Giving Thanks

Most of us are accustomed to listing what we’re thankful at Thanksgiving. But have you considered making that list more often?

I first got into the gratitude game when Oprah went all goody-two-shoes in the mid-90s. She introduced her viewers to Sarah Ban Breathnack, and the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. But I didn’t realize the power of the exercise until I came to D.C. for the spring semester of my junior year in college. That semester was wonderful in a lot of ways — it landed me the job that eventually brought me to D.C. — but I was also stuck living with three random crazy people, including my classmate who went on to become the Washingtonienne. (If you haven’t heard the story and are looking for a good one — and a reason not to blog about work — just Google “washingtonienne” and “dewine.” A warning, though: this isn’t a story for the kids.)

Living with people who stole my food, complained about getting (only) $100 checks in the mail from their parents, and, well, did the things that the Washingtonienne did, led me to gratitude journaling. Every day, I found five things — even small things — that I was grateful for.

It was amazing how much that simple habit of writing those five things down each day changed my outlook. My perspective was turned toward noticing the small things that made the day successful, or sweet, or even just less sucky. It’s so easy to find the negative in small events — a bad commute, an inconveniently rainy day, a boring meeting that runs long — that it’s nice to look for the small positives, too.

I let the habit slide after I left that D.C. apartment, but I’ve come back to it from time to time since. This summer gave me plenty of time to focus on the big things I am grateful for, but since I’ve gone back to work, I’ve found it even more important to look for the small ones, too.

So I’m back to gratitude journaling. I have a beautiful new journal, courtesy of B for our anniversary, that makes me want to write every night, and I’m finding lots to list. They’re not huge things — yesterday I was thankful that I didn’t break into a flop sweat while giving a speech and that United showed a repeat of Friday Night Lights on the plane — but they’re reminders that even on a tough day, there’s joy to be found. 

If you want to try your hand at it, check out Thankfulfor, a site that invites you to keep your own electronic gratitude journal, and a place where you can read what others are grateful for, too.

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