How I Learned the Simple Act of Giving Thanks Every Day

I’d be lying if I said I was always thankful. Truth is, there are days I find myself less than grateful. It’s true I’ve been given a lot, a fantastic husband, an incredible family, a beautiful home. I truly am one blessed person. And yet . . .

Sometimes I have an ungrateful heart.

I feel bad admitting that. But it’s true.

I figured it out a few months ago. I was in the middle of a busy period in my life, one of those times when every stressor landed at my feet – a husband’s potential job loss, family visitations, vacations. I know, some weren’t bad, yet, they were still stressful, especially when they happened all at one time.

One night I fell into bed, exhausted. I was tired, and just plain frustrated. It was one of those moments when nothing in my life felt right.

I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. I should have been grateful for everything, including the fact that my husband at least still had a job. But I wasn’t thankful for one single thing.

Then it hit me. Oh, the guilt. The immeasurable, insufferable, guilt. How could I, a person who has been so blessed, be so terribly ungrateful?

It was then I knew, I needed a change of heart. I needed to learn gratitude.

I’d read about people who filled out gratitude journals. They said their lives had changed. They said their hearts became new. Maybe it was time for me to do the same thing.

I knew I’d never follow-through and write in a journal every day. I’d tried that too many times in my life and failed. But there was another way.

I closed my eyes that night, and thought about all the things I should be thankful for. Honestly, I wasn’t thankful for anything. So I thought. And I thought. And I thought. And all I could come up with was ‘air.’ I am thankful for air, I said to myself.

I fell asleep.

The next morning as I woke up, I immediately thought about my very-short gratitude list. I repeated it, “I am thankful for air.”

That night, once again, I gave thanks. It was a little easier this time. Air, I said. And life. Because air gives us life. I am thankful for both.

And once again the next morning, my first thoughts were ‘air’ and ‘life’. Again, I gave thanks.

Each night since then, I have repeated these simple steps of giving thanks, and each morning I wake to the same thoughts. Only something else has happened.

I find myself giving thanks in the middle of the day, sometimes for the silliest things. Like a busy grocery line in which I found time to talk to another customer, or a delay in traffic and time to listen to the radio.

It seems the more I give thanks, the more I find to give thanks for.

I wish I could say my attitude totally changed to one of always be thankful, but you already know that’s not true. It certainly wasn’t a few weeks ago.

I was sitting at my desk when the doctor called.

“You need a biopsy,” she said.

To say I was terrified would be putting it mild. I was angry, depressed, and far from grateful.

But even in the midst of this time in my life, each night as I fell asleep, I managed to find something to be grateful for. Because it seems when one develops a habit, it sticks.

So even when I was scared, and felt so alone, I found a few things to be grateful for: a husband who wrapped his arms tight around me, his reassurance that all would be okay; a family who loved, supported, and prayed for me; a doctor whose calm demeanor calmed me.

No, I will not always feel grateful. But I know, that even in the midst of an awful situation, at the end of the day, I can still give thanks.

There is power in the simple act of giving thanks.

I hope you, too, can find the simple power of daily thanksgiving. Start with one thing today. What are you grateful for?

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Simple Steps to Handle Stress

Have you ever had a time in your life where you’d like to run away and hide in a tiny little cabin in the middle of the woods? Just to escape life, if only for a moment. I am having one of those times right now.

It seems life has handed me a series of events, some unfortunate, and some good (but still stressful). And while I used to thrive on stress, I don’t handle it very well now. My injury changed all that. Instead of taking life as it comes, it seems now that each new event requires a processing time. When I don’t get that, I kind of fall apart.

That’s what has happened lately. In one brief sweep, my husband and I have experienced: job changes, family arriving and leaving (in close succession), trips, changes in extended family and their lives, and health issues. To top it off, we have discussed the possibility of moving, doing home improvements, and a big vacation next year. I know, almost every stress imaginable, enough to send anyone over the edge.

All I can say is, right now, I’m thankful I don’t have a lot of stuff to take care of. I’m thankful for all the things I threw away and gave to the thrift store, for keeping life easy and clean. I’m thankful I haven’t accrued more than I need.

Still, even in my simple life, I have stress. And by last week, I’d had enough. I needed to find ways to let go. I began a series of stress-relieving exercises: working-out longer and harder, practicing daily yoga (I’ve done yoga for a long time, but mostly in moments of desperation, or at the most twice a week). I baked, drew, took naps (of which I failed miserably, not because I wasn’t tired, but because I have always felt guilty sleeping in the middle of the day), made extra protein smoothies, and began taking fish oil supplements.

