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This Thanksgiving as you pull a chair up to the table to share a big meal with the people you love (or as you order take-out, head to a buffet, or do whatever it is you do for Thanksgiving), and you pause to remember what  you are thankful for, it might feel a little strange. Your mind might feel blank for a minute, or you might be tempted to use cliche answers (e.g. a roof over your head, food on the table, family) without really meaning them. Stay with that awkward feeling, and don’t move past it. What will happen next will be worth it.

In our fast-paced society, gratitude can be easy to escape.  With our days packed full, and our sleep times cut short, tempers flare and patience is minimal. Instead of savoring the simple blessings around us, we’re frustrated by what we don’t have. All of us have a little voice of entitlement inside of us that cries out when it doesn’t get something it thinks it deserves. And the more we feed that entitlement, the more it grows. As it grows, our gratitude declines. It’s a little bit like the change in the length of daylight hours in the autumn. As the darkness increases, the daylight decreases. And that leaves a lot of us vitamin D deficient, and a bit on the crabby or moody side. I have noticed this happening in the midwest every year, and I have started calling it “the autumn crabbies” as a way of reminding myself that it’s not just me feeling on edge this time of year.

Vitamin D deficiency can be detected easily by your doctor, and treatment is relatively simple and non-invasive. Gratitude deficiency is a very common problem, but it’s not something your annual physical will catch. If you think you might be gratitude deficient, here are a list of symptoms you may notice:

  1. Impatience. In a world where most everything is accessible with the click of a button, most people deal with impatience from time to time. Impatience resulting from gratitude deficiency is more persistent and long-lasting. Impatience that becomes habitual, that results in frequent bouts of anger with others, or that causes frequent frustration with yourself could indicate a possible gratitude deficiency.
  2. Self focus. An imbalance of gratitude can lead to over-focus on one’s own desires and public image. The self-focused person puts his or her own desires before the needs and wants of others with frequency. In extreme cases, the self-focused person may not even realize that others around him or her have desires. This inflated self focus can also lead to unwillingness to lean on others. Asking for help or admitting weakness or need rarely happen when gratitude deficiency goes untreated.
  3. Altered gravitational pull. Gratitude deficiency won’t change your physical ability to walk through life, but it will affect the kind of gravitational pull you exert on objects around you. This has been colloquially called “the black hole syndrome.” In the gratitude deficient person, everything becomes something that could fill the void. Food isn’t savored; it is inhaled. Things aren’t purchased to be used; they are hoarded. If it isn’t battened down, the person with black hole syndrome will try to snatch it up.
  4. Dissatisfaction. In the gratitude deficient person, dissatisfaction often begins with comparison. A glance at what new smartphone your co-worker has. A wandering eye that quickly notices how much newer and shinier your sister’s car is. Comparison roots itself in the belief that if we don’t have as much as everyone else, we are somehow less worthwhile. There will always be someone with something more, newer, or nicer than what any of us has, and so a routine of comparison with others almost certainly leads to dissatisfaction.

If two or more symptoms of gratitude deficiency describe you, it may be time to add gratitude practices into your life. At first, this will be difficult, but as with all lifestyle changes, it will become second nature over time.

Benefits to adding gratitude into your life will be almost immediate. Some indicators that your gratitude deficiency treatment is successful may include:

1. Contentment. As gratitude levels are balanced, levels of satisfaction increase. Habits like comparison are broken, and black hole syndrome is righted. Things are no longer viewed as a means to happiness. Gratitude means looking at what you already have, and realizing it is enough.

2. Humility. Self focus will gradually be replaced with focus on others. Willingness to serve others will grow, and unwillingness to lean on others will decrease. Gratitude means learning to love others and learning it is OK to lean on them sometimes, too.

3. Deliberateness. Gratitude deficiency can lead to impatience. As gratitude is added back into your lifestyle, you may find yourself slowing down and enjoying the world around you. Beautiful sights may cause you to smile with enjoyment. A delicious meal may take two or three times longer to eat. Long lines may mean opportunities to show patience and kindness to others. Gratitude means slowing down and enjoying life.

4. Appreciation. Appreciation is both treatment for gratitude deficiency and the result of balanced gratitude levels. Expressing appreciation to others thwarts self focus, and it helps cultivate healthy, meaningful relationships with others. Gratitude means being filled with thankfulness.

As Thanksgiving approaches, and as that awkward moment of thinking up things to be thankful for hits, it is a good idea to make sure your gratitude levels are balanced. If gratitude is a struggle, look for people around you who express it freely and easily. Observation of grateful people can give you a great place to start.

And, in case you are not convinced that gratitude will positively change your life, check out this video by SoulPancake (from The Science of Happiness series).

This Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for? Who will you say “thanks” to? I’d love to hear from you!