This is Part 2 of a three-part series to help us nix the negative patterns that may be damaging our relationships. Last week we tackled suspicion, and the secrets for overcoming it. With Thanksgiving in view, we focus this week on gratitude – the solution for grumbling.
A couple years ago, I spotted a glass coffee mug that, on one side said “1/2 empty” and other the other side said “1/2 full.” You could face the appropriate sentiment toward you depending on how much liquid was in the glass or how, I suppose, you felt about life at the moment.
How would you face the mug right now? Go ahead and think about it. I’ll wait.
Even though most of us want to think we’re glass-half-full types, we all grumble and complain more than we know. As one of the seven patterns of negativity and unkindness found in the research for my book The Kindness Challenge, grumbling and complaining are close cousins of the relationship-killer of criticism. The good news is, grumbling has an antidote! And Thanksgiving week seems like a good time to explore it.
In the research of those who did the 30-Day Kindness Challenge, habits of discontentment and dissatisfaction – the horsepower behind much of our complaining – dropped dramatically. When we fill that grumble void with gratitude – especially, as Indiana University researchers found, gratitude that is expressed out loud – our brains actually start to crave more gratitude!
With Thanksgiving upon us, let’s examine common scenarios in three key areas where we can find and express gratitude in ways that might make a difference in our lives and the lives of others.
Throw a dozen or more people of different political persuasions into close quarters on days when expectations run high – days like Thanksgiving, for example – and, well, what could possibly go wrong?
Yet, as you’ll see below, even in these common scenarios, we can look for and see the good in almost anything. We really can.
Grumble: Flights are delayed and everyone’s going to miss the Thanksgiving dinner I’ve been preparing for days.
Gratitude: I’m thankful for family members who love us enough to persevere through long days of travel to get here. Dinner will keep! I can’t wait to hug them!
Grumble: The turkey is dry. I told him we should have used the recipe I found last year. Thanksgiving is ruined!
Gratitude: The gravy is so flavorful this year. It’s the perfect complement to the turkey – and the many side dishes on our table. We truly are blessed with an abundance of food!
Grumble: Everything is so expensive this year. We’ll have to cut corners on the beautiful floral centerpieces we usually purchase.
Gratitude: The collection of people around this table is amazing. You all add so much color and beauty to this holiday dinner and to our lives.
Would you be surprised to learn that a thank-you a day may keep the doctor away? Research out of UC Davis shows that gratitude can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, and lead to better sleep. In fact, people who are grateful (and grateful to God) have between 9 and 13 percent lower levels of the blood marker that may lead to diabetes.
Thus, even if we’re facing very real health concerns, if we stop and find gratitude, we may ward off other or worsening health concerns. The first item in this section is a personal example of a situation that I had to work out myself just last week. (And my health checked out fine, for those who have followed my breast cancer journey!) The other two examples are general health scenarios that many can relate to.
Grumble: I don’t want to have this procedure. Needles hurt! I hate pain and I hate needles.
Gratitude: I’m grateful that this procedure is available to me. The fact that I live in a time where there are tests to check my health is a true blessing.
Grumble: Caregiving is taking its toll. It’s harder for me to get us ready and out the door than it is to simply stay home.
Gratitude: Connecting with family is worth it! And once I get there, I’ll have lots of help – and probably laughter that will be good for my soul.
Grumble: My aching joints limit me from playing in the family flag football game. I feel left out.
Gratitude: God, I thank you for many years of physical activity you’ve given me. Give me a loud voice to cheer for my family today!
In a pre-COVID survey conducted by the consumer health information site Healthline, 62% of Americans reported “very or somewhat” elevated levels of stress during the holidays. Unsurprisingly, navigating family dynamics was one of the top stressors.
Here’s how to take common scenarios and flip them on their head:
Grumble: My mother-in-law always storms into the kitchen and tells me what to do. Uncle Harry will probably drink too much again. And that unflattering story about me from childhood? It gets worse every year. I’ve had enough!
Gratitude: God, I am thankful for each person you’ve placed in my extended family, each of whom are carrying their own private burdens. Thank you for the opportunity to demonstrate things that matter so much to you – patience, grace, and above all else, love.
Grumble: The in-laws erupted into a tirade of political opinions last year. I wish they would just drop it.
Gratitude: I’m thankful to live in a country where we can vote our conscience and disagree openly about political positions.
Grumble: Our family argues about the same old, unhealed wounds when we get together. I’d rather just stay home.
Gratitude: God, thank you for the many examples in scripture where long-standing and bitter rifts found healing. Help me look for ways to play a part in healing in my family, too.
These are just a few common scenarios I can think of for how we might choose gratitude over grumbling. What are your ideas and experiences with the game-changer of gratitude? I’d love to read your comments below.
In the meantime, next week – the final week of this three-part Nix the Negativity series – we’ll tackle something none of us ever struggles with because we’re all perfect angels. (That’s a hint. And those of you familiar with chapter 7 of my book The Kindness Challenge may have already guessed the topic. I’ll see you back here next week.)
And if you are interested in having Shaunti speak on kindness for your workplace, church, school or community group, please contact Nicole Owens at email@example.com.
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More from Shaunti’s Blog:
- Solutions for Sarcasm? Yeah, Right. (Nix the Negativity Series, Part 3)
- From Grumbling to Grateful! (Nix the Negativity Series, Part 2)
- Always Suspicious of Your Spouse (or Others)? Here’s What To Do! (Nix the Negativity, Part 1)
- 7 Date Night Do’s and Don’ts (Part 2)
- 7 Date Night Do’s and Don’ts (Part 1)
- Broken Trust in a Relationship? Here’s What To Do