I never imagined that I’d be sitting here writing the story of this book. As simple as it may sound, the practice of taking a few minutes each day to pause and reflect on the good things completely changed the direction of my life. It showed me that my biggest obstacle and greatest blessing were actually the same thing. This perspective ultimately changed the way I experience everything else around me too.
A few months after celebrating my first birthday, Mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It was all I knew growing up, so it was my normal. As time went by, the illness gradually took over her body and she lost a lot of the things that brought her happiness, like riding her bicycle. She eventually lost the ability to stand on her own two feet, which was the most difficult to watch. This experience, however, also gave me my greatest gift – awareness for what I have.
I was in my early twenties when I started this journey of writing down three thoughts of gratitude each night before bed. It wasn’t until I got deep into this practice that I was able to develop a positive relationship to Mom’s illness. As much as I hoped, I couldn’t change what was happening to her mind and body, but I did have the power to control how it impacted mine.
There are some days where I’m present enough to get an overwhelming feeling of joy simply because I can tie my own shoes. This feeling extends into everything else I’m capable of doing, and I wouldn’t have this kind of joy if I didn’t have to help Mom with her shoes for so many years. Sometimes looking at the bright side hurts, but it’s all we can do. Multiple Sclerosis opened up my eyes to how lucky I am to be healthy and the unlimited possibilities it comes with if I choose to take advantage of it.
I began to wonder what would happen if everyone else around me was practicing gratitude. This thought inspired me to design a Gratitude Journal and launch a non–profit called Grateful Peoples. I started by asking my neighborhood coffee shop if they’d be open to leaving out a communal copy for their guests to write down something they are grateful for, and they were in!
From that point forward, I usually had a journal on me wherever I went. I’d share the idea with any business I felt was a good fit for the project and my friends would help me out and do the same. I even started getting emails from strangers curious about putting a communal Grateful Peoples Journal at their favorite coffee shop or yoga studio.
With the support of this awesome community, the idea grew to people sharing their gratitude all over the country! Many of the owners generously sent me their filled–up copies, and I’d mail them a fresh one to keep the good energy flowing. Then one day, a few years into the project, I got a message that really took me by surprise…
A young woman was asking about some of the previous journals from a particular cafe in New York City. She explained that when one of her closest friends would visit from California, they’d start their day with some coffee and gratitude. Her friend had lost her life in a tragic car accident and she wanted to know if I could find the messages they wrote together.
As I was searching for the names she mentioned, I felt my stomach drop when I came across a message left behind by her friend. This person was no longer with us, but the book in my hand captured a small piece of her mind. It made me realize that these journals I was collecting were, in a way, preserving the history of our thoughts and emotions. That’s the moment I committed to somehow sharing all of the precious human energy held inside these books.
Over the course of five years, I collected over 75,000 grateful messages from strangers all across the United States! I read through every single one while scanning a bunch of them to my laptop. Handwriting reveals a lot about a person’s story, so I learned to use Photoshop to extract it from the scans. I then reassembled the individual messages into pages of the book you are now holding, and finished by creating a cover to reflect the thoughts that are inside.
This was an extremely long and tedious process, but I’m really lucky that I was able to do it. Exposing my mind to all of these grateful thoughts offered so many new ways to look at the world and taught me a lot about human nature. I better understand myself and the people around me, and my hope is that this book can do the same for you.
What stood out the most is that humans have the ability to feel deep appreciation for their really dark times. Maybe this skill is the secret to long–term happiness? As Kahlil Gibran writes in ‘The Prophet’, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked…the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy it can contain.”
That’s exactly how I feel about the last few years of Mom’s life. Her illness progressed to the point where she needed a lot of help with all aspects of daily living, so I had to make big decisions on her behalf. These were decisions where every imaginable outcome seemed totally hopeless. I’ve never experienced that level or type of anxiety before, but I truly feel it was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I now know how to deal with myself at my worst, and this will be a huge help in overcoming inevitable times of struggle in the future. And, I have a beautiful angel watching over me too.
Practicing gratitude isn’t necessarily going to change anything. But, it does have the power to transform the way we relate to things hat already exist. Whatever life throws our way will always have some degree of beauty and pain attached to it. We can’t fully enjoy one without really getting to know the other. The goal is to respond to any situation by highlighting the good and using the bad as a tool. I really believe keeping a daily gratitude journal puts my mind in the position to grow the most from Mom’s suffering.
I encourage you to give it a try. Grab a pen and some paper, and write down three things you are grateful for. Take a few minutes in between to close your eyes and really imagine the things you are writing about. Do it everyday for a few weeks and see how it makes you feel. There’s a lot of science out there about this stuff, but all I have to share is my personal experience.
The beauty in everything is that it will come to an end. When I get unsettled, I try to remind myself that one day, my heart is going to stop beating. How do I want to spend my limited time until that happens? This thought really helps bring me back to the present moment and let go of whatever I’m worrying about. I’ve learned that, just like being grateful, living a good life is a practice. We get one chance at it on this planet, let’s do our best to enjoy it and help the people around us do the same!