The Mysterious Power of Giving Thanks

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

About 9 years ago my husband and I began seriously talking about selling our house, quitting our jobs and leaving the life we knew, to make a move of 4,000 miles to spend more time with our mothers—while we still could.

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 talk shows. It piqued my interest. When I did a bit of research 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 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 I wrote next were not always easy to come up with. Sometimes the challenges of the previous day were so huge 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 gratitude 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 are found. In time, I realized 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! My statements of thanks might have been for something as small as finding a funny movie on Netflix, or something as big as narrowly avoiding a car accident. There was something satisfying about the fact that the seemingly small things took up the same amount of space on the page as the obviously big things—making me wonder if, where gratitude is concerned, there really is such a thing as a “small thing.”

In time, we sold our house and packed our belongings. We quit our jobs and said goodbye to our friends and made our monumental move. As expected, it was not easy, but this new thankfulness ritual somehow made it better. I found myself looking at every new day with a hopeful eye—wanting to identify the good as it happened—not waiting until the next day.

I’ve kept at it—this endeavor to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude.” It’s become one of my favorite habits and one I hope I’ll never break. I admit that there are mornings when I don’t feel like I have the energy to put a good spin on the events of the day before. But if I press on, I find the hidden treasures in yesterday and I always have a better today as a result.

Looking back beyond yesterday is gratifying, too. Every now and then I leaf through the pages of my old journals, reading entries from random days. There’s something powerful in revisiting these rose-colored observations of the past. My brain knows that many of those days were hard, but my heart sees the beauty in them.

I may not know how it works—how the act of giving thanks somehow seems to produce more things to be thankful for, and how it makes me a happier person—I just know it does.

It’s a mystery.

(And I’m thankful for it!)

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