A thankful tradition of gratitude

It has been said gratitude is the shortest path to true joy, and there is a lot of truth to that.

I started something on Thanksgiving a few years ago that has grown into an annual tradition. In fact, I return to this project whenever I am feeling down or discouraged.

When I started this exercise, I used a spreadsheet. However, you can use a word processor or even a simple notebook. I prefer to do it electronically so that it can be sorted. That way, I avoid duplicate entries.

I wanted to create a list of the 100 most influential people in my life. They were selected based on whether they influenced me in a positive way, or had such a negative impact that it altered the trajectory of my life.

This is more challenging than you may imagine. I know a lot of people, but it was harder than I expected to come up with a list of the Top 100.

I set up these categories, and entered names in each:

  • Spiritual — People who had the most impact in pointing me to God, or refining my faith. A lot of them are pastors, but also faith-based authors.
  • Family — Some relatives had an enormous impact on my life.
  • Teachers/Mentors — They may have been instructors at school or people who exerted tremendous influence.
  • Friends/Acquaintances — Whether they were in my life for months or years, their impact is still felt today.
  • Work — I often spent more time with these coworkers and bosses than I did with my friends and family.
  • Relationships — Most were women I dated at one point, but they helped me pinpoint my strengths or exposed my weaknesses.
  • Timely helpers — These absolutely chance meetings brought the right people to me at the exact time they were needed most. I’m still convinced the tow truck driver who came to my rescue when my car spun into an interstate median in Iowa during an ice storm in 1982 was an angel.
  • Childhood friends — I may not have seen them for decades, yet, they were once the most important people in my life.
  • Negative influencers — For whatever reason, these folks brought great suffering into my life. Yet, the experiences shaped me in some way.

Doing this exercise at least annually helps me in several ways. First, I track and remember people who entered my life even briefly. More importantly, it reminds me of all the people who had tremendous influence in helping me become the person I am today.

For an added challenge, try ranking people within the category as to who had the greatest influence.

Don’t forget experiences

Now that you identified people who had the most influence in your life, try tracking experiences, too. I wish I had started this years earlier!

Looking back at past entries, I can clearly see God’s hand in protecting me or guiding me in specific directions. This has been tremendously helpful in enabling me to remember when God or other people came through for me in big ways.

Without this, I could easily lapse into a pity party by thinking nothing good ever comes my way. In reality, I am surrounded by good people and positive experiences. It’s nice to remember them, if only for a few moments each year.

A new prayer list

This ever-changing life list becomes a wonderful starting place for prayer.

I can utter a prayer of thanksgiving or praise for the people and experiences on my list. I can also thank God for his role in connecting me to those people or guiding me through those events, whether helpful or discouraging.

Even praying for the negative influencers in my life have been instrumental in helping me to forgive them and move on.

If you missed starting a list on Thanksgiving Day, this a wonderful end-of-year exercise, too, and something you can do on your birthday as well.