In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul said to “show yourselves thankful.” (Col. 3:15) It turns out that that is excellent advice for more than one reason. Gratitude is good for us. Professor Robert Emmons, of the University of California at Davis, says: “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress, and to achieve a positive sense of self.” That is something that I’ve learned on a very deep level, and in the hardest way possible.
I’ve been to places in my soul where just breathing in and out was torturous. When simply continuing to live is the best one can do, it doesn’t take much pleasure to induce feelings of profound gratitude. A little less than two years ago, I was in that state. I remember the first positive emotion I felt. It was love for my youngest boy, a hug and a pinch. I was so grateful for that bit of pleasure, that tiny reprieve from constant torment, that I wrote about it in my journal and put a star on that page. My pain taught me what nothing else could: to feel grateful for every tiny blessing. From that day forward, I recorded every positive emotion that I felt in my journal, starring the page on which I wrote it. Soon, I began to have whole days that were full of little joys, and those days received big stars. Some days I would cry tears of joyful gratitude for the blessings I had received, immediately thanking God.
I’ve had many experiences over the past couple of years that inspired profound gratitude for things I had once taken for granted. One of them happened when I went to my place of worship, the Kingdom Hall, in spite of feeling ill. I knew that the depression resulting from isolating myself would probably be even more counterproductive than the exhaustion and possible pain from going. And my son had been assigned to do a public reading of the Bible. I had to go, so I prayed for strength.
Sitting in the little back room isolated from the rest of the congregation because of my sensitivity to fragrances, I began to feel that I’d made a mistake in coming. I was beginning to feel very ill and only wanted to go home to my bed. I really needed some loving encouragement from my friends, but I often don’t get to talk to many of them because of the fact that I have to keep myself segregated in my little room. Sometimes they come back to greet me, or they meet me outside, but not always. I was in that dark sort of mood that had me expecting nothing good. But immediately after the meeting concluded, I was blessed with plenty of friends to talk to.
As soon as I was alone in my bedroom that night, my eyes filled with tears as I realized that I had received just what I needed. My heart overflowed with gratitude, and I thanked Jehovah.
I could have missed out on that opportunity to feel and express gratitude. I could have remained in my dark, brooding state in spite of what I received. The key for me was to notice. How many opportunities for feeling and expressing gratitude do we pass up simply because we fail to notice all those little blessings and recognize them for what they are? How easy it is to overlook the good and focus instead on all the big hurts. There is ample opportunity in this world for feeling legitimately bad. The practice of gratitude takes effort and practice, especially for a confirmed pessimist like me, but change is possible. I used to think that pessimism and negativity was indelibly chiseled onto my personality. I am happy that I was wrong, because gratitude is helping me heal.