’ll need to get the table cleared and food put away so we can get the desserts ready…” I guess both are needed to make the day work otherwise the turkey might never make it onto the table. It’s important to make sure not to stay in the mode all day. To take time to pause long enough to soak in the happiness by paying attention and expressing gratitude as Brene Brown suggests.

Hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!