Over time I have developed a practice that has changed my life, the practice of gratitude. I’m not perfect; I am a work in progress, so I am constantly working on nourishing a grateful heart. It seems simple enough and I can understand the tendency to roll your eyes when I tell you that gratitude has literally changed my life. But in order to see the difference I am talking about, you must practice it, every day, all day. It’s easy to say you are thankful for all that you have but let’s be honest, these are just words. If you truly have a grateful heart, you have probably had to work for it. Let me tell you how I am still working on mine.
It’s easy to say you are thankful for what you have when things are going well, or in passing. FEELING thankful even in the hard times is another story entirely. Most people need to see a sick child or have a health scare to be truly thankful for their health and the health of their family. Many must experience loss in order to feel grateful for the people in their lives even through trials. Relationships are work, lots and lots and lots of work and it’s hard to put forth the effort if you do not FEEL grateful for that person. But how do you really feel gratitude, how do you live in a state of thanksgiving? Practice. The daily practice of gratitude.
Some days the practice of gratitude for me is as easy as silent reminders to myself. When my baby girl is up all night, all I want to do is sleep, I’m frustrated and just when I’m about out of patience, I quietly remind myself how many women would give anything to up be rocking a healthy baby. Immediately my patience is restored and all of a sudden I am smelling her sweet curls and appreciating the extra time I have with her, knowing how fast it flies by.
“I am thankful for a healthy baby”
“I am thankful for a safe home to care for her in”
“I am thankful for this cozy recliner to rock her”
When my husband cannot clean up after himself and is driving me crazy with the trail of mess he leaves throughout the house, I think about how many days my own mother would have given anything to see my father’s shoes in the middle of the floor after he had died. Suddenly picking up after him while he wrestles with our littles, doesn’t seem so bad.
“I am thankful for my husband”
“I am thankful for our home and family”
“I am thankful he is here and loves us”
Other times, when life really has me run down, I have to dig deep and those quiet thoughts are not nearly enough to change my mood. Sometimes I must get more creative and hide in the pantry inhaling chocolates and popcorn while repeating out loud:
“I am thankful that they are healthy enough to jump off furniture”
“I am thankful for their wild spirits”
“I am thankful for their loud voices for one day they will use them to be leaders”
It is in these trying moments that gratitude is my lifeline. When I decide to change my heart for the better and turn the fighting energy into an afternoon dance party because after all, I am thankful we all still have our legs to dance and our ears to hear the music. In the rough moments, I must repeat what I am thankful for, take deep breaths and really think about what it means to be healthy, to get to stay at home with my children, what an honor it is to teach them how to use their big voices! It’s a gut check that I pray I remember to do in the heated moments. And at times I must keep it simple, like being thankful we have music and putting some on!
Still, there are times in life when I get into a funk and finding the good in things even when I am surrounded by beauty and blessings seems difficult. I never have trouble recognizing what I am thankful for, in fact, more times than not, I am frustrated with myself for being irritable when I have so much. In these seasons, I have to be even more determined to cultivate a grateful heart. For I have found that a grateful heart always leads to joy. This is when I have to make time to write down what I am grateful for. I might wake up early and jot down a list in a journal to start the day right or at bedtime to end the day on a positive note. I tend to make due with a list in the notes app on my phone and for a more direct approach, I stick post-its around the house. At times I must incorporate all of these methods to change my heart. I write them down even when I don’t feel like it and before I know it, I really feel grateful.
Maybe it’s a practice I learned in the theatre, where I learned to “fake it, till you feel it”. Maybe it’s the example my grandmother set of always wearing a smile or maybe it’s like any discipline; if you are consistent it will work. Frankly, I believe God answers prayers and I want and pray for a grateful heart. It is a game changer. A grateful heart can mean the difference in divorce or a healthy marriage, enjoying your children or surviving them, living life abundantly or miserably. It’s more than trying to be grateful instead of complaining. So find what works for you and practice, every single day. Cultivate your own grateful heart and change your life.
Gratitude is not the only game changer, there is also power in your words.