Practicing Gratitude

Ask any group of small children what they are thankful for, and you’ll likely get the same responses: my family, my friends, my pet, my home. You may get one or two kids who have interesting things to add, like my brother-in-law who once famously told his whole 3rd grade class that he was thankful for Kermit the Frog!  But for the most part, the answers will be pretty standard. It’s easy to be thankful for the good things in our lives.

But can we be thankful for things that are difficult?

Gratitude is more than just ticking off the checkboxes of good things in our lives. It can be a daily practice of looking for good in all things, especially those things which don’t appear to be that good on the surface. 

I work at a university, and when we returned from the pandemic lockdown, our campus post office stopped delivering mail to our offices every day, sticking to once a week. There were a lot of valid reasons for this decision, but it meant that on the other days, I had to walk across campus to pick up the mail myself.

Here was my initial reaction to this new situation:

This stinks! This is NOT in my job description. At my age I have to schlep all the way across campus and lug the mail back all by myself? This isn’t fair! What if the packages are heavy? I shouldn’t have to carry them!

After a few weeks, I realized that my grumpy attitude was not serving me, and was in fact seeping into other areas of my work. I had to figure out a way to be ok with this new situation. And I found the answer in the practice of gratitude. Each time I made a trip to the campus post office, I challenged myself to find something to be grateful for in the experience, and to write it down when I returned to my office. Here were some things that made it onto my list:

The pretty blossoms on the flowering trees
Running into a co-worker I hadn’t seen in a long time
The fresh air and warm gentle breezes
Getting to know the mailroom staff a little better each time I visited
The chance to stretch my legs after sitting at my desk for so long  

The list kept getting longer and longer and it changed my whole attitude toward this aspect of my job. Being grateful for things that are difficult doesn’t come naturally. But if you work at it, practicing a little bit each day, it will become an automatic response.

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, I challenge you to think of something that really bugs you. It can be something small and silly, or something bigger. Try to find some way to be grateful for that thing, and see how that act of gratitude changes your perspective in a way you might not have thought possible.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Blue Skies Above

blue skies

When was the last time you experienced a day free from worries? A day when you had a spring in your step, there was not a cloud in the sky, the birds were singing and all seemed well with the world. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Our world just isn’t that sunny right now. The COVID-19 pandemic still grows in many states. Racial inequality continues to reveal itself in our society. The economy has people worried about losing jobs, paying rent, or affording school. These are some REALLY dark clouds; there’s no use pretending otherwise. But amidst the darkness, there’s something else we need to acknowledge.

“Above the clouds the sky is always blue.”
 – St. Therese of Lisieux

Perhaps you’ve heard the commonly told metaphor about the airplane that ascends through thick, turbulent clouds and eventually breaks through above the clouds to brilliant blue skies and dazzling sunshine. It was up there the whole time. The passengers on the plane learn something that those on the ground may have trouble believing. Above the clouds the sky is always blue.

For those of us on the ground right now, it seems like those blue skies are very, very far away. Feeling bogged down with worries last week, I decided I needed to see the ocean. Feeling spontaneous and free, my husband and I hopped in the car and drove to the shore, only to realize as we got closer that the overcast sky was not going away, and instead producing a steady drizzle. I almost cried in frustration and disappointment. It felt like a sign that my worries were justified. My always patient husband convinced me to wait it out a little while. We took a leisurely drive through the shore towns and returned to the beach just in time for the rain to stop. The clouds were still there, but we were able to walk, swim, and breathe in the ocean air. It was just what I needed. I learned two important lessons from my beach trip that morning.


Just as the presence of clouds doesn’t mean the sun is gone, dark times in our lives do not mean that God is absent. As I was writing this reflection yesterday afternoon, it was another dark and cloudy day. The clouds were so thick that I had to turn on the lights in my house. At that moment it was hard to imagine a brilliant sun was still up there shining in the sky. But it was. God is always there, loving us, holding us up, and gifting us with grace. It requires faith—sometimes LOTS and LOTS of faith—to believe this, especially when there is so much suffering around us. We must trust in God and believe that God is working in our lives.


The second lesson I learned is that the sun may not come out exactly when we want it to. Patience is required. The darkness can linger, but it is easier to bear if we approach it with gratitude. Look for things to be grateful for despite the clouds…or even because of the clouds. Cloudy days have something to teach us. There are lessons to be learned about love, life, and faith. Even in the dark, there is so much light around us. 

I believe in my heart that things will get better in our world. By putting our trust in science, honest leaders, and the fundamental goodness in humanity, the clouds will pass, and we will see blue skies again. We are learning lessons through this time of turbulence that will change the way we treat one another, the way we treat our planet, the way we take care of ourselves in body, mind, and spirit. Most importantly, many of us are learning a new way to trust in God.

“Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. The same Eternal Father who takes care of you today will take care of you tomorrow, and every day of your life. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.”
-Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) 

Happy Color pic

The Happy Minute


In my never-ending quest to be healthier, I recently dusted off an old exercise DVD to get myself moving.  Toward the end of the 30-minute workout, the instructor talks about the “happy minute” – the moment when the music changes to a slower beat to begin the cool down.  For someone who hadn’t exercised in a while, this definitely was a happy minute for me!

Such a lovely phrase with its focus on a very small measure of time.  So often our thoughts and worries span decades.  Looking ahead to the struggles of soon-to-be aging parents, or kids leaving for college.  Will there be money to retire?  Will our health sustain?  Will we lose our jobs to another round of layoffs?  This straining ahead causes us to miss what’s happening around us in the present moment.  We forget to recognize the happy minute when we’re in it.

The other day I was cleaning the kitchen, listening to my boys playing Super Smash Bros on our Wii.  They were laughing and screeching and having a ball.  I stopped for a minute and realized how much time I had been investing lately worrying about their futures.  Grades, college applications, driver’s licenses, careers, friendships, relationships.   I pushed those thoughts away.  “In this moment, they are happy.”

In the hit song “Little Wonders” Rob Thomas calls them “small hours,”  and they are true—often hidden—blessings.  Not just the big landmark events, but the little moments in between.  In which God enters the quiet spaces of our hearts and whispers joy into our souls.  As Thomas goes on to say: “Time falls away, but these small hours…these small hours still remain.”

As November arrives, with its focus on gratitude, I challenge you to stop, reflect, and be thankful.  Look for the happy minute. Try to do this several times a day until it becomes a habit.