Gratitude? Why Bother!


It’s really easy to be grateful when the day is sunny, there’s money in your pocket and there’s no life drama going on. In fact, when everything is going well it’s also really easy to forget to be grateful! Maybe we learn our best lessons about the usefulness of gratitude when things are perfectly awful. Let me tell you what I mean.

There was a time when my life was pretty harsh and hard. We lived in a very cold climate in an uninsulated farm house that was heated with a wood stove, and kept our canned goods in the refrigerator so they wouldn’t freeze. These were the times when there were withdrawals from the food bank and ‘living high on the hog’ meant you found a pig to ride. Since I had three children and was expecting my fourth, I couldn’t afford the luxury of a bad attitude either! During that dark, cold winter I found gratitude was the best way to alter my own mood and therefore positively affect the whole family. It became my most important job!

I started a gratitude list on the refrigerator to remind myself of what I had to be grateful for especially during this low place in life. [It’s really difficult to think of things to be grateful for when you feel so desperate and low.] Of course I wrote on it:  my children, my health, the sunshine, wood for the stove, and friends. I also added music, laughter, family, nature, and a roof over our head. Then I hit ‘pay dirt’! These were the items that really gave feeling and meaning to the term gratitude. For us it could be summed up by mentioning a full refrigerator and a hot shower!

As our home changed over the decades, and our fortunes waxed and waned, there was always a list on the refrigerator to remind me of the amazing number of things we had to be grateful for. There was also a list of music that lifted my spirits, movies that made us laugh, and things that felt really good – like a long soak in the tub or a specific author. Years later when I talked about this to my grown kids, asked them whether they had thought of us as being poor, I was very grateful to hear: “I knew we didn’t have much money, but I never felt poor.”

And that, my friends, is good enough. A good attitude is always available if you want to turn your depressing thoughts into productive thoughts. It is an act of will, a determined shift in the inner dialogue; it is available to everyone. It brings you health and laughter and  good feelings even when you don’t have health insurance or gas for the car. It turns a supper of pancakes and popcorn into a party instead of it being the only food in the house.

As Viktor Frankl wrote about so eloquently in “Man’s Search For Meaning”, even in the awfulness of the concentration camps, attitude was the one thing the Nazi’s could not control. This was always controlled in the hearts and minds of each individual. [For the most amazing example of this, see the film “Life is Beautiful”.]

So take heart! Focus on what brings you joy, laughter, delight, and beauty. These are a more certain ‘coin of the realm’ than any money in the bank. When that bank fails, if your heart is full, you can freely move on to the next best thing. This is the finest lesson a child can learn! With gratitude and a good attitude, there is always hope.


Stephanie Mbengue
June 14th, 2010 at 5:44 AM

I liked this post. A message you can never hear often enough. Gratitude and humility build resilience in hard times. Gratitude is a part of my Senegal story. Back in 2006 we sold our car to buy plane tickets for Zeyna & I to go to Senegal. I had just found out I was pregnant with Fallou. I was grateful for the job that i finally found despite hating it because I could send money back to the US to help pay off debt; meanwhile, pregnant and lusting over a 25cent banana at a fruit stand telling myself I could just wait for my daily rice meal. Then when I did get home, I would literally sit on my bed and cry with joy to find the cement floor of my room swept and that the diapers had been washed for me and that Zeyna was joyful in the arms of a house full of people that loved her. That’s what family is all about. I realized I had everything. And it’s true now that I have a great job and am, comparatively, on easy street it’s harder to stop and be truly thankful. I’m going to start a list.

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