How a Thankful Heart Will Save You


Have you ever felt like you were in a churning sea of challenges? Getting tossed around by events that you felt powerless to control? Did you feel so discouraged you sought comfort in food or other compulsive behaviors?

We’ve all heard the term “Attitude of Gratitude.” We’ve even lived in that emotional place from time to time.

Maybe you felt grateful when, for the first time in your adult life, you did not need a seatbelt extender on an airplane, or you were able to sit in a lawn chair without fear of collapsing it.

Maybe you felt it when you realized you just might live to see your grandchildren or have profound relief from chronic pain.

Often these realizations are fleeting experiences of gratitude. And though lovely, they will not sustain you during darker times.

What about having gratitude as your overriding feeling when you lose your job, or when you are hurt by another human being?

What about having gratitude when you are eating compulsively and fearing you will regain all your weight, or never get to goal?

What about looking for the good in a moment when you are feeling fat and unloved?

Feeling grateful in those moments seems almost absurd, doesn’t it?

I am not proposing you be Pollyanna (a book character who is surprisingly grateful when she gets hurt and plays “the glad game”).

I am proposing you nurture an attitude of gratitude so that even in hard times, even when you are getting sucked under in a raging swirl of disappointment, you are seeking and open to the positive things that can come with heartache.

In swirling seas, a life preserver can help. It won’t keep you from being tossed around, but it might keep you from going under. Or if you do go under, it will get you back up to the surface more quickly.

Gratitude is a life preserver.

But what if you are tossed into churning waters and your life preserver is nowhere in sight? What if you go under?

At any point in time, we do the best we can. And when we know better, we do better.

When I was 13 years old, my father left my family. He walked out one day and never returned to our home.

It was Thanksgiving Day.

At that time, I did not have anything remotely close to a life preserver. I was beyond devastated. I knew I was flawed and unloved, because otherwise he would not have left. I wallowed in a turbulent pool of sadness and nearly drowned.

What saved me was learning a new way to think and feel. Over time, as I sought relief, I was introduced to this concept of gratitude.

At first, I thought it was a bunch of baloney (Okay, I used stronger words that that!). But I was told, “Fake it ’til you make it.” I was encouraged to start a gratitude journal.

Each day I awoke and before I left my bed, I took my journal and scribbled down three things for which I was grateful. At first it was slim pickings.

“I’m grateful for the sunshine,” I wrote, rolling my eyes.

“I’m grateful to be breathing in and out,” I scrawled, while thinking, “at least most of the time.”

It took time to want to do this exercise. It took time to get more creative with my list. It took time to enjoy it.

See a pattern there? It took TIME.

It also took a willingness to turn my back on my pain and reach for the life preserver of joy. The whirlpool of pain did not go away. I just paid less attention to it. Every time I was aware of it, I would tell myself, “Okay, that’s there, but what can I focus on now to make myself feel better?”

The life preserver of gratitude was my teacher. It was what saved me.

No matter how badly your seas are swirling, no matter how far you have sunk into the raging waters, no matter how hopeless you feel, know that the life preserver of gratitude is at your fingertips at all times.

If you’re braving emotional churn, you can sink into your feelings of misery and deprivation, or you can start to nurture a thankful heart and save yourself. Your choice.

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