What I’m Thankful For
Today at a Glance
- "When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud: "If this isn't nice, what is?" - Kurt Vonnegut, 1998 Rice Commencement Speech
- In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share a list of my favorite items from my gratitude journal. My hope is that reading this list sparks you to pause and appreciate these—or other—tiny beauties in your life.
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On May 9, 1998, author Kurt Vonnegut took the stage at Rice University to deliver the school's annual commencement speech.
It is a beautiful speech in its entirety, but one particular excerpt has stuck with me more than the rest:
Up to this point this speech has been new stuff, written for this place and this occasion. But every graduation address I've delivered has ended, and this one will, too, with old stuff about my Uncle Alex, my father's kid brother.
A Harvard graduate, Alex Vonnegut was locally useful in Indianapolis as an honest insurance agent. He was also well-read and wise. One thing which Uncle Alex found objectionable about human beings was that they seldom took time out to notice when they were happy.
He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and he would interrupt the conversation to say, "If this isn't nice, what is?"
So, I hope that you Adams and Eves in front of me will do the same for the rest of your lives.
When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud: "If this isn't nice, what is?"
The point that I think Uncle Alex (and Vonnegut) are getting at is that there are a lot of tiny beauties in life that are easy to miss if you’re moving too fast to appreciate them.
When we lean into gratitude for these moments, feelings, and people, we find new joy and happiness in our lives.
After learning that my wife and I were expecting a baby boy—a blessing I still find difficult to comprehend—I decided that I would start following this advice and leaning into gratitude on a daily basis. So for the last year, every night before I go to bed, and every morning when I wake up, I have written down a few tiny things I’m grateful for.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share a list of my favorite items from that journal. My hope is that reading this list sparks you to pause and appreciate these—or other—tiny beauties in your life.
When the sun breaks through the clouds and hits your face on an otherwise cloudy day. Like it has chosen you to be touched by its warmth.
When your favorite song comes on the radio by chance. Bonus points if it's on a nice day and you can roll down the windows and sing it out loud with the wind in your hair.
Sitting in front of the fireplace on a cold day, with music playing and a glass of whiskey (or hot coffee) in your hands.
Watching your favorite comedy for the 100th time and still laughing hysterically at the jokes that you know are coming.
Driving on a quiet backroad during the peak of New England autumn foliage. Colors so beautiful that you could be looking at a painting.
When you open the refrigerator looking for food and there's a container of your favorite leftovers staring back at you.
Sitting outside on a summer evening listening to the crickets with a glass of your favorite drink in hand.
When someone unexpected teaches you something new. The world opens up when you realize that you can learn from literally everyone.
Getting into bed at 6:30 PM on a Friday night after a long week.
When the airplane WiFi actually works on a long flight.
Spending time with old friends and laughing together as though you haven't missed a single beat.
Falling in love with a book and losing track of time as you wander through its world.
The stress-melting sensation of a hot shower after a long and stressful day.
Changing your mind on something in the face of new and compelling evidence or information. The understanding that this is a "software update" that improves upon the old.
The sudden realization that something that was once very difficult has started to feel easy. The feeling of progress is unmatched.
The spark of inspiration to learn that pulls you down a new and fascinating rabbit hole.
The subtle twinkle in the eye of someone who suddenly understands the point you were trying to make. That nearly-audible "click" you can almost hear in their brain when you explain it just right.
The smell of fresh cut grass on a summer day.
The taste of your favorite home cooked meal after you've been looking forward to it for a while.
The contrasting sensations of getting into bed with warm, clean sheets and a cool, soft pillow.
The smell that radiates from the earth after a summer storm. This smell actually has a name—petrichor.
The feeling you get when you’re right on the verge of a big breakthrough. In my experience, the anticipation and knowledge that you're so close to that tipping point is just as good as the breakthrough itself.
The warmth on your face when you get hit by the morning sun out on a walk on a cold morning.
Experiencing 5 minutes of pain in the cold tub every single morning as a vivid reminder of how good your life is.
The intense feeling of relief when you roll your feet on top of a golf ball and feel the pressure points release.
Looking at your calendar for a Friday and realizing you have no calls or meetings.
Friends who are willing to give you candid feedback and push you to grow and be better than you were yesterday. These "Intellectual Sparring Partners" should be cherished.
Spending time with your parents in a new phase of your and their life. Your relationship with your parents morphs over time—embracing it in each new phase is a blessing.
Seeing a friend win when you know they've been grinding away in the dark for a long while.
Friends who are there to toast the wins, but also show up for you after the losses. These "Darkest Hour Friends" are rare—hold them close.
A child who thinks you are their entire world—who smiles as soon as you look at them. This period of time lasts about 10 years (the so-called "magic years") and must be revered!
A group of friends with diverse backgrounds that can give you different angles and lenses through which to evaluate a problem.
A pet who bursts with happiness when you walk in the door, as though they thought they would never see you again.
All of you—my extended global network of friends and supporters—who graciously gift me their time and read my writing every single week!
So What Are You Thankful For?
What's so special about this list?
Well, none of these items require any particular level of wealth, success, privilege, or talent. The world is replete with tiny beauties—we just need to open up to it.
My hope is that reading this list sparks you to create your own—to embrace this practice in the year ahead.
Because seriously, if this isn't nice, what is?
Oh, and before I forget, here's what I'm most thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours...from me and mine.