Giving Thanks for What $$$ Can’t Buy

As I sit down to write this post, I can’t believe it is already time to embark on the annual holiday rush. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this time of year, particularly the festive atmosphere and time spent with family and friends, sharing age-old traditions. But it is easy to get swept up in the madness of parties, shopping and obligations, leaving us breathless and exhausted on New Year’s Day.

Before the chaos kicks off with Black Friday (which is the earliest I will consider putting up a sprig of mistletoe or snowflake ornament), I’d like to share a tradition that helps me enjoy this special time of year even more. It’s really quite simple, and you may already practice a variation of it yourself. I call it my “reasons for gratitude that money can’t buy.”

I propose performing this exercise close to Thanksgiving, before the holiday hubbub kicks into full gear. Give yourself an hour or so and find a place that is quiet and comfortable. Grab a pen and journal, perhaps a mug of hot cider and play relaxing music.

Now you’re ready.

Make a list of everything in your life for which you are grateful. Don’t filter, and make sure to cover all aspects of your life: people, career, travel, pets, possessions, activities, health, etc. My list includes such things as my parents, a beautiful home, dependable transportation, darling cats and nearby places to enjoy a refreshing hike.

Next, review the past year of your life. Make note of what may have changed and what is still the same. Revisit significant events and contemplate whether they enhanced your life. Perhaps you traveled somewhere exotic, met that special someone or earned a promotion at work. Or maybe you gained a couple pounds, lost a loved one or lost your job. Write these things down too.

Now go back over the list.This time, mark which aspects of each you might change. Again, don’t filter. For example, I would change the fact that my parents live eight hours away or the rate of rent I pay. And despite having driven it for more than six years now, I am not a big fan of my car, so I would modify that. Other alterations: Less cat hair and more hikes. My cats have this annoying habit of shedding on every surface of my home, and there never seems to be enough time to hike.

Finally, start a new list from the work you’ve done so far. Think about each blessing you listed and what you would change about it, then see how none of it really has to do with money. My parents may be a day’s drive away, but they know I am happy living in Cincinnati. Also, phone calls and e-mails keep us close. I’m simply grateful for the loving relationships in my life that sustain me even through the rough patches.

And sure it’s cool to live in the heart of a city undergoing a renaissance despite the high rent, but I’m just grateful to have the means to earn money to maintain the roof over my head.

Of course I wish my jeans fit as well as they did last November, but at least I have the physical ability to work out and eventually fit back into them. Or if my car broke down, I could walk many places or at least to the bus stop. Ultimately, I’m grateful for my health.

One of the most influential people in my life often says, “The stuff you own ends up owning you,” and I couldn’t agree more. It’s not about the stuff, it’s about relationships, experiences and living in the moment. Keep that in mind this holiday season. I hope you’ll find this year that you derive even more meaning from the things that money can’t buy.

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on November 23, 2009.

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