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Person_SunsetEvery morning I sit outside on my high-floor terrace in South Florida, sip my coffee, and read an uplifting pamphlet or two. Then I write out my day’s schedule. Too often, despite the uplifting material, I start worrying about this client or that deadline or the seemingly endless list of tasks on the schedule. And my quiet time erodes into anxiety.

The activity that’s supposed to help me ease into the day with a positive outlook has the opposite effect. Instead of returning to my home office refreshed and ready to work, I’m drained and irritable.

As I kept noticing how I felt, and feeling worse every day, I knew something had to change. One day I read an article about a daily practice of gratitude. Not new, certainly, but it came to me when I needed it. The article recommended listing five things you’re grateful for, and doing so the first thing in the morning.

I tried it.  In place of plunging into the day’s to-dos and their attendant disturbances, I used my schedule sheet for my five-thing gratitude list.

Although I’d been sitting outside for years, on the first day of my gratitude list, almost as if for the first time, I saw the magnificent view. The brilliant blue sky, ever-changing clouds, early morning mirror-like lagoon, ocean with gentle foam breaking the shore, full trees in perennial summer, nearby high-rises with windows reflecting the sparkling water. My five things easily turned into ten. When I finished, I felt calmer than I had for a long time.

Every morning now I continue the gratitude practice. Sometimes I list the inside of the apartment and its comforts, sometimes today’s technological marvels, sometimes the people near to me—my husband, family, friends, mentors, past teachers.      Sometimes it’s people less near—clients, salespeople, producers of the food I so easily pluck off the market shelves. Or the many resources and recreational opportunities everywhere—mall, theaters, art galleries, beautiful path lined by flowering bushes and ducks and geese in the pond at the nearby golf course. Sometimes I list the essentials: health, skills, talents, the capacity to love, the air and sun and minutes of today. Sometimes I list maybe maverick things—thunder and lightning, traffic noises, crying babies, construction crews.

Writing my daily gratitude list outside expands me physically. I look around, beyond my desk and files. I take in the vastness around me, and the far horizons.

My breath slows. My eyes stop squinting. A softness comes over me, very different from that massive spill of to-dos and the insistent internal motor that demands constant task check-offs.

The gratitude list, as it repeats and changes, reminds me daily of what’s really important. As I’ve rediscovered this practice, it has helped me recognize what I have to be thankful for, and to savor the moment and everything in my life.


© 2014 Noelle Sterne

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Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 600 articles, essays, stories, and poems in writing, literary, spiritual, and academic print and online venues. These include Author Magazine, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Funds for Writers, InnerSelf,  New Age Journal, Romance Writers Report, SivanaSpirit, Transformation Coaching, Two Drops of Ink, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, The Write Place At the Write Time,The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. 

With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for 30 years Noelle has assisted doctoral candidates to complete their dissertations (finally). Based on this practice, her handbook for doctoral candidates wrestling with their dissertations addresses their largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties. The book is titled Challenge in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). This book may be the first dissertation handbook to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of graduate school and offer solutions. Excerpts from the book have been published in Abstract (blog of Textbook and Academic Authors Association), Get a Life, PhD, GradShare, Graduate Schools Magazine, PhD Talk, and Women in Higher Education, with additional pieces scheduled. For a PowerPoint teaser of this book, please see

In Noelle's book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. For more about Trust Your Life, view Noelle's free webinar. Pursuing her own dream, she has completed her first novel and is wading through her second.

Noelle's mission through writing and coaching is to help others conquer their trying life experiences, as she has been helped. She applies practical and spiritual guidance from many blessed sources. For more about Noelle and her work and to contact her, please visit here.

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