In some ways, I felt a little better. I think it was the psychological aspect of knowing I was taking some control over my life. But the fact is, those stressors still remained.

I knew it was time for some soul-searching. I pulled out my trusty little journal, wrote down each stressor, how it affected me, and why. And I came to a realization. Most of the stressors in my life were my own fault. What a horrible confession to have to make.

Sure, there were things that couldn’t be helped, like my husband’s job. He had been in an unstable company with the threat of lay-offs. He needed a change. His new company has been around a long time, and was exactly what he was looking for.

The trips weren’t totally optional, at least not one. One was a business trip that we both attended. The other was a trip to the ocean with family, planned many months ago, and worth every bit of time and energy.

But there were stresses in my life I had control over, like family visitations. As much as I love family visits, next year I won’t let them get scheduled so close together.

And home improvements – painting, putting up hooks and blinds – those can wait. They aren’t even close to being important in my life. Moving doesn’t need to be discussed – it’s a plan for the future. Even next year’s vacation, as exciting as it might be, can wait.

When it comes to extended family, I have a bad habit of worrying about them. I guess if I don’t worry, I feel calloused. But here’s the thing, it’s their decisions, their lives. None of it affects me. I need to remember that.

Yup, all those things I had control over, and I let it affect me. But health, that’s one area that can’t usually be controlled. It’s been a rough few months, especially the last couple weeks. But the good things is, when I have less to think about, and less to do, I have the time and energy to take care of me.

Stress happens. Life happens. It always will. Here are a few things you can do to help you through a stressful time:

1. Be prepared by always taking care of yourself. Exercise, pray, meditate, drink water daily, and get plenty of rest.

2. Do something often, just for you. Whatever relaxes you and keeps you calm. Yoga, a walk in the woods, painting, reading.

3. Keep your life simple. A simple schedule. A simple home. A simple wardrobe. Simple cooking and cleaning. With less to care for, stress is easier to handle.

4. Know what’s important, and what’s not. Let go of the things that aren’t.

5. Write about it. Write about every little stress – dirty clothing on the floor, a house that needs cleaning, the illness of a close friend. Pick that one that matters.

Most of all, remember how important you are. Keep stress levels down by taking care of you.

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Simply Let Life Happen

Years ago, I sat in the office of my new employer, watching her softly creased face as she recited the expectations of my new job. She paused for a moment and looked me in the eye. “There will be times you can’t make it to work, when something beyond your control occurs. Remember, there’s always someone here to take your place, to help. Because sometimes, life happens.”

She was right. Life happens. I’d seen it many times in my own life. Family sickness, accidents, death. I’d felt one too many times the effects of life’s happenings. And to be honest, I didn’t always handle it well.

I wasn’t the type of person to let everything slide off me, though that’s what most people thought. No, I hid my feelings well, letting them fester inside, until I became depressed and angry, stopped eating, or just slid away from the world. But usually, I overdid everything – work, housecleaning, cooking.

Like when my father got sick, I worked harder than ever, cooking for him, doing his paperwork, running to see him every day. And when my mom was ill, I worked extra hours at my job. I started a new business before my dad passed away, and then worked more than ever after his death, ignoring the pain in my heart.

It might be safe to say I wanted to prove myself. Mostly, I think I was trying to hide.

But this woman in front of me, who’d seen more pain than I ever had, was so confident, so quietly assured, and reminded me that often, “Life happens.” There was a soft sadness in her voice when she spoke, even as her eyes sparkled like gems beneath the sun. She spoke calmly as she stated, “Bad things happen to all of us.”

I wondered what heartache she’d felt, what blows life had dealt her. I wondered if she’d ever run away the way I had, or hid behind hours of work. I wondered how she’d turned years of sorrow into a lifetime of joy.

A lot of life has happened since I first met that woman. I’ve had my own share of life’s happenings since then. My biggest was my brain injury. That injury taught me a lot about how to face life, that ignoring the pain, or trying to hide, doesn’t make the sorrow go away.

It taught me to face life head-on, to look for the hidden jewels inside the sand. It taught me that life is a series of lessons, of joy in pain, of beauty in grief.

Life happens. It always does. It’s what we do with it that matters. Click To Tweet
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