In my grief after Lev’s death, I could not imagine that life would ever be good again. I moved from despair when I started living in gratitude mode—counting my blessings, continually saying thank you, God. Only then was I able to find joy in my memories of the past and—eventually—in my anticipation of the future.
I began to take time before lunch every day to say Thank you, God, for… I wish I had a written journal of all those short noontime prayers of gratitude. Seven years ago I was grateful simply for the energy to get out of bed each morning. Now, life is good and my prayers often seem perfunctory. I need to make some changes. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to count my blessings in a new way.
I am inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, the young Facebook COO whose husband died in 2015. A friend advised her to lean in to her pain, to “think about how much worse things could be.” Her husband could have suffered the fatal aneurysm while driving the children. She had much to be thankful for. Following the advice of her rabbi, she ended each day by writing down three things she was thankful for. She went to sleep every night focused on “that day’s moments of joy,” instead of ruminating about the bad parts of that day or worrying about her responsibilities the next day. “Gratitude overtook some of the grief,” she said. “We can choose joy.”
Sandberg posted on Facebook at the end of 2016, “Last year, my New Year’s resolution was to write down three moments of joy each day. And while my resolutions usually don’t make it to February, I surprised myself by sticking to this one all year.
“Sometimes the joyful moments were small (a smile from my kids, a dinner with friends), and sometimes they were big (or huge: like beating my brother-in-law Robert Goldberg for the first time in Scrabble). Over time, I noticed that most of these moments involved others offering kindness and support.”
As part of my New Year’s Resolution, I am copying Sandberg and writing down three moments of joy before I go to bed each night. They form my nighttime prayers. It’s only been 11 days, so my habit is not yet formed. I keep a small journal and pen on my bedside table as a reminder. I hope I can stick with it all year. What a wonderful way to remember the year—more than 1,000 moments of joy! It is the key to the door to new beginnings.
I will admit that saying thank you, God has not erased all my fear, anxiety, worry and stress.
There’s a wonderful saying attributed to Martin Luther: You can’t keep the birds from flying overhead but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.
We have the power to control to a great degree where our minds rest. I may not always stop it from straying into dark corners, but I don’t have to linger there. I don’t have to stay at the pity party. That is my choice.
The Apostle Paul advised: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6, 7 NASB
In writing RECLAIMING JOY, I read psychology books in order to better understand the emotional dimension of grief and the mental attributes needed to move from grief to joy. If you struggle with focusing on the positive, I recommend the book Mindset, by Dr. Carol S. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford. She wrote, “My work is part of a tradition in psychology that shows the power of people’s beliefs. These may be beliefs we’re aware of or unaware of, but they strongly affect what we want and whether we succeed in getting it. This tradition also shows how changing people’s beliefs—even the simplest beliefs—can have profound effects.”
In other words, we can change the way we think. We pour out our deepest needs and fears to God in prayer, instead of keeping them bottled up inside us. We balance those needs and fears with all the things we have to be thankful for. We let go. And then we begin to find peace.
How about you? Do you make a habit of gratitude? What is your ritual?