Last October, I sent out a Bat-Signal, asking for help. I was in a stuck place emotionally where I could only see the things that were broken. Some of my kids were having a hard time, the election was looming and life felt heavy. I knew I had so much to be thankful for, but I was just having trouble accessing that part of my heart. I was getting on my own nerves.
So, I asked people I knew and people online for ideas about how to develop more gratitude in my life. I needed some practical ideas that might shift my focus from what was going wrong to what was going right. People had great suggestions, including apps and elaborate journaling, but I landed on a very simple practice. Every night, I would write down five things that I was thankful for that day.
For the past year now, this practice has seen me through our ordinary days and our big changes. I’m now on my third notebook and it’s really helpful to look back through them, even though some days I was clearly digging deep for some new material. (I was thankful in April to not be the Queen of England? I had either just started watching The Crown or I thought I couldn’t handle any new duties.)
This nightly ritual feels like prayer and journaling and sleuthing all at the same time. Mostly, it’s a good reminder of the ridiculous abundance of love and goodness in my life. I tend to catastrophize and regularly declare that we “gave it our best shot and all hope is lost.” Now, I have over 1500 things that I have written down, specific to me, that states otherwise. Reassurances written in your own handwriting are hard to dismiss.
The biggest benefit of this practice, though, is the way it has shifted how I walk through my days. I actually look for things that I’ll be able to write down later in my notebook. If one of my kids has strep throat, I decide to be thankful for access to good medical care and inexpensive antibiotics. If I miss my big kids, I remember to be thankful that they love their colleges. If I’m tired and need a break, I truly am thankful for coffee and that school is open this year.
So often, my list includes simple pleasures like fresh grapefruit and holy gifts like adoption. I love that these big and small things are all mixed up in my notebooks; just like they are mixed up in my messy, ordinary and yet amazing life. My heart has become more thankful and that is definitely worth celebrating; I’ll add it to my list tonight.
Anna— this is a wonderful practice and a lovely icee of writing. Thank you!
Anna,, your column hits home. Thank you for your wise words. Tonight I will start a daily list of things for which I am thankful.