As I learn to see the world and my stay on this planet with more grateful eyes, I find many reasons for thanksgiving in each ordinary day. Even the commonplace begins to sparkle when I cultivate the art of really noticing my surroundings, the people around me, and the unfolding of life each day.
To illustrate, one day a grandson and I were enjoying the Indian summer sun in my backyard after I had cut his white/blonde hair. He picked up a tuft of his hair and threw it to the wind. I was standing at such an angle that the sun turned the tiny pieces of hair into a shower of light and this precious child’s head into a crown of gold. I was breathless with wonder at the sight. This commonplace moment brought me pure joy.
The noted scientist Huxley stated, “For every man, the world is as fresh as it was the first day, and as full of untold novelties for him who has the eyes to see them.” I’ve found that to be true; when I adjust my sights, in spite of all that can be distressing, I still find wonder in my world.
Being Thankful for Ordinary Things
Even the simplest things can become reasons for thanksgiving when we are in the mindset of gratitude. I remember when I returned from living overseas where hot water was a luxury, I determined I would never get into a hot shower without giving thanks. Each bite of good food, every piece of comfortable clothing, every strain of uplifting music, each beautiful thing in nature or in our homes, every ray of sunshine in our lives can become a reason for thanks. So why do I sometimes forget that focus?
A long-time friend called one evening after she received a piece of my writing—an essay I thought would give her some comfort. (She was in her 90s and facing many challenges.) Much to my surprise, she sensed the pain I had been feeling when I wrote it, and expressed concern for me. She said, “Darla, you’ve always been a bit too serious about life. Don’t you know you can just enjoy the sparkle of the snow—you don’t always have to shovel it!”
I think I have spent too much of my life shoveling the snow instead of enjoying its sparkle. Only now, in my later years, am I learning to relax and express gratitude for what is, rather than worry about what isn’t.
The Choice Is Mine
The philosopher Epictetus said, “What you have may seem small; you desire so much more. See children thrusting their hands into a narrow-necked jar, striving to pull out the sweets. If they fill the hand, they cannot pull it out and then they fall to tears. When they let go a few, they can draw out the rest. You, too, let your desire go; covet not too much . . .”
I don’t need to ruminate on disappointments or worry about what I don’t have, but I can rejoice in what I have been given, the marvel of the good things I have experienced. I don’t need to shovel the snow of my past, either, but just enjoy the sparkle. I recently was given the image of the path of my whole life filled with sparkling crystals of all it has taught me. I cling to that image when I’m tempted to feel regret.
When I focus my thoughts on all that sparkles in my life, that perspective crowds out self-pity, resentment, and pain. As I change my focus, I find myself more adept at seeking and using God’s help to manage my life as I seek for more order and serenity.
The Healing Power of Gratitude
A friend of mine lost her father not so many years ago. He was her hero; her sense of loss caused her to fall into depression. Several months after his death, I was walking with her beside a lake as the sun was coming up. The sky was painted with light and the air was fresh with promise. She told me about her discovery that gratitude was the key to overcoming her depression.
She said, “One morning in the shower, I was crying but decided to sing, ‘Count your many blessings; name them one by one.’ As my tears were washed away by the hot water, I thought of all I still had, and my paralyzing grief began to be washed away, too.”
Gratitude Is a Key to Happiness
Author Laurie Nadel, Ph.D. says there are many little things one can do to find happiness in life, things such as finding your source of joy and being grateful. She explains that developing a mindset of gratitude is essential for inner peace.
Happiness experts agree that gratitude is huge in its impact on our health, well-being, and overall happiness. In his book, Authentic Happiness, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman encourages readers to perform a daily “gratitude exercise.” It simply involves writing down a few things every day they are grateful for. This shifts people away from bitterness and despair, he says, and promotes happiness.
Each Ordinary Day Is a Treasure
When I was managing editor of Latter-day Woman magazine years ago, an article came across my desk with the title ”Just a Normal Day–A Jewel!” I was intrigued with Jean Irion’s ideas, and we printed the article. Jean described the ordinary day she had just lived with sensitivity and vivid word pictures. Then she said, “Just a normal day. A normal day! It is a jewel! In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands into the earth and remembered this. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this. In time of loneliness and separation, people have stretched themselves taut and waited for this. In time of hunger, homelessness, want, people have raised bony hands to the skies and stayed alive for this. Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so. One day, I may dig my nails in the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want more than all the world—[the return of normal days].”
So Many Ways to Express Extraordinary Gratitude
Whether we keep a gratitude journal, spend a moment each night recounting the good things, or make it a point to express more gratitude to God, family, and other people in our lives, gratitude is an essential part of happy living.
In D&C 78:19 we read, “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious.” “The Strength of Youth” pamphlet simplifies and clarifies what that means. I quote: “The Lord wants you to have a spirit of gratitude in all you do and say. Live with a spirit of thanksgiving and you will have greater happiness and satisfaction in life. Even in your most difficult times, you can find much to be grateful for. Doing so will strengthen and bless you.
“In your prayers, before you ask for blessings, pour out your heart to God in thanks for the blessings you have already received. Thank Him for your family, for friends and loved ones, for leaders and teachers, for the gospel, and for His Son, Jesus Christ.
You can also express gratitude to the Lord by the way you live. When you keep His commandments and serve others, you show that you love Him and are grateful to Him. Express appreciation to everyone who helps you in any way.
We don’t need to wait until something extraordinary happens to be grateful. Extraordinary gratitude for ordinary blessings on ordinary days can keep the sparkle in our lives.
Author Note: The “preparatory law” of gratitude, as I see it, is noticing and giving thanks for obviously good things in our lives, the subject of this article. Just as tithing is a preparatory law and the law of consecration is the higher law, the “higher law of gratitude” is learning to give thanks in “all things.” My next article will be about the difficulty and blessing of learning to apply that higher law.