Every 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