A year ago, at a get-together of a dozen girlfriends from college,
I saw my old friend Therese Gibson. Therese had been one of
the fun girls at school; she'd had an easy laugh and had always
been up for an adventure. When she heard I was writing this
book, she told me about the daily gratitude ritual she and her
ninety-five-year-old father, Charlie, practice--they call it
"saying their thank-yous"--that keeps them smiling and
feeling good. Therese moved in with Charlie, who's still
sharp as a tack, at a bad time in both their lives.
Charlie's wife, Therese's mother, had just died, and Therese was
at the tail end of a painful divorce. Money was tight and
Therese says they were as glum as any two people could be.
But both of them had heard that gratitude was a great way to feel
better, so they decided to sit together for a few minutes each
morning before Therese headed off to work and tell each other the
three things they were grateful for in their lives.
"It was slow going in the beginning," Therese told
me. "The first time we did it, I was feeling so low I
had a hard time thinking of even one thing I was grateful
for." Finally, she looked around the room and saw a
vase she liked. She told Charlie, "I'm grateful for how
pretty that vase is." It sounded silly, but it was the
best she could do. Charlie wasn't any better at it, often
waiting for Therese to give him a clue about what to say.
But she and Charlie both noticed that even a thank-you for
something superficial had a good effect.
decision to focus on what was right in their lives began to pay
off. Both Therese and Charlie started to feel happier and
notice that more and more things were going their way. Even
their money situation improved. Three thank-yous became
five, became ten, and soon they had to stop listing the good
things in their lives long before they ran out of things to say,
or Therese would be late for work.
One day, they were feeling so light and happy after finishing
their lists that Charlie, who'd always liked the musical Oklahoma!,
started singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning."
Therese joined in. It was the perfect expression of how
being grateful made them feel. They added this song to their
ritual and now, saying their thank-yous and singing together has
become one of the highlights of their day.
What you're grateful for, you get more of. When you
appreciate the happiness and love you already experience, more
happiness and love come to you.
I've experienced myself how powerful gratitude is. After the
heartbreak I went through, a friend told me to write down five
things I was grateful for each night before I went to bed for
three weeks straight. I knew that psychologists say it takes
twenty-one days to change a habit, so I agreed. At first I
struggled, but my results kept me going. In fact, this
simple little exercise worked so well that I continued doing it
every night for the next three years, and over time, the pain in
my heart eased.
I suggest you try the gratitude exercise yourself. Every
night before you go to sleep, list five things that you're
grateful for that day, and notice how you feel when you wake up
the next morning.