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How To Find Lasting Optimism In 2020

by William Vanderbloemen

A friend recently asked me if maybe decades from now, we will have a whole new understanding of “hindsight being 2020.”

What a year. A pandemic with ripples nobody imagined. Civil unrest at a level we haven’t seen in a long time. An election that I believe even polarized the two dogs in our house. We even had a record number breaking hurricane season. No matter what your views or leanings, it has been a year like no other, and has left a lot of people reeling

And now, what a Thanksgiving. Most of the US is entering a holiday that has been dampened by the virus. 

So as we celebrate a muted version of a beloved family gathering and muddle through the rest of 2020, how can we find a reason to smile? 

Religions promise hope. Political parties promise prosperity or that happy days are here again. But what is the root of a lasting mindset that things will get better? I think I’ve found it.

Giving thanks is the doorway to true optimism. 

Studies have shown that a spirit of gratitude and regularly giving thanks can lower our stress, improve our relationships, even improve our overall healthA person who is grateful is motivated to face challenges with optimism. With that, they keep the momentum of motivation going. Perhaps more than any other, a grateful person is a motivated person, and the key to sustained motivation may be regularly giving thanks.

As we prepare to eat and celebrate with friends or family this week, here are some tips for giving thanks that will carry your motivation past the holiday and throughout the year:

1. First words matter - Start the day by giving thanks.

When you wake up, instead of checking your phone, check your heart. My good days almost always start with an intentional effort to say thanks for at least seven different blessings in my life.

I have come to believe that the first words out of my mouth each day set the tone for my day. Words carry great power. The Scriptures liken the tongue to the rudder of a ship - a tiny thing that can steer a giant boat. If I have had a bad day, I can almost always trace a straight line back to either reading or saying something negative in my first moments.

So I’ve learned that my first words need to be ones of gratitude. For me, that means devotional time with God and giving thanks for all that I have been given. Most successful people I have met agree that it is difficult to have a bad day if you are in a state of gratitude. This extends well beyond those who share my faith. Tony Robins, the motivational guru, also starts every day with a dedicated segment of time that involves saying out loud the things he is grateful for.

2. Make a list of people you are thankful for, and let them know.

I travel frequently, and I make it a point to think of 3 or 4 people I can text just to say, “I landed in your city, which made me stop and say thanks that we are friends. Hope you’re well.” It’s not an ask for anything. It’s not even asking for a reply. It’s just a simple thanks. It makes me more thankful for the people in my life and reminds them they are valued by me. It’s a win-win.

3. Send a note.

Here’s a 2020 takeaway I have learned - handwritten notes are pure gold. Science is showing that people are becoming more and more “zoomed out,” and with that is a hunger for a more tangible communication. I have had the honor of performing funerals alongside multiple US Presidents and dignitaries. Every single one of them wrote me a thank you note. I still have them all. But the piece I didn’t learn until this year is how much writing a positive note to a friend lifts my own spirit.  If you can, write a thank you note on a card. The length of the note isn’t nearly as important as the fact that it’s handwritten. Maybe spend part of Thanksgiving writing a note to someone who is unable to be around your table this year. I promise you they will keep that note a long time and it will do your soul some good.

It’s a year like no other, with a Thanksgiving like no other. But I promise you if you up your game at giving thanks, you will find a doorway to optimism that can have you looking up even in a downcast 2020.

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