A picture of the back of woman with flowers tucked in at the neckline of her dress

A good friend once told me that when you are feeling grateful, it is the only thing that you feel in that moment. Not pain. Not envy. Not fear. Just gratitude.

When I heard this, a memory immediately surfaced in my mind. It was Christmas morning of 2017, and my family and I were huddled on the couch in front of the tree. Each of us with our own financial stressors that year, we decided that we would only get gifts for my 7-year-old nephew rather than spending a bunch of money on gifts for one another.

We had planned this for months, and I sat eager to see his face light up when opening the presents. When it came time to unwrap the first one, my dad pulled out a small rectangular package and said, “Oh, looks like this one’s for you.”

I unwrapped the gift, graciously said thank you, offered a hug and sat back, ready for my little nephew to tear through the rest of the presents. My brother picked up the next gift.

When he did, he squinted animatedly, smiled, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Looks like this one’s for you too.”

Confused, I said, “Wait, guys, I thought we were only getting presents for…”

My voice trailed off as I looked around the room and into the warm, kind, watering eyes of my parents and siblings. I realized at this moment that every present under the tree was for me. I began to sob and not because of the presents. 

The thing was, the year of 2017 for me was one of loss and many personal challenges. I was struggling, and, at the time, even when I crawled out of bed that morning, I felt as if I were carrying an immense weight on my shoulders.

As it turns out, my family had noticed. They handed me long letters, one from each of them, filled with heartfelt words about why they chose to dedicate this part of the holiday to me, how proud they are and how much they love me. I sobbed as I read the letters, and I am crying now as I type out this story because in that moment, feeling the peace of such an unexpected and heartfelt gesture, I felt only indescribable gratitude.

Without any of my circumstances being changed or my load lessened, I felt light. I could see, so clearly, how much beauty, love, light and hope there is, even during the most painful, excruciating times. To this day, if my house were on fire, then those letters might be the only thing that I would grab before leaving, the items I hold most dear to my heart. They represent a day, a feeling and a lesson that I will never forget. 

I could see, so clearly, how much beauty, love, light and hope there is, even during the most painful, excruciating times.

There is a chance that right now, you are dealing with something. Something really, really hard. Something unfair. Something scary. Something painful. All the emotions that you have every right to feel—anger, sadness, fear and confusion.

I simply hope that gratitude is one of them. Gratitude for something (anything) helps us tap into our power when we feel powerless, our hope when we feel hopeless and love when we feel lost. I was spoiled with a grand gesture that hit me in the face, but in the day to day, it’s usually up to us to tap into that gratitude on our own. I’ve found that journaling is a beautiful way to do so.

Keeping a gratitude journal is a simple yet powerful act that has allowed me to stay connected to moments of beauty that happen every single day. I started by simply placing a journal and pen beside my bed and declared that I would write down three things I was grateful for every night. Admittedly, for the first week or so, it felt a little tedious—an extra thing I had to do. Before long, I had replaced my normal nighttime routine of tossing, turning and worrying about tomorrow with a simple moment of peace and comfort. 

Keeping a gratitude journal is a simple yet powerful act that has allowed me to stay connected to moments of beauty.

If you’re fighting an eye roll, then I get it. I, too, was skeptical that jotting down a few notes on paper—an act that, literally, takes less than a minute—could benefit me in a substantial way. Yet, what I realized once I started is that gratitude isn’t a feeling, it’s a skill. Like any skill, you get better at it with practice.

I began with expressing gratitude for my health, my family, food and water, big things that are absolutely deserving of thanks. As I kept nurturing the habit, not only was I feeling a deepened sense of appreciation for the big things, but an increased awareness for others things that I had previously overlooked. Access to transportation, having a job, sunshine.

With more practice, my awareness only grew. A kind comment from a co-worker, the smell of the rain, the softness of a blanket. 

My capacity for gratitude continues to expand each time I put pen to paper, a blooming collection of blessings, memories and moments that fill my heart and help me see things a bit clearer. It’s been the most beautiful gift of all to realize that what I felt that Christmas lives inside me, warm and safe. Always. 

Have you ever kept a gratitude journal? If so, how did it affect your perspective on the world around you?

Image via Chaunte Vaughn, Darling Issue No. 13

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