It’s halfway through the year already (can you believe it?), and I’ve been practicing gratitude daily for the past 591 days. Since October 28, 2019, each morning I write down five things I’m grateful for. Through the pandemic, extreme shut-downs, navigating sudden home-schooling, and even through the California wildfires last summer, I have been consistent, only missing a few days. This practice has reinforced for me the power of gratitude in creating a more extraordinary life, and I want to share what I’ve learned with you.
591 days of gratitude has changed my outlook and approach to life, despite being an already positive person. It’s improved my relationships, I’ve found more contentment in what I have, and it’s helped me find perspective when things get tough. And looking back on my entries, these three areas, or categories, appear consistently.
When I write down what I’m thankful for each morning, the first thing I tend to write is relational. I show thanks for my husband, my children, friends, and other important people in my life.. It’s an easy place to start and it seems obvious, yet by acknowledging what they bring to my life, these relationships have become better.
I’ve noticed that my relationship with my husband has become a lot better, in particular. Each day, I’m focusing on the good things between us, the time that we spend together, and the things that make him him - rather than, say, the dishes that didn’t get done. I’m not sharing my journals with him, so this positive shift is coming from me. I’m becoming better at seeing what I love in our relationship, rather than what I want to change… which in turn affects how I act or react with him. It’s like a positive feedback loop! I’m kinder and more appreciative with him, which he then returns to me.
As our kids get older, it is even more important that the relationship with my husband gets stronger. We’ll be empty-nesters one day soon, and it will just be us in this house! Along with my gratitude list, each day I also write down my Ten Dreams for Ten Years from now, as if they already exist. One of those is, “I am an extraordinary wife.” Part of getting to that place ten years from now is doing this work: writing down my goal, being grateful, and experiencing the momentum that it builds.
My daughter has just turned eighteen, and will be headed to the opposite coast for college in a few months. My son is fourteen, and entering highschool this fall; but it’s only four short years until he, too, heads off to college. It’s becoming clear to me that while my children have been a central part of my life for so long, they are breaking away to live their own lives.
It’s important for me to build strong relationships with them, and my gratitude practice is helping in the same way it’s been helping my relationship with my husband. I’m doing better at noticing what they are doing right, rather than the little annoyances like “I wish they’d clean up after themselves more”. Especially with this last summer before my daughter heads off, I’m appreciating them a lot more.
My son and I got to spend more time than usual just the two of us the past few weeks, and I realized how important it is to focus on this time together. He’s not always going to want that time with me, and he’ll be gone soon enough… So that definitely made it into my gratitude journal.
My swim coach has been in my life for almost thirty years, and my yoga teacher for about half that. Since we haven’t been able to get together for so long (thanks, Covid!), taking the time to be grateful for them has been lovely. I missed going to physical yoga class, but gratitude makes me acknowledge how hard this has been on everyone, including the instructors. Everyone has been doing their best, and gratitude rubs off on how we interact and show more grace to one another.
One of the first things that I wrote in my gratitude journal was that I’m thankful my family is healthy. And wow, after this past year, we are all much more grateful for our health. But beyond that, I feel like more health comes to us. We were an active family already, but now we seem to be doing more; taking better care of ourselves with what we eat, and moving our bodies more. When you are thankful for your health, you tend to take actions to keep things that way!
For example, when my dogs jump up on me wanting to go for a walk, it’s not always what I want to do. But just having them around, they are a physical (and loud) reminder to get up and go! And afterward, I always feel better. I’m choosing to be grateful and joyful for being able to get out for a hike or walk - rather than irritated that the pups need out again. It’s all perspective, and life is better with a positive one.
There’s also the idea that if you’re not grateful for what you have, then why should you be given more? It seems we always want more of something or for our lives to continually improve - which isn’t a bad thing - but if you can’t be happy with what you have, you won’t be happy with what you get in the future, either.
The third big benefit I’ve experienced from practicing daily gratitude is that I’ve become better at framing things in a positive way. Having a roof over my head is something that I’ve been grateful for more than once, especially because last summer the California fires were too close for comfort. Just a mile or two away, embers were falling on houses, and I even know people personally who lost their homes.
The fires were a big worry for us, so we are re-roofing our house at the moment with fire-resistant material. The roof didn’t need to be re-done for a few more years at least, but the expense - while inconvenient - is worth it. I’m choosing the perspective of gratitude that we can get a new roof before the next fire season.
Still, re-roofing the house is super loud and inconvenient, and I’d planned a vacation so we wouldn’t be here during the disruption. But as things go, the project got started late, so I’m writing this from a home with no roof! Rather than be overly annoyed that things are happening slower than expected, I’m feeling overjoyed that the loud demo part is over.
A daily gratitude practice has taught me to be better about reframing things from a positive point of view. I feel less stressed about the “small things”, which spills over into other areas (like the relationships) in my life.
A mentor that I follow, David Neagle, was speaking about gratitude one day. He said something like, “I don’t have a gratitude practice anymore. I’ve done it so long that it’s become a part of who I am. I live in gratitude.” This is something I aspire to. In the past 561 days, I’ve found that my daily gratitude practice has made more room for joy, and for living an extraordinary life. With just ten minutes a day, so much can change.
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