Cold weather has arrived again, although it seems to be colder earlier than expected this year. I have been looking forward to lighting a fire in the fireplace (if I can ever get my kids’ stuff put back in their rooms) and enjoying a cup of hot chocolate as I stare into the flames. I love summer, but I am always ready for the seasons in their times. There is something to enjoy about each one of them. Fall is always fun with colored leaves swirling in the wind and those necessary rainy days. I suppose I am somewhat unusual in my fascination with the striations, sweeps, and formations that come in multi-shades of gray and white with tinges of everything else mixed in there somewhere. I still remember the year I moved on Halloween and it snowed—here in Tennessee no less! I can hardly wait for the first snow. Most people don’t look forward to that around here because it causes so many problems on the road, but it is still a pretty sight.

November is always a busy month for me with four family birthdays on top of Thanksgiving, but gearing up for the holidays is exciting. In the middle of my extra efforts to get everything in order, I have many nostalgic moments to make me pause and remember the many reasons I have to be thankful. My personal life history has a lot of turmoil, but a lot of happy times as well. My brother and I are two years and one day apart, so we usually switched the celebration date each year and one year we decided to exchange information on what our gifts were going to be. Mom had told each of us what the other’s gift would be. It was the last year she did that! I also discovered that I preferred being surprised to knowing in advance since a surprise was much more fun. Some years we went up to Missouri to be with our extended family for Thanksgiving and some years we stayed home, but Mom is a great cook and there was always abundance. Even when money was tight, my parents somehow made it work.

Recently I have put a lot of consideration into the things for which I am grateful. My Creator is my friend. I wake up breathing, and I can get out of bed and stand on two feet. I have clothes to wear and food to eat. My house is warm. My husband and children always tell me how much they love me. I have the sweetest cat in the whole world that sleeps on my feet at night. I have a job to get to each morning and a vehicle that helps me get there. I am not overly rich by any means, but I have enough money to pay my monthly obligations (which I could not always say!). I have friends and family that I can hang out with and who make it clear that I am cared about and loved. What more could a person ask for?

It is the little things we take for granted which we most often overlook when we are trying to fulfill the American dream or obtain the next, most technologically advanced toys (children’s or adults’). The house we have isn’t big enough, or the car we have is too old. The computer runs too slowly, or our cell phone doesn’t have enough features on it. There is some, new and exciting video game or appliance or music CD or DVD that we MUST have because we are tired of the ones we already have. Our clothes, shoes, hair, or accessory just isn’t in style anymore, even if they looked perfectly fine two months ago.

Even a lot of people who claim they aren’t into “stuff? need the most up to date self-help guide or motivational speaker’s conference. Our food isn’t cooking fast enough and we’re on our way to the next meeting or extra-curricular event, so we have to drive through some fast-food restaurant. Every company out there competes for our time and attention for whatever service or product they provide and the advertisements have convinced us that we can’t be content with what we have—oh, no, we NEED what they have to offer. Many of the ads motivate us with fear… fear of accidents, fear of lack, or fear of the future.

Our lives are so busy with commitments that it is hard to fit everything in between time we want to spend with our family. Not only are we stressed, but our spouses and our children are stressed by the multiple family member obligations. Scheduling and planning are emphasized, but those take time as well. When do we have a chance to really stop and appreciate what we have and who we have to share it with? I would encourage you to think about what you REALLY need. Instead of making 5 trips to Wal-mart or the grocery store every week (which take time, energy and gasoline), plan ahead and consolidate so that you don’t have to run out of the house all the time. If you forgot something, do you need it RIGHT NOW, or can it wait until the next trip? Do your children have to participate in three or four extra-curricular activities, or can you sit down together and decide on one or two at the most so that you can both spend more time with each other? Do you get enough sleep at night so that you aren’t sleep-deprived when it is time to concentrate on work and your mind isn’t scattered to the four winds in an effort to regroup constantly? Take small steps when it comes to doing things around the house and don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by the big picture. If things are too messy, it’s hard to think straight, but if you are worried about things being picture perfect, then you will never be able to relax. My mom used to have a sign in her house: My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy. Perfection is not the ultimate goal. Comfort is!

Thanksgiving is a good reminder to reassess, especially before the culture goes crazy for the holiday season, so take a moment. I realize I say that frequently, but it still bears repeating. Take a moment. Breathe. Be content. Be thankful. This is the time of year that brings such idealism to the forefront, but these are concepts that make life easier to deal with all year long.

© 2006 Department of Finance Vanderbilt University Medical Center