Sunday, September 7, 2008


Today is one of those brilliant autumn days that make you feel glad to be alive!  Bright sunshine.  Blue skies. Crisp air. Leaves changing. Early mist over the lake... 

The beauty of this day has filled me with gratitude and motivated me to return to a practice I have allowed to lapse since my husband died four years ago - that of keeping a gratitude journal.  

Gratitude is a powerful transformative force.  Author, Sarah Ban Breathnach, in her introduction to The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude, says that, "Gratitude holds us together even as we're falling apart.  Ironically, gratitude's most powerful mysteries are often revealed when we are struggling in the midst of personal turmoil. When we stumble in the darkness, rage in anger, hurl faith across the room, abandon all hope. While we cry ourselves to sleep, gratitude waits patiently to console and reassure us; there is a landscape larger than the one we can see." 

My husband gave me a copy of Sarah's Journal of Gratitude for Christmas the year after he was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy and he also bought one for himself.  Inscribed on the first page of my book were the words, "It would be wonderful to follow the ideas on these pages. Let's try."  And so began six years of gratitude journalling.

For the first several years, we each made daily entries of five things for which we were grateful - the laughter of a dear friend, licorice allsorts, sweetpeas, 19 jars of red plum jam, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, clean sheets, the movie "Simon Birch", chest pain ending, the ability to walk on the Seawall, financial help after leaving work.  As the years passed, and illness and caregiving ate up time and energy, the entries became fewer and shorter but the intention remained and on the days when we couldn't write, we often shared our gratitude at night in the quiet darkness before going to sleep.

I was glad of the opportunity to focus on the good things of the day, not in a Pollyanna-ish way, but as a means of balancing some of the pain and sadness of our day-to-day existence.  The gratitude journals helped us to live well with Chronic Sorrow and, I believe, to stave off Compassion Fatigue as well.

Now, more than ever, I am glad of those books of gratitude for they provide an intimate and detailed picture of our lives throughout those years and they trigger so many wonderful memories that would have been forgotten otherwise.  ( I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to journal about the crises and hard things in life in order to work them through. When it comes to the good times, I'm far more likely to enjoy them without writing them down.).

So, whether your life is going well or things are in a mess, I encourage you to start a gratitude journal today.  You might want to find a lovely book with a beautiful cover and smooth pages or you might want to use an old scribbler (do they call them that any more?) or you might want to get a copy of Sarah's journal.  Choose whatever suits you best.  Then begin writing down the five things that make you grateful each day.  

(Know that some days your list will expand to ten or fifteen items and other days, as Sarah says, "... the only thing that you might be thankful for is that the day is over."  That's okay. The gift is in the intention, not the number of items on the list.)     

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