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November 27, 2014

Gratitude Points You to the Important Stuff

It occurred to me that I’m not sure we give enough attention to our answers to the question “What are you thankful for?” Sure, after thinking about it for a second, the chatter inside our head can rattle off a variety of answers. Besides, for most of us there are multiple things we think we should be thankful for. But that sort of answering has a certain ‘that’s what I’m supposed to say’ energy to it. And then we’re off to the next thing in our busy lives.

Instead, imagine for a minute that you are asked to actually voice the answer to that question out loud, and that you can only choose up to four things to be thankful for. Think sound-bite sized statements. What would you say?

I think my initial answer would be: “I’m thankful for my family, friends, faith and talents.” Hmmm…Not sure that’s quite right. It’s hard to narrow this stuff down! And the more I think about it I could see choosing broader words or ideals that represent multiple things (tricky, huh?), like “I’m thankful for connection, love, playfulness, and gifts given and shared.”

What strikes me here is that in having to voice the top things to be thankful for, we’re actually tapping into our deepest values and articulating the areas of our lives that are the most important. The broader words I started to formulate are actually values, and in having to narrow my statement into a bite-sized nugget, I’m actually prioritizing some of my most important values.

I think an invitation then flows from this exercise. It’s an invitation to be curious about how we ultimately spend our time and energy. Does our time and attention follow the things we’re most thankful for? I find this to be a challenging question, as I think many of you will as well. Why? Because it seems we’re often spending time on things not showing up in our gratitude statement. I encourage us all to use this November to be in inquiry about this idea of aligning our time and energy with the things we’re most grateful for. Even if we can orient ourselves just a few degrees closer to our gratitudes, my bet is we’ll also be more fulfilled.


  • Be intentional about the answer to the question “What are you thankful for?”
  • If you had to voice the answer, and choose only four things to be thankful for, what would they be?
  • The answer probably taps into your deepest values and areas of most importance in your life
  • Where the rubber meets the road: Do your time and energy follow the things you’re most thankful for?
  • Work to orient yourself more closely to those things for which you’re most thankful, and deeper fulfillment will follow

Try This Out

  • Write down all the things you’re thankful for. Rate the top 10. Then narrow that down to the five most important
  • Ask your friends and colleagues what they think you’d be thankful for in your life. This could give interesting perspective on what they see you value and spend your time on.
  • Focus on one area of gratitude each week, and see what happens when you orient more time and energy in that direction


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