The Mysterious Power of Giving Thanks
As I began to make plans for Thanksgiving, I found myself remembering what my life was like as Thanksgiving approached 10 years ago, and how the events of that time led me to develop one of the best habits I’ve ever had.
My husband Bill and I were seriously talking about selling our house, quitting our jobs, and leaving the life we knew, to make a move of 4,000 miles to be near our elderly mothers.
It was a scary proposition. There were so many uncertainties. Where would we live? Would we find meaningful work? Would we make new friends? How would we pare down our possessions and pack up and move the rest? How would we adjust to the hectic pace of the East Coast after so many years of living a laid-back Alaskan lifestyle?
Every step of the get-ready-to-move process brought new stresses. It quickly occurred to me that I needed to do something to keep my head above water, to help myself focus on what was good in my life, to maintain a positive perspective.
I’d been hearing a lot about thankfulness, or more specifically, deliberate thankfulness. It was a theme that seemed to be popping up everywhere: in magazine articles, in books and on TV talk shows. I was intrigued. As I looked deeper, I found that this thankfulness movement was nothing new; it was a resurgence of something people had been doing for thousands of years.
I decided to give it a try.
I bought a simple 5”x 7” spiral notebook and got started.
Each morning as I sat at my kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee, I opened my little notebook, wrote the date and began by writing the phrase,
Today I am thankful—
Then I considered what had taken place the day before. I tried to think of at least 5 things for which I could be grateful. The words that came next were not always easy to find. Sometimes the challenges of the previous day were so unsettling that my first entry would sound something like this (an actual entry from one of my old journals):
1) That yesterday is over—we survived the discouragement and ended the day on a good note!
As hard as it could be to get going, I often found that once I got the first statement of thanks written, numbers two through five followed easily. It occurred to me that I was developing a discipline of coaxing my brain to look beyond the obvious; I was pushing my thoughts to the place where silver linings exist. In time, I found that I could find something good in the middle of even the most difficult circumstances. On some days, five entries were not enough. On other days (days that might have seemed ordinary or even unpleasant in the past), ten were not enough!
In time, we sold our house and packed our things. We quit our jobs and said goodbye to our friends and made our monumental move. As expected, it was not easy, but this ritual of deliberate thankfulness made it better. I found myself looking at life with a hopeful eye—wanting to identify the good as it happened—not waiting until the following day.
I continued this endeavor of cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” as we got settled in Philly, and I continue it today, having made it a permanent part of my daily routine. I admit that there are mornings when I don’t feel like I have the energy or the creativity to put a good spin on the events of the day before. On those days, I reach for one of my old journals. As I leaf through the pages, reading entries from random days, a mysterious thing happens . . . somehow, my perspective begins to shift. Apparently, there’s something powerful in looking back at these rose-colored observations of days past; my brain knows that many of those days were hard, but my heart is enabled to see the beauty in them.
Funny . . . the beauty was always there . . . in all of my days.
I’m so happy to be finally seeing it.
Photo by Liam Anderson via Pexels
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are/ Ann Voskamp, 2011 (Zondervan)
Simple Abundance: a daybook of comfort and joy / Sarah Ban Breathnach, 1995 (Grand Central Publishing)