It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy. -David Steindl-Rast
I tend toward cynicism and melancholy, so I am witnessing to you that this exercise changed my life for the better. I'm sure it changed my brain, too, by carving grooves of gratitude along my synapse superhighways. The practice won't change the world, or bring about world peace, but it might change you and faciliate a demeaner that's easier for the people around you to bear, and give you - and them- some peace in the process.
Turmeric and pepper, cinnamon,and dates in my hot oatmeal.
It's simple. Every day, name ten things for which you are grateful:
Phone call from Ellen. Ruby dropping off cookies. Bill's kindness.
(Every day, Bill's kindness.)
Today's clever and funny crossword puzzle. The Sunday New York Times all over the floor, Caramel sauce.
I name my ten things on my daily walk. If I don't walk, I'll practice my gratitude while I'm washing dishes or brushing my teeth, or just before I crawl into bed at night:
Flannel sheets, the weighted quilt, the welcoming pillow.
The magic unfurls when I begin to notice things all day long:
The neighbor's child's giggle. An oriole's nest. The gradations of sunset hue in a rose petal.
That will be on my “list of ten things,” I say. “And that. And THAT.” By the end of the day I've got quite a collection to choose from:
The papery feel of onion skins. The complex scent of a crushed geranium leaf. The comfort I feel re-reading Colette's memoirs about her mother Sido.
When you take note of things to name later you get a double dose of delight:
Opposable thumbs, the thwack sound of the vacuum released when you open a jar, the taste of last summer's sunshine in the thick chunks of apricot jam on your toast.
Sometimes I name Big Things. If I name them, it's a step toward appreciating things normally taken for granted. In truth, these things are quite fragile:
Shelter. Warmth. Health. Sobriety. Family. Church. Neighbors. Friends. Potable running water in the house. Fresh air. Mail delivery. Grocery store abundance and variety. Electricity. The ability to pay the electric bill. Trash pick up. Communications with loved ones via the internet. Hospitals. 911...
My favorite chair by the window. Green tea in my favorite cup in the morning. My little garden in flower pots.
The muted winter light at dawn. The silhouette of naked trees against the sky. Softly swirling mist at play over the pond.
Fleeting things I see as I'm driving by:
A toddler waddling like a penguin in a puffy snowsuit. A sarcastic snowman eating a leftover Halloween pumpkin. Sunshine prismed through icicles hanging from a garage's eaves.
In an emergency:
The quick expertise of the quiet EMT in the ambulance. The humor of the other EMT cracking stupid jokes. The nurse touching my forehead to comfort me in the emergency room.
Bodily functions. Recovery from bodily malfunctions.
Anti-depressants! Vitamins! Psyllium husks in cranberry juice! Things I count on to make me laugh.
The Vicar of Dibley. Absolutely Fabulous. The dinosaur outside the tire service store.
Luxuries: Coffee. Chocolate. A box of marrons glacés for my birthday.
Victories Over Myself:
Abstaining from coffee and chocolate. Apologizing to [ ].
Beethoven's late string quartets, Bach's St. Matthew Passion, John Coltrane and Miles Davis.
Friends old and new, dead and alive, literary and saintly and public:
Thank you John of the Cross, today your words reached me across centuries. Thank you, Jane, friend of almost 70 years for today's walk with you, Thank you, George Saunders for today's newsletter helping me out of a technical word jam. Thank you, Rebecca Solnit for today's big picture / hopeful outlook on your Facebook Page.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:
The world is so full of a number of things I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
You could make gratitude lists in micro-minutes every hour. But for this spiritual exercise you only need to name ten things a day.
art: Lemons and Limes, Bartolomeo Bimbi, 1715 Vase of Flowers, Bartolomeo Bimbi, detail