During one of the first yoga classes I took in 1996, I puzzled over the instructor’s guidance to “Do these postures with a feeling of gratitude in your heart.” How did I conjure a feeling of gratitude out of thin air? Nevertheless, I placed my hands in prayer position at my heart and attempted to generate a vibe of thankfulness. Much to my surprise, an expansive, soothing energy settled over me.
I’d read about active gratitude in spiritual books, but this was my first experience with it personally. Oprah and her inspiration, Simple Abundance author Sarah Ban Breathnach, get credit for popularizing gratitude journals, but I must give a shout-out to Melody Beattie, who first preached the practice in her self-help books of the 80’s.
In the same era, Water Bears No Scars by David K. Reynolds (Morrow, 1987), a book about Japanese Morita therapy, described how patients should list twenty-five things a day for which they are grateful. “Thank the car for starting,” he counseled. “The pencil for writing, the water for pouring out of the faucet.” He considered it a form of self-development to give praise for all the ways life supports you.
I decided to try the technique, except instead of twenty-five entries a day, I made five. Each evening before bed, I reflected on the day. At first, it took a long time to think of five, but I persevered.
- A whole day to putter
- Happy, healthy children
- Enough money to pay the bills
- Chocolate mousse for dessert
- I saw three cardinals on my walk
With each passing week of this habit, I noticed a profound shift. As I examined the spent hours expressly to find positive pearls, I discovered how much had gone well that day, unbidden and, until then, ignored by me.
The process gently redirected my focus to the uplifting people and experiences I encountered. Instead of waging war on reality, I practiced reverence. This ritual transformed me into “a reverse paranoid,” or one who believes life showers me with blessings rather than sabotages me.
- My computer got repaired
- Warm weather today
- A beautiful sunset
- Old friends came for dinner
- Hearing my daughter play piano
It’s been nearly two decades since I began my gratitude journey. These days I don’t always list blessings before bed, because as I’ve gone about my errands and daily work, I silently acknowledge the good that’s come my way–a parking spot near the store entrance, dollar bills found in my jeans pocket, late afternoon sunlight sparkling on the river, a phone call from my sister. Some would call this a prayer and they’re correct. Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, that will be enough.”
We all backslide, however, and when I feel out-of-sorts, I know it’s time to excavate the truth that has gotten buried in minutiae and negativity. I pull out the composition notebook from the Dollar Store on which I’ve penned in Sharpie marker, “Thank You Notes to the Universe” and re-establish my nightly routine of capturing magical moments. For good measure, I’ll often write a bonafide bread-and-butter note to an individual who has shown me a kindness.
Not long ago, I had an EKG done, and the technician arranged the screen so I could view the output. As I lay on the table watching the electrodes dance in flame-stitch rhythm, assuring me all was well, I was awash with amazement and gratitude. “That’s a good-looking heart,” I marveled, “and it just beats like that all the time.”
The truth is that a powerful, life-affirming undercurrent of goodness operates everywhere, even at the center of my being, and yours. Miracles happen, simple pleasures abound, and incredible coincidences take place. We have only to notice them.