We have a book by Douglas Wood called The Secret of Saying Thanks. It lives on Zoe’s bookshelf, but it may have been ours (like many books, toys, and stuffed animals in our house, including Zoe’s beloved dog Ralph, who was mine before Zoe existed) before Zoe came into the world. Either way, we all love it. Every time we read it, we cry. Or at least Randy and I do. Zoe just looks at us with a funny expression on her face and pats our arms.
Anyway, The Secret of Saying Thanks follows a little girl and her dog as they observe the the mysterious beauty of the natural world, the creatures who inhabit it, and the people who care for them. In the end–and you might think this is cheesy, but so what–Wood writes,
The heart that gives thanks is a happy one,
for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.
The more we say thanks, the more we find to be thankful for.
And the more we find to be thankful for, the happier we become.
We don’t give thanks because we’re happy.
We are happy because we give thanks.
I know Wood did not come up with this idea himself, but I believe it bears repeating and hearing again and again.
When Randy and I are feeling depressed or overwhelmed or completely unsure about everything, we often ask each other to come up with three or five or (if it’s a really bad day) 10 things we are thankful for. It is easy (at least for us) to become completely undone by life. We have demanding careers, we are raising a child, we have health issues, and we have family and friends who all have challenges of their own and our hearts are big and prone to breaking out of love and empathy. I am amazed at how grounding it is, and what relief it affords me, when I force myself to be thankful instead of anxious.
On the second day of November I noticed on Facebook that a friend of mine (who used to be one of my youth leaders back when I was a Presbyterian zealot in high school–she’s now a Presbyterian pastor) was expressing something she was thankful for on Facebook every day during the month, as a longer celebration of Thanksgiving. I thought this was a great idea, so I adopted it. Several other friends did the same.
I found this exercise to be totally uplifting. Like everyone else, I’ve had good days and bad days over the past month. Sometimes days were wonderful and it was easy to think of several things for which I was grateful. Other days it was a struggle. Certainly there are the obvious gratitudes of family and friends that are constant, but sometimes you get mad or frustrated with the people you love and don’t want to think about them at all. But I found that every single day when I was exhausted or unhappy about something, the process of making myself seek gratitude made me feel at least a little better. I’m serious. And doing it every day for a month has made it a habit. For example, the first phone call I got today at 9am was from the car dealership, saying the repairs to our car will be at least $1300. We don’t have $1300 extra lying around. And we only have one car and we need it to run. But I am thankful we do have credit cards. We have the means to deal with it, even if it’s not pretty. I am thankful my parents live nearby and let us borrow one of their cars while ours is in the shop so I could drive Zoe to and from school and drive to my meetings. I am thankful to be starting work today with a new client. I am thankful that the new client provides health care to hundreds of low-income children and families in our community. Wood gets it right when he says “The more we say thanks, the more we find to be thankful for.”