Inspiring health and happiness in body, mind and spirit

A Month of Gratitude

May 6, 2009
Scientists tell us that one of the easiest ways to cultivate happiness is to practice gratitude. Inclining our minds toward all that we cherish - and offering thank yous for those loves - boosts our moods and uplifts our spirits. The practice requires no special tools or skills. All we need to do, as our grandmothers taught us, is to count our blessings every day.

In 2009, as part of a meditation course, a friend and I became "gratitude buddies," writing each other back and forth for the month of April, sharing moments of thanksgiving, large and small. I've collected my thank-yous from that month, and even years later, revisiting these tiny moments brings tears of happiness to my eyes.   

I hope my small thank yous inspire you, too, to look for ordinary shining moments of gratitude and joy in your own life. As meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh said, "Happiness is available. Please help yourself."

April 6
Today I am thankful for houses with heat, and hot tea with raw honey and afternoon naps. I'm thankful that boy skulls are so strong, so when they bonk against the frame of the door they bruise and bloat horribly but only for a few hours. I'm thankful for art projects (a rocket ship this morning) and singable five-year olds (today's homemade song, accompanied by guitar strumming, was "The Trees and Me").

I'm thankful for healthy bodies, and also for ear plugs that give mothers just a little bit more sleep when their congested sons snort all night long. I'm thankful for deep breaths - especially the exhalation part. And I'm thankful that if I walk away from the computer right now I may have just a few minutes to lie down on my yoga mat and stretch out all these stuck spaces inside.

April 9
Today I am thankful for the way my head cranes upwards toward the sun like a spring bloom, pulled by some primal magnetism into the most direct line of that bright ball's strongest rays. I am thankful for the field of blue scillas speckled by the soft yellows of daffodils in the grove beside our house. I am thankful for the way little boys' eyes squint in such bright sun, still recovering from winter's dark hibernation.

I am thankful for little boys who finally, blessedly score soccer goals, and then squeal, "Mom, that was my very first soccer goal of the season... No wait, that was the very first soccer goal of my life!"

I'm thankful for second chances, and for whatever force it is that pulls us up out of crabby mornings and lands us back on our feet in the brightness of the afternoon. I'm thankful for little boys who meet up at the bog by the bike trail and don't even ask each other their names before joining forces as if they were brothers, dredging up moss with huge branches, and trading pieces of "coal" they find on the long-ago railroad trail. And then laying flat on their bellies on the wooden bridge, heads hanging down, as they wait silently for their little stick boats to emerge from the shadows beneath them and sail on down the promising rivers of spring.

April 12
I'm thankful that the little one can now answer questions like, "What were you doing outside?" with answers of "Wah-wow," which means, "Walking around." Or, that he can answer, "What is your baby doll's name?" with "Beebee Cohk Cahmmie" which means Baby Koke Cummins. I'm thankful the my big kid can now offer thoughtful comments like, "Instead of always trying to get more stuff that you'll love, sometimes it's best to just learn to love what you already have." I'm thankful for the screen of green that has quickly enveloped the upstairs windows, reminding me that the world really is in full bloom.

I'm thankful for five year olds who, oh so early in the morning, look at their little brother in new brown jammies and giggle, "You look like such a little chocolate bar." Much later in the day, I'm thankful for secret chocolate chip cookies and Mellow Mama tea when the rest of the house is asleep. I'm thankful for the sound of hard rain on the roof when we're all tucked tight into bed. And I'm also thankful (and also terrified by) the reminder by Joseph Goldstein that "anything can happen, anytime."

April 14
Today I am thankful for the little things. I'm thankful for those delicate miniature daffodils, which try so hard to be just as huge and glorious as the big daddies but look so silly trying. Just like my little boys, trying so hard to be all grown up while still just knee high. And I'm thankful for the little whisper my mother gave me as she took one child in each hand, "Go take a walk by your self." And for the 40 minutes of silence and easy breathing that followed.

I'm thankful for that pink little baby finger reaching to my lips while I hear, "La-loo Ma-ma." (I love you, Mama). I'm thankful for the slightly bigger boy fingers that wrap themselves around the red heart mug of peach-ginger-mint tea, while I hear, "Mother, you drink your tea SO VERY HOT, I just can't believe it. You must be some sort of tea acrobat."

April 17
Today I am thankful, so very thankful, for afternoon naps. For everybody.

April 21
I am thankful that the spring in my step returned this morning, sending me nearly skipping out the driveway for a walk down the street and back. I am thankful for grandmothers who follow their grandsons out into the garden on warm and windy Friday mornings, even daring to allow them a turn with the pointy pruners. I am thankful that little boys, when they tire of gardening, race without fear on fast blue bikes around the sharp curves of the driveway, at a speed of one-hundred-near-misses per hour. (Even when they know their mother is looking on with worried eyes and stifled warnings).

