One of my early blog posts in 2011, which asked, Can you be grateful for what you don’t have? focused on a difficult time in my life – when I was stuck in the aftermath of a divorce, and struggling to see the good in my life. I wanted to turn my frown upside down, zap it away with intention, but I couldn’t. I had a badittude I couldn’t shake, even though I said that I could.
I’ve come a long way since then, but in order to arrive at a place of authentic thankfulness and gratitude, I had to start with its opposite. I had to confront the pain and hardships. The reality of the situation, rather than whitewashing it or pretending that I was fine or happy and grateful. Had I pretended, I would have robbed myself of finding the real thing. I wouldn’t recognize the positive things in my life – that life has given me along the way – with any kind of real appreciation. Some studies have shown that “choosing gratitude can bring out the best in us and those around us.” But I don’t know if I believe that flipping a mental switch – that professing ones gratitude aloud can actually cultivate it on the inside. I think that gratitude – and its resulting easing of anxiety, release of stress, and sometimes, a true feeling of happiness – appears as a slow and cumulative result of tiny little experiences, revelations, and achievements in your life. The achievements – the physical results of gratitude, sometimes come first, as tangible manifestions of the interior growth and hard work you’ve done.
For example, a few of the things I am grateful for:
- My husband. This gratitude was hard won. Meeting him and marrying him was an outgrowth of years of whining and wallowing and work and therapy and badittudeness and revelations.
- My home. My grownup Manhattan apartment, replete with a dining room (in Manhattan!) comes after being a wandering Jew and moving ten times in a decade, without knowing what was to come next.
- My family. My parents. My two sisters. While I’ve always appreciated them, only recently have I unearthed an unshakeable love and gratitude, which is evident when we talk. When we make an effort to visit each other. When I surprise my mother for a random brunch and she screams like I’m a celebrity just stepped off a plane. When we share old photographs of our dorky adolescent selves in braces and bowl cuts and laugh over a private joke. When we are struggling with something that no one else can understand, and a phone call, followed by “Do you have five minutes?” always seems to bring about a resolution.
- Work. My job, which with time, investment, and loyalty only gets better.
- Writing. For having finally found my calling in writing. For writing because it sooths my soul, regardless of the outcome or accolades. For craving it instead of wrestling with it.
- Gemma. Last but certainly not least, that old bag of sweet bones who has been my sidekick for eleven years is alive and well, and sometimes even puppyish enough to throw her kong in the air and knock over my wine glass.
[Health and peace and security… the deep thanks I have for those, and the awareness of how fleeting they are, would take up another blog post. And I’m a bit superstitious too].
It’s been ten years since I lost my gratitude, and perhaps it has taken ten years to get it back.
Or redefine it.
I can’t wait until Thursday, when my husband and I get to host our first Thanksgiving ever (in my…Dining Room!). For my parents, my sister and her husband and their three children, and for my in-laws (cue gratitude item #7. I have in-laws!). I can’t wait to set the table and make things pretty and attempt to cook the dishes I Googled (Mom’s bringing the kosher turkey though). I can’t wait for my in-laws to arrive tomorrow night and offer them an actual guest room.
I can’t wait until we go around the table and say thank you, and thank God for bringing us together. And reflect on what we are each grateful for, now, in this moment, because you never know what next year may bring.
Wishing you all a joyful Thanksgiving.