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  • Did you ever keep a "gratitude journal"? I was first introduced to the concept when we were part of the same congregation that used to meet right down the street from where Neighbordeb now works, in Center City Philadelphia, about 22 years ago. That was a powerfully transformative time in our lives. Right around this time of year - 40 days before Thanksgiving - they would start up something called "Circles of Gratitude".

    At that time, I was in between things, and wasn't feeling very grateful for my general lot in life. Both externally and internally, things were really shaky. I had stopped going to the 12 Step Group I'd been a part of for seven years, as they had gotten away from the essence of what they had been about and I'd finally reached the realization that I no longer belonged there. It was the first time in thirteen years that I hadn't been connected in some way to a 12 Step fellowship, so it was a little scary for me. I was just following where my spirit seemed to be leading me, but I did have my doubts.

    Work was difficult - I'd been working for a lady for several years who did not value me at all, but was perfectly willing to let me do all the grunt work of her job, and then take all the credit for what I did. Financially, we were barely keeping our noses above water, and it was getting harder and harder to hold my breath as we sank deeper and deeper into debt. We lived in a house that needed constant attention, a real handyman special. At any given point, anything could go wrong with that place, and it did. You name, we dealt with it with that house.

    To top it all off, our relationship had grown pretty stale - neither one of us were sure we even knew the other person anymore, and both weren't sure we even liked each other. I just chaulked that up to the reality of life, and was of a "let's just suck it up and push through this period" frame of mind, but not real open to change.

    So, against this backdrop, the concept of Gratitude was introduced into my life. The way "Circles of Gratitude" worked was, groups of 5 - 10 people would meet at a person's house once a week, throughout the 40 days leading up to Thanksgiving. Everyone involved in it was given a "Gratitude Journal" to write in daily. Each day, your journal entry was to start with ten things you were grateful for in your life, and then there were a few prompt questions to probe a little deeper into the nuances of what it was you were grateful for, and why.

    You can imagine how hard this was for me, at first, given where my life was at at the time, and how I viewed it. I was really pretty beaten down. If I had been truly honest with myself at the time, with my feelings, I would have said that life sucked, I'd gotten the short end of the stick, and I just needed to be strong and show up everyday, hoping for the best. That was pretty much my philosophy, in a nutshell. Happiness was overrated. That's for some other schmucks who weren't living in the real world, who were living on some la-la island.
  • But, I started to keep my journal, trying to find ten things everyday that I could honestly say I was grateful for. It took an effort, I can assure you. In the beginning, they were grudging lists. "Yeah, well, I guess I could say I'm grateful for this, but..." There was always a "but" - but, if I had this, or if this wasn't like this, I'd be a hell of a lot more grateful! But, I had committed to the exercise, and so I continued to keep my daily journal, and kept trying to find other things to list that I was grateful for. After a few days, it got to be a little easier to do. I found myself "cheating" a little bit - looking around for things I could write about in my next journal entry that I could honestly say I was grateful for. Pretty soon, I was coming up with all kinds of things for my daily lists, and got to where I didn't feel quite so challenged in explaining why I was grateful for some of them.

    The weekly meetings were very powerful. First off, I learned I wasn't alone in having difficulties with the process, initially. Others were struggling with it, as well. In the meeting, we would be given other ways to focus more on what we were grateful for, and less on what sucked in our lives.

    By the time three weeks, about halfway through the process, had come and gone, the power of gratitude was taking over my life. Everything seemed fresh and new, my whole outlook on life had turned around. I was finding myself having moments of downright giddiness - this hadn't happened in years - and I was noticing so many little things around me that had gotten lost in my "struggling through this period" drama that I had given myself over to, life truly transformed.

    All due to focusing on such a simple concept - gratitude.

    What prompted this story was coming across a mostly blank gratitude journal - this year's journal - and realizing I had been ignoring it for most of the year. Hmmm - might I be slipping back into a "times are tough - let's struggle through this tough time" drama? Could be.

    I say, instead - let's not. Time to refocus on what I am grateful for in life. That poor gratitude journal looks awfully lonely. I need to start giving it some more attention. What I am grateful for in my life?

    Here's a starter list for me:

    1. My health
    2. My relationship with my family
    3. My ability to write.
    4. Living in the moment.
    5. Where I live.
    6. The ability to travel
    7. Friends in my life
    8. A spiritual life
    9. A sense of humor
    10. Good memories.

    How about you? What are you grateful for?
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