At this time of year, we hear a lot of people talking about gratitude. But what does it even mean? And why is this something we shouldn’t just be doing once a year, but instead practice every day of our lives. It’s so easy to become preoccupied with ourselves: our desire for a better life, to be more popular, to have more success (and whatever that means for each of us). Social media can feed that frenzy and yet the desire for more can not only blind us to what we already have but lead to spiraling feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
There was a moment in my life where I was in that spiral. Each day I had to get out of bed and just put one foot forward. My mother told me a quote that I now love from Maya Angelou "This is a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before." But, for a while, I just didn’t believe it. So, she asked me to do one simple thing, to pause at the end of every day, to take a few minutes to reflect and write down just three things I was grateful for. It could be my dog coming in to give me a hug in the morning, through to the friend that smiled at me just when I needed it. My list each day started small but kept growing and my greatest realization was that it was impossible to feel grateful and depressed at the same time. It’s like a weight that lifts your spirits and then, ultimately, transforms your life. Not just the perception of it, but the reality of it.
I live in a beautiful part of Portland, Oregon. The mountains and the lush forests are there for me every day – come rain or shine. I have friends who I never told that I loved them enough and yet the moment I had the courage to share my gratitude for them, the more I felt it coming back to me. William Arthur Ward said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." How many times have we wanted to tell our friends, our parents, our family that we are grateful and somehow thought it would be lame or, at worse, not reciprocated. It takes courage sometimes to say out loud that you are thankful.
John F. Kennedy said, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them." So, I live by that, too.
For me, I'm going to believe in the possible, celebrate life and hope my choices will create a positive ripple effect in the lives of others. On the days when I don’t… I’ll just keep writing down the small things and know that they’ll once again become big.