Naturally, on Thanksgiving, we focus on gratitude for that special day, or maybe the entire month. Our kids might learn about gratitude in school, or we may do special projects with them at home. In our family, we add feathers to a paper turkey each day with what we’re grateful for written on them. But outside of the holiday, there have been seasons in my life where I’ve needed to shift my focus to gratitude on a different scale.
When something has to change…
Way back in 2011, I was interning at an advertising agency in which I was, to put it simply, miserable. I was sick to my stomach driving in every day and crying on every commute home. Something had to change, and it couldn’t be the job. It could only be me.
I started keeping a journal where I wrote a short paragraph detailing something positive about my day– and I did this for an entire year. I called my little project “One Good Thing a Day,” or “OGTAD” for short. On the first page, I made a vow:
There is beauty to be found in every day. I promise to find and appreciate those treasures, whether they are obvious or subtle. I will write at least one good thing about every single day for a year in this journal. I hope to learn gratefulness, humility, and gain a new sense of awe at the gift that is life and the gems that God offers. At the end of the year, I hope to be able to look back and understand how blessed I am and to see the world with a fresh set of eyes.
Find something small
OGTAD more or less forced me to find something good during my workday, and in the beginning, this was difficult. I often only found very small things to be grateful for: the weather was nice enough to eat my lunch outside; someone sent me a funny text that made me laugh; there wasn’t too much traffic on my commute. Soon enough, though, I realized that I didn’t have to hunt so hard throughout my day to find something. Noticing the little things became a habit, and there were so many little things scattered throughout each day. I truly felt a shift in my mindset over the course of the year.
In 2016, while struggling to get pregnant, I began another OGTAD journal, but this time I shortened it to a single line about each day. It helped carry me through all the “two-week waits” and helped me focus on the good things in my life instead of fixating on what I did not yet have. (Although, to be fair, I was still pretty fixated.) But, as before, over the course of the year, I felt my focus shifting back towards gratitude– and a grateful mindset is where I like to be.
Thankful through the hard times
In 2020, as we entered “lockdown” in March, I started keeping a running gratitude list on a whiteboard in our house. It was all I could do to drag myself to it every day and find something new to be grateful for when all the days seemed the same, blurring into one… but it kept me going and kept me grateful.
I also keep a “catch-all” notebook full of drafts, lists, bad poetry, and more… but so many pages are dedicated to gratitude lists during trying times. My most recent one was during Hurricane Ida. I had just had my third son 12 days before we evacuated, and I was exhausted, hurt, healing, scared, overwhelmed– but grateful. And to be honest, I truly, deeply struggled with making a gratitude list. I kept picking up the notebook to list out my bullet points of thankfulness, but fear and anxiety poured out each time instead. But I kept coming back to it. Eventually, I was able to sit down and write each little thing I had been grateful for during the two weeks of evacuation and the time after.
It was my past practice with writing down my gratitude that made it possible for me to finally write that list. My “gratitude training” over the past decade has become like a magnet: even if I can’t access that gratitude right away, I have trained myself to have a grateful heart and mind, and it will always pull me back that way.
One good thing a day
If you think this exercise could be a good one for you, perhaps Thanksgiving is the right time to kick it off! If a year is too intimidating to commit to, start with the month, or just start with one good thing a day… and see how far it takes you.