The Art of Thanks // Trina O'Gorman March 01 2017
Much of what I’ve learned from life, I’ve learned from stumbling around in it -- mostly making mistakes, but sometimes getting things right. The rest of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned from Maya Angelou, Joan Didion, Henry David Thoreau, and a few others. Their observations on life, always astute and sometimes a little crazy (how thin the line that divides the two) have become some of the very cornerstones in my own life. These days, with tumult both in the world and my personal life, I hold on to their wisdom, as well as the practice of being grateful, not as a way of looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but as a way of appreciating the many complexities of life, which often provides us with enormous challenges entwined with very simple pleasures. To see those, we must look closely and listen well, with hearts wide open.
“We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the 'ideas' with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria, which is our actual experience.“ Joan Didion, The White Album
Journaling helps. Writing about the ordinary events and subtle nuances gives me the opportunity to try to make sense of it all, and regardless of how crazy life can get, I do find that it typically boils down to simple truths in the end. After all is said and done, whether I write for hours or for a few moments, about some hurt or joy or mundane event, some simple truth reveals itself. Those simple truths often, perhaps always, bring with them something on which I can hang some glimmer of hope, something for which we or I or the world, all of us, can be grateful. Some days it’s as simple as the fact that Joan Didion can craft a sentence, like the one above, using the word “phantasmagoria, ” a sentence in which I find new meaning every time I read it, though it be the hundredth time. Phantasmagoria. It delights my tongue. Thank you, Joan Didion.
And Maya Angelou once wrote, “This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” This very sentence popped into my head on November 4th, 2006, the day after I’d learned I’d miscarried our daughter. I was sitting on the sofa, gazing quite numbly out the picture window, when it struck me just how beautiful a day it was. And I struggled with that beauty, as I waited to leave to go to the hospital for a procedure that would send me to my knees with grief. It was a beautiful day. How dare it be that! But it was. It was a wonderful day and I couldn’t help but feel kissed by the autumn sun. I found I could be simultaneously angry and grateful for that single moment, that autumnal kiss.
It would be wrong of me to have you believe that it is easy to be grateful each and every day. It isn’t. I think of days I’ve received terrible news of some tragedy. Life delivers each of us, if we are to live any kind of lives worth living, our fair share of those. And, I think how impossible it has seemed to find any goodness in those days. Though something like gratitude, something akin to thankfulness, rises in me as I rise each day. Just that feeling of being, most days is enough. And I wonder if that’s pathetic. Should I not wish for me, demand more to inspire that feeling? And then, I am reminded of the words of Thoreau, when he wrote, “A single drop of rain makes the grass many shades greener.” All that bursts forth from a drop of rain is some sort of crazy magic that moves me on the darkest and most difficult of days.
My gratitude journal has gaps, nights when I’ve fallen asleep too tired to write, too exasperated to formulate a lovely sentence of gratitude. The first time it happened, I felt the weight of disappointment. But I now realize that the attitude of gratitude has become part of my very being. And even on days and nights I don’t pick up my gratitude journal, gratefulness threads itself through my day. It presents itself in every embrace I give to or receive from my boys or when I send a text to a friend or look out of the picture window or watch the rainfall. Then, when I pick up my pen to write in my gratitude journal again, I feel the flood of all of those moments and wonder which to choose. Sometimes I choose one. Sometimes many.
Living with gratitude is a worthwhile practice that does not only improve your mood by increasing your happiness, it can also improve your health. Keeping a gratitude journal or writing things for which you are grateful in your notebook is one way of practicing gratitude.
Tips for Living with Gratitude
- Keep a gratitude journal or a list of things for which you are grateful in your notebook.
- A gratitude journal can be anything you want it to be. I like to keep things simple, as then I am more likely to continue with it. I simply write the date and day, followed by the thing for which I am grateful.
- Set aside a specific time each day, especially when starting a new habit, when you will try to sit down and write the things you’re grateful for.
- Whenever someone does something nice for you or helps you in any way, personally thank them. It can particularly thoughtful to send out a thank note. I keep a couple in my notebook.
If you have read this far, then today I am thankful for you. To be able to write and share thoughts with you is an amazing gift. You will read this and it will become part of you and your life and world and narrative, and through you, it will travel even further than I could ever take it on my own.