Want to know the secret to living a joyful life? It’s simple. Gratitude.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned to master, it’s gratitude. From the time I wake each morning, till the wee hours of the night, I am grateful for each and every gift that comes my way.
I start each day by checking on my family. Husband. Daughter. Son. (Dog.) “Thank you God for giving me another day in this world surrounded by the people I love.”
Minutes later, we sit down together for breakfast. I don’t take it for granted that I have never known the feeling of hunger. Or thirst. “Thank you God for giving us more than enough food to nourish our bodies.” I want to complain that I am overweight, but instead – I am grateful that I have too much instead of too little.
As I wave the kids off to school, “Thank you God for our safe community, for our nice bus driver who is careful and caring. Thank you for my children’s friends. Their teachers. For all the people who help build their character and their brains each day when they aren’t with me.”
At work, I am grateful, not so much for the pay check (although that’s nice too), but for the co-workers who make my days pleasant. For the friendly conversations and kind words. “Thank you God for giving me a job I like and for letting me spend my days with people who add to my life.”
In the afternoons, I am grateful for my family’s laughter, love, and learning. I have seen enough children struggle with what we assume are “simple” things – reading, writing, walking, talking, swallowing. I know enough to be grateful for these every day accomplishments. To me, every word my child learns is a wonder. Every math equation a miracle. “Thank you God for my children’s health. Their intelligence. Their talents. Their abilities.”
I also am grateful for the piano and guitar teachers who never fail to make my children feel loved and special. For the gymnastics instructors and coaches who have said, “Good job!” For the Sunday School teachers and neighbors who have gently corrected and nurtured my children. I truly believe it takes a village. “Thank you God for filling our lives with people who care.”
I have seen enough in my life of pain and grief and loss and longing to know a good thing when it comes my way. I have also watched loved ones become immobilized by sadness to the point that life no longer seems a gift, but a burden. Every breath a curse. Every moment a disappointment.
When I have a bad hair day, I remind myself of my best friend Heather Williams. She lost all of her hair during chemotherapy and never once complained. After 19 months of fighting, she passed away at the age of 13. Heather’s parents also have chosen to live their lives in gratitude, giving back to the hospital who helped their family. Since Heather’s death, they have helped raise millions for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Here they are, being recognized as Volunteer of the Year in 2003.
Heather’s father, Charles Williams (center), receives the 2003 Volunteer of the Year Award from St. Jude Children’s Research Center. He is joined by (from left) Joe Shaker, former chair of the ALSAC Board of Directors; his daughter, Gwynné; his wife Gayle; and John Moses, chief executive officer-elect for ALSAC.
When my children are sick with the flu or strep throat or just a bad cold, I try to enjoy my time at home with them. I have seen parents grieve the loss of their child, bury their babies in the cold, hard earth. I will never complain about a fever, a cough, or a whine.
When I’m out of breath from climbing the stairs at my office (pathetic, but true), or feel sore after a much-overdue workout, I keep going. Each step for my brother, who passed away at 19 and would probably give anything to take one more step on this planet. I will never complain when things get tough.
When my husband drives me crazy and I look at him as if I must have married the wrong man, I remember the look on my mother’s face when my own father packed his bags and said good-bye to our family. In all the chaos of our busy days, I will never complain that I am overwhelmed, lonely, unloved.
To me, it’s not hard to be grateful for the many, many blessings in life. It’s also natural to take it one step further. When you feel grateful for your food, share the bounty. Launch a canned food drive in your children’s school. Donate non-perishables in the container at the grocery store. Volunteer at your local food bank.
When you feel thankful for your happy family, reach out to the children in your community who need a little extra attention. Invite them to come along with your family to a movie, a dinner, or church.
Grateful for your husband? Help a single mom by bringing her dinner, babysitting her kids while she gets a haircut (a luxury for so many busy moms!), or stopping to offer friendship and an open ear.
You get the point. This Thanksgiving season, make the effort to change your way of life. Instill a sense of gratitude in your own children, and learn to be grateful for the little things. They really are what matters most in the end.
What are you grateful for today? Take a moment to list it here (on facebook or the blog). You might just help someone realize how blessed they really are.