Living gratefully doesn’t insulate me from life, it allows me to more readily embrace joy and move through pain. Without the trying times, we never fully appreciate the best of times.
Here in our Stories of Grateful Living, we honor the voices of our community as we invite people to share their personal experiences with gratefulness. Join us in appreciating the explorations, reflections, and insights of fellow community members as we collectively learn what it means to live gratefully.
One summer morning, sitting outside and starting the day with my regular gratitude practice, I looked up and captured this photo:
The word that flowed into my mind was generosity. Nature is very generous with beauty, transformation, awe, and energy. The vibrant color, life bursting forth, expansive blue sky, and changing sunlight all brought a sense of calm and belonging. Living gratefully does the same, bringing peace and connectedness to that moment, to the larger world, and other living beings.
I try to carry this connectedness into my day. Some days are better than others, and I simply keep trying. Any moment of mindful gratitude is a helpful moment. Trying not to reprimand myself for falling back into selfishness and ego, I take another pause to breathe, look, and listen. Forgiveness and grace come.
Emotionally inhibited and full of fear, I looked for what wasn’t going well and found excuses for unhealthy behaviors.
As a young person, my brain’s default mode tipped heavily to self-pity. It framed my view of self and surrounding world. I was never “enough.” Life was never “enough.” Emotionally inhibited and full of fear, I looked for what wasn’t going well and found excuses for unhealthy behaviors. My brain became proficient at looking for deficiencies.
I turned to the unhealthy escape of drinking alcohol. It wasn’t a mere rebellion for me, but rather the beginnings of active alcoholism. I was an alcoholic before I was 20 years old. Outwardly, I was on track into adulthood: completing semesters at college, working on campus and in the summers, spending time with friends and family. Inwardly, I was self-destructing. “Slow suicide” was an apt description of where I was heading.
Connections and connectedness saved my life.
I am forever grateful to people in my life during those difficult years of drinking and spiraling downward. They listened when it wasn’t easy. They helped keep me safe and sent numerous messages of concern in a variety of ways. Each effort on their part came together and helped me find sobriety and begin recovery at age 24. Connections and connectedness saved my life.
Much energy was wasted in my teens and twenties berating myself for my shortcomings. In my late twenties, a dear friend in recovery suggested putting more focus on the things going well in my life and what can be celebrated rather than criticized. I consider her one of my first spiritual advisers. She suggested keeping a gratitude journal. I began that practice in 1995 and continue it daily.
It has made all the difference. My perception of self and surrounding world now often has a positive energy to it. My default mode is much healthier. Over time, my brain has become efficient at finding the simple gifts in each day. Emotions become more genuine and fear subsides. Generosity builds from there.
Tough times and challenges still come along. They always will.
Living gratefully allows me to be generous in mindset and actions, but also to be more open and receptive to the generosity of others and of this world. Tough times and challenges still come along. They always will. Living gratefully doesn’t insulate me from life, it allows me to more readily embrace joy and move through pain. Without the trying times, we never fully appreciate the best of times.
Another difficult time in my life came in 2008 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in my early 40s and feeling content and blessed in marriage, motherhood, and marathons as well as with my career, recovery, and family and friends. Cancer is very unsettling and brings much fear. There were trying times: waiting for results, tough post-chemo days, scarring surgeries, a lost sense of security, and much more.
I came to a deeper appreciation of what living gratefully truly means. A serious illness and life upheaval give a person perspective that can’t be acquired any other way. Because of the ongoing practice of gratitude that I had made a habit, I was healthier overall and better able to ride the physical and emotional roller coaster that cancer put me on.
Alcoholism and cancer are clarifying life experiences. Life is precious. Life is fragile.
Today, I don’t usually have to look too hard to find gratefulness in my life and share it with others. Alcoholism and cancer are clarifying life experiences. Life is precious. Life is fragile.
Two diseases that take people’s lives every day are part of my life’s story. I am here, able-bodied and alive, humbled as well as motivated by the generosity of others, nature, and a Great Spirit.
The daily gratitude journal I keep, starting with my first one pictured here, continues to be the anchor of my practice.
Many other efforts, however, help me foster abundance and awe. As a blogger, I compose posts about the influence of gratefulness on us all. Dropping a handwritten note of thanks in the mail connects me to others in a special way. Taking a walk or run outside allows me to embrace and appreciate whatever nature is offering at the time. There are as many ways to foster gratefulness as there are things to be grateful for.
An empowering way to promote living gratefully is the current opportunity I have to be a Gratefulness Gatherings host. Thanks to this wonderful initiative by A Network for Grateful Living, along with dozens of other hosts around the United States and the world, I have embarked on this new endeavor. Monthly local gatherings throughout 2019 are already opening new doors of connection and finding common ground. These gatherings allow us to expand the collective gratitude and sense of interdependence our world so needs right now, and they also grow my own sense of gratefulness.
Energy and hopeful momentum are never far when I return to my gratitude practice. This practice reveals two truths: Gratitude shared is gratitude multiplied. Gratitude is always possible.
Living gratefully is a very generous endeavor. It allows me to be more of a contributor to the positive stream of life, creating energy to take with me into my day and share with others.
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?”