Why being grateful creates happiness and more good
'Twas the worst of times. My husband died suddenly of a heart attack. I stopped working from the shock, my family was preoccupied and on another continent, and friends stayed away because they didn’t know how to deal with death so early in our lives. I was alone, no work, no income, and no place I wanted to be. Getting up in the morning seemed like an exercise in futility. Why bother? There was no one there, nothing to do, no place to go, and money was dwindling away.
Giving thanks saved me. In the depths of my depression and listlessness, I turned inward. I prayed. I prayed for clarity, the reason for being, for what’s next. Somehow in that place of despair I heard an inner voice say to me, “Give Thanks”. Give thanks? For what? Yet the voice persisted. Give thanks. It was more a command than a suggestion.
So, I developed a ritual. Upon awakening from another restless night, I forced myself to list five things I am grateful for before I get up. Small things like, I can get ready very quickly, my teeth are naturally straight, I don’t have any appointments to rush off to etc. Each morning I struggled to come up with five things to give thanks for. Some days it was hard. Other days it was really, really hard. But somehow after I listed the five, getting up became easier. Little by little the darkness cracked, and tiny slivers of light broke through, if only for a moment here and there.
During my periods of equanimity, I started sorting out what to do next. Change out of my PJs. Exercise. Eat. Do things for others. Learn new things. Give thanks. Repeat. Repeat again. Gradually, over some time, things became more manageable. Then an executive recruiter called out of the blue to offer me a dream job. I accepted the job and moved across the country to a new life. Giving thanks all the way. Was it easy? No. Was it worth it? Yes. Grateful. Happy.
Brother David Steindl-Rast developed a deep appreciation of gratitude from living day to day with death imminent under Nazi occupation in Austria.