I have always been a resilient person. I’ve had my fair share of tragedies and challenges, but, for the most part, I’ve bounced back — back to that glass-half-full person. I always felt that I had a “normal” and happy childhood. Funny thing though — my mother died suddenly in childbirth when I was nine. How could I have been happy? How did I bounce back from that? I don’t know. I can’t take credit for being resilient and happy. Growing up I didn’t know what “resilient” meant, and I didn’t try to be happy – I just was. It was a gift. I’ve often wondered if I was simply born that way or maybe it was because of my mother’s wonderful love for those nine important early years.
I WAS lucky, in that I had three older siblings, a baby brother and a dad who somehow continued to work and provide for us in spite of his overwhelming grief. We had loving relatives and went on summer trips to lakes. We went to camp, did sports, took piano lessons, went to college and grew up. Oh, I surely missed my mother, but there was much happiness in our lives.
Fast forward to my married life. I met my “soulmate,” had two sons late in life and, once again, felt lucky for all that I had.
We preferred to focus on what our son could do with what he had, as opposed to what he could not do. I didn’t label my attitude back then as “grateful living,” it just seemed to be the best way to move forward in life.
Then, not long after the birth of our younger son, we learned the stunning news that our 3-year-old son’s sometime puzzling behavior was due to the fact that he was extremely visually impaired. Not long after, Casey became the “poster child” for a foundation researching cures for blindness. It was clear that this foundation liked parents who would talk at fundraisers about what a tragedy blindness is for a child. This was effective in garnering sympathy. But we didn’t last long in our role as spokespeople. We preferred to focus on what our son could do with what he had, as opposed to what he could not do. I didn’t label my attitude back then as “grateful living,” it just seemed to be the best way to move forward in life. We bounced back, my sons thrived and grew into wonderful men.
Fast forward, after eighteen years of marriage, to a phone call from my husband saying that he was deeply unhappy and leaving me for greener pastures, and I lost my resilience. I lost all joy. I lost my glass half-full attitude. I gained a lot of fear and insecurities. I didn’t bounce back. While I took care of my sons and put one foot in front of the other, trying to figure out how to create a new life and livelihood, I was depressed. For a long time.
One day a friend told me she had read in a magazine that if you wrote down three things you were grateful for every day, it made you feel better. Okay. I would try anything to feel better.
During those years, I tried everything to regain my equilibrium: therapy, exercise, antidepressants, talking with friends, reading countless books, crying, even screaming in the car on a country road. One day a friend told me she had read in a magazine that if you wrote down three things you were grateful for every day, it made you feel better. Okay. I would try anything to feel better. I was keeping a diary anyway, so I gave it a go, finding scraps of things to be grateful for every day.
A few months later, I was walking my dog in the same park where I walked him practically every day, when I stopped dead in my tracks with a very distinct, “full” feeling in my core. At first I was actually worried; was I having a heart attack? But then I burst out laughing, because I realized that “full”, bursting feeling was actually JOY. I had not remembered what joy felt like! And it didn’t come from some Great Big Thing happening, it was the “little” things – seeing my happy dog, hearing a winter wren singing in a beautiful park on a cold winter walk. But it was as if these “depression blinders” had suddenly been lifted and I was seeing – really seeing – what was in front of me right now, that had been available to me all along, but I had just not noticed.
Looking back at that experience, I now recognize that feeling of joy was gratefulness – a “great-fullness.”
I did not solve any of my problems for several months. But somehow, I did experience a shift in my perspective of my life. I knew that I had the capacity for joy – I had felt it.
All those days of noticing and writing down the little scraps of things to be grateful for, was actually “mental” practice for that “feeling” moment in the park. Each time I did that little writing practice, I did not necessarily feel any better, but I would inch those blinders of depression off bit by bit. Then, perhaps with the cumulative effect of all that practice, suddenly that day on the walk with my dog, my blinders came off and I was fully in the present — appreciating it, feeling grateful, as opposed to saying or writing I was grateful for something.
My circumstances for that depression didn’t change that day – I did not solve any of my problems for several months. But somehow, I did experience a shift in my perspective on my life. I knew that I had the capacity for joy – I had felt it. I went from fear and lack/loss to some kind of certainty that I already had within me what I needed to go forth. I wasn’t totally done with my depression, but it was a turning point. I bounced back. I found that resilience again.
In time, however, my life DID change with unexpected opportunities; the main one being a job right here at A Network for Grateful Living! A job in which my experience of and commitment to grateful living grew deeper and became a more conscious way of living.
Fast forward again. After 13 years working here, another opportunity has arisen, this time to contribute to the work of a partner organization, Spirituality & Practice – such bounty! So, my journey continues with faith in my resiliency and each step offering many opportunities to grow, learn and be grateful.
My son, Casey, has found his way through some dark times too. I marvel at his resilience and his joy (he got married just two weeks ago!).
We invite you to share a story about yourself or another person, reflecting on the question: “How has gratefulness shifted a moment, an experience, or a lifetime?”