I am grateful that a simple wooden bowl filled with rocks collected over decades from long-forgotten places can entertain a curious toddler for nearly an hour. I am thankful that runny noses eventually run clear and that babies always stop crying. I am thankful that usually - most of the time - everything works out just fine. I am equally thankful for the faith that when it doesn't, kind and loving hands will always surround us.

April 24
I am thankful for teachers who let their students hang upside down on the monkey bars, blacken their socks in playground dirt, and then send them home with a smile and a warning, "That bathwater is going to be black this evening!"

And I am thankful for innocent minds that ask, after a well-child check-up, "So, TB, is that a sickness you get if you watch too much TV?" And for that same mind that, later in the hot afternoon breeze muses, "You see how these bubbles float around so beautifully for awhile and then rise up and burst into thin air? Do you think that maybe that's just what happens when we die?" I am thankful for little boys who take my breath away, and then give it back, over and over and over.

April 26
Today I am thankful for a midmorning treat of organic seeduction bread, parano cheese and Whole Foods guacamole. I'm grateful for the local bike trail, and the community of smiling strangers that treads back and forth on it. I'm thankful for the bench by the bog that inevitably turns into a spot for snacking, squinting at the glistening water in the midmorning sun, and watching for the season's first dragonflies.

I'm thankful that I have a five-year old who thinks grilled salmon, teriyaki rice and jasmine tea is the perfect before-school lunch, and a 20-month old who thinks sweet peas are candy. I'm thankful that today it is warm enough to say yes when my son asks - again - whether he can wear shorts to school.

April 27
Today I am thankful for double recesses on sunny days. I'm thankful for libraries that let you walk out the door with 17 books, bubbling full of anticipation for the many stories that lie ahead. And I'm thankful for peppy librarians who round up good books for moms who are too tired to hunt them down.

I'm thankful that when I find myself standing in front of a mirror under glaring lights, I still run out of grey hairs to pluck. I'm thankful for doctors who say, "Everything is just fine." I'm grateful for cool baths dotted with jasmine oil on hot afternoons. And I'm grateful our tub is somehow big enough to contain three sweaty bodies.

April 28
I am thankful for the return of spring, damp and dim as it is, after being shocked into summer last weekend. I am thankful for easy days, when not too much happens and I remember that boredom and peace are close-knit cousins. I am thankful for industrious little cleaners, who fondle the Hoover Wind Tunnel as if it were made of gold. I am thankful that in response to mini-bullying at school, my son has decided to become a “trouble-watcher” who sits in his perch – with a buddy sometimes – and surveys the playground for anyone who may be in need of assistance.

I’m thankful for dinners that can be whipped up in seven minutes flat. I am grateful for whoever came up with the name “Iron Goddess of Mercy” for my favorite afternoon tea. I contemplate both the iron goddess part and the mercy part each time I lift my mug to my lips, praying for a little of both.

April 30
Today I am thankful for my own resourceful brain, which when bedtime turned disastrous, managed to come up with, "Hey, wanna play a new game? It's called Mama Massage." And I'm thankful for the 30 lovely minutes that followed, Mama on her belly being sprayed, spritzed, and smeared with a kid-concoction of rose water and lavender lotion and calendula cream. I'm thankful for those 20 little fingers - some long and delicate, others still fat and sticky.

May 1
I'm thankful for the very last soccer game of the season, and the opportunity for big brother to go out on a high note with two scraped knees, one goose-egged eyebrow and four goals.

I am thankful for that last little roll of baby fat on the no-longer-fat no-longer-baby, that last reminder of those first few days of blissful, bleary-eyed babyhood. I am thankful for fathers who sum up all of their best financial advice with the words, "Save a lot, and then underspend." I am thankful for Sunday afternoons that are just barely warm and just barely sunny, and I am thankful for those little backyard flyer airplanes that can entertain small hands for so many moments.

I am thankful for the beautiful, fragile, ethereal, ghostly white orchid that I bought at the May Day Festival. And I am thankful the my son begged, begged, BEGGED for his very own orchid plant, which now sits in magenta glory on his window sill, standing watch over blocks, trains, planes and fire trucks.

I'm thankful for our graceful and sloping backyard, and for the old-man ash trees that stand guard in it. And for the open field beyond, and the trees that slide into the horizon, and the jaw-dropping sunsets that fall over it. And I'm thankful my bedroom windows look out upon it all, so I can watch the big Ohio sky slip from gold to butter to salmon to indigo, all in the time it takes my boys to finally, sweetly, at last, fall asleep.