The Power of Gratitude

Every day is a gift … just waiting to be unwrapped. – Lori Baker-Schena

It is one thing to EXPRESS gratitude and quite another to PRACTICE gratitude. Expressing gratitude is a transient activity, while practicing gratitude is life changing.

My gratitude journey began about 22 years ago, at age 36, right after the birth of my son.

A little background: I believe the 30s are a particularly challenging decade because we often find ourselves raising children while juggling a demanding career and aging parents – all without the wisdom that only time and experience bring. At age 36, I felt the suffocating stress of a life out of balance. The stress led to anxiety, many sleepless nights and endless worry.

And then a friend recommended a book by Sarah Ban Breathnach called “Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy,” first published in 1995.

The book changed my life because it taught me how to practice gratitude. And as the title suggests, it is simple: No matter how lousy your day is, no matter how sad or depressed you are, take the time before you go to sleep to write down five things you are grateful for – every single night.

This simple exercise is life changing because it forces your mind to shift into a positive place, whatever your situation. Even through my stress and anxiety, I had a plethora of things to be grateful for, big and small. My health. My freedom. My cozy bed. My supportive students. Flush toilets. The ability to walk and talk. Pizza.

Eventually, the nighttime habits of expressing gratitude become part of a daytime routine – from morning until night.

Practicing gratitude helps you shift away from a “victim” mentality to a positive space. For the past 22 years, I have NEVER asked the question “Why Me?” Crap is everywhere – bad bosses, lousy drivers, ill health, money problems, relationship issues, family challenges. But focusing on the positive of any situation, truly seeing the blue sky through the dark clouds, brings joy and strength.

And believe me, practicing gratitude is fortifying. A decade later, when I lost both my siblings to disease and my father to Alzheimer’s, when I heard the devastating words “You’ve got cancer,” I stumbled but did not fall. Because I realized despite the loss, despite the hardships, despite the fear – every day is a gift, just waiting to be unwrapped.

So I encourage you to start practicing gratitude. It takes a few minutes a night, and then one day you realize it has become automatic. And joy starts seeping in during the most unexpected times of your life.