I haven’t kept a gratitude journal with any long-term success over the years, despite knowing the benefits. In my latest Life Lines column (now running in the current issues of Catholic New York and the Catholic Spirit) I explore why and give you a peek inside:
The Advent and Christmas seasons tend to make us more grateful and more giving. At this time of year, when we’re abundantly aware of children who want nothing more than a pair of mittens or a warm winter coat, we seem to recognize how lucky we are. We collect boxes of stuffing and bottles of gravy for our parish food pantry and take tags off the Giving Tree so that others will have for one day what we have every day. And in those moments we are humbled by our blessings and all too aware of the fact that we often remain blissfully unaware of those same blessings the other 11 months of the year.
Gratitude isn’t meant only for a season but for a lifetime, and using gratitude practices to transform our lives is promoted in both spiritual and secular books and blogs by people of all faiths or no faith at all. The advice seems so obvious, the practices so easy, and yet it is often difficult to remember to be grateful, not just for the grand and sublime things—an illness healed, a job secured, a child safe—but for the minute and perhaps ridiculous things—a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, a dog waiting at home with a wagging tail, a night with no meetings or obligations.
I have kept various gratitude journals with fits and starts over the past 10 years. My first, started in 2003, lasted only a few months. I’m assuming the book got buried under some magazines or scooped up in a cleaning frenzy and dumped out of sight, and with that I quickly fell off the gratitude wagon. I tried it again with more success in 2011, after reading the beautiful and moving “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” by Ann Voskamp. The author takes on the challenge in her own life to list 1,000 things for which she is grateful, and in the process she is transformed inside and out. So I started a journal modeled after hers, noting not only the spectacular things that made me gasp with gratitude but the small, silent things that usually went unnoticed
Here’s a random sampling of what a couple of days in my journal looked like. Today I am grateful for…
The sound of thunder
Noah home safely
Warm chocolate chip cookies
Memories of Rome
Early morning soccer games canceled the night before
All my babies sleeping snug and safe in their beds
I kept that up through #310 before I started taking things big and small for granted all over again. In 2012, I started up again and made it as far as #426, and then the journal goes blank. Did I have nothing to be grateful for all those days and months between then and now, or did I just lose sight of the blessings? It’s the latter, of course, and when I lose sight of the blessings, I also tend to lose sight of the joy and hope and light that is always lurking around, even when we see only darkness.
It’s easy, when we’re not intentionally trying to be grateful, to focus on the problems, the obstacles, the annoyances of daily life. Instead of giving thanks for a full moon glistening on a blanket of snow, we curse the weather that scuttles our party plans. Where once we took the time to note something as simple as a cat curled up and purring on the arm of the couch, we instead whine about the litter box that needs to be cleaned. Again.
It’s a matter of perspective, and I’m not talking about whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. No matter which part of the glass we see, gratitude is our calling. The German mystic Meister Eckhart once said, “If the only prayer you said your whole life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
So today I’m dusting off my journal and starting all over again at #427.