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Commentary: The season of wonder and gratitude

This Christmas season, Santa suggests that each of us recruit the talents of a network that is trustworthy, grateful and optimistic. Choose to spend time with courageous, generous and grateful people, because young super-heroes need role models who demonstrate honesty, kindness and positive ways to give back and be grateful.

Santa won’t be fooled by what he saw in 2019.

He knows about the nastiness, aggressions, and conversations that are polarizing our opinions in so many places. At Santa’s request, I will keep looking in the direction of wonder and joy and gratitude.

I am delighted to reflect on 2019 with my goal of persistent optimism. And, yes I have many good reasons.

In October, I received a wonderful message from a local high school teacher, who wrote: “Our theme this year is about grit and perseverance and caring and giving back ... and I want to let you know that you have really made a big impact on the school and the kids through the years.”

In addition to receiving a complimentary and unexpected thank you, she invited me to speak to the students at an upcoming ceremony. I was delighted to accept the honour.

I first congratulated the students, teachers and parents on their joint academic success and asked: “Having achieved your important goals, do you also feel some relief? I admit that whenever I feel grateful, I also feel a delicious tickle of relief and surprise and joy as in, ‘Phew! I did it. What a miracle.’ ”

I continued by telling the young audience there are scientifically proven benefits for people who cultivate feelings of gratitude. Social scientists have found people who express gratitude are more likely to be in contact with others who are positive and optimistic.

Further, being open-minded, thankful and trusting of others opens doors to happiness and serves as an antidote to fear, anger, stress and anxiety. Thinking positive thoughts can improve your sleep and improve your energy. Gratitude builds trust, improves our relationships and increases our resilience when times are tough.

Strengthening the gratitude muscle is a mental exercise. It means that when we feel low or are on a losing curve, the little voice in our heads says: “Well, this sucks. Maybe even a lot.”

At such times, the voice has a choice to keep lashing out and spiral our thoughts downwards, or with practice, it might say: “I am really hurting, but tomorrow is coming. How shall I move forward?”

An optimistic, courageous and caring attitude grows with experience, and is easier if we have networks of encouragement. Have you ever been standing in a dry-mouthed panic at the top of a double black diamond ski run? Until your friend shouts, "follow me," and away you go.

I have another memory of wonder and gratitude from this year.

My sister, my niece and her four-year-old son were visiting. It was a dream for Colton, our young Spiderman-wannabe to go climbing. So, there we were, six of us standing at the bottom of Rundle Rock, watching our helmeted, harnessed, young super-hero scramble fearlessly up the rope.

With supreme trust in Uncle Pho, Colton climbed up the almost vertical face with a confidence and aptitude beyond his years. The rest of us had stifled our fears and were waiting for Colton to reappear, after topping out and walking off.

As he rounded the corner, we saw a bright-eyed, excited, joyful little man who was standing taller and walking with an obvious swagger. Colton was excited, confident and eager to go up again, planning a life of aspirational possibilities.

This Christmas season, Santa suggests that each of us recruit the talents of a network that is trustworthy, grateful and optimistic. Choose to spend time with courageous, generous and grateful people, because young super-heroes need role models who demonstrate honesty, kindness and positive ways to give back and be grateful.

Over the years, Lorraine Widmer-Carson has worked for Parks Canada, Whyte Museum, Friends of BNP, the Banff Centre, and most recently, as executive director at the Banff Canmore Community Foundation. She and her family just celebrated 40 years of owning and operating Ticino Restaurant in Banff – a true fact of gratitude and wonder. The views expressed are her own and she can be reached: ldwcarson@gmail.com.



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