No doubt we’ve all heard the advice and benefits of having a daily gratitude practice of some sort in our days to find an appreciation for the smaller moments along life’s larger journey, but what does that mean, exactly? What does a daily gratitude practice look like? Feel like? Most importantly, how do we begin?
Several years ago, I fell into a daily gratitude practice quite by accident. After my husband’s death from late-stage prostate cancer, the whirlwind of disease/diagnosis/death (9 months and 1 day, from start to finish) left me reeling, grieving, and knee-deep in the loss of everything I’d known to that point in my life. I had unknowingly transitioned from wife of 25 years to caregiver to hospice partner all while still teaching middle school, being a mom, and coach’s wife (he’d coached his basketball team, his last one of his 35 year career, to the district championship in late February and went into hospice a month later) in less time than it took to finish my first year of college. While I had a small but strong system of friends and family to help me navigate the practical realities of planning a memorial, transferring deeds, and closing accounts, once the dust settled, wading through the darkness to process the grief and trauma was a job only I could do.
Honestly, I had no idea how. The loss of my spouse had stripped away the entirety of my identity. I was no longer a wife, but I hadn’t been divorced. I didn’t know if I should check married or single on paperwork where ‘widow’ was not an option. I even struggled to identify with roles that had absolutely nothing to do with having a partner: I definitely didn’t feel like much of a teacher when I’d had so much sub coverage, and my writer self, the one who’d been working on deadline with editors at national publications, hadn’t picked up a pen in over a year unless to write down medication doses and times.
I had no idea who I was. I sat and cried, I slept and cried, I spent weeks in and out of a cloudy fog, physically functional yet mentally unengaged. I reluctantly took a vacation to the Exuma Islands, swam with pigs, dove for starfish, and began reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gifts From the Sea, yet I still had no idea what I’d do when I got home.
The one grace of that trip was that for a few moments each day, I remembered who I was. I was a reader who found herself when getting lost in a book. I was a walker who got up before sunrise to comb the Caribbean beach for shells. I was a food adventurer who tried local delicacies like conch fritters and tripe soup and whatever the tiny clam shack on the narrow cobblestone street sold at lunch.
And I was grateful. I didn’t know how to fully dig myself out of my grief, but those flashes of pure, bright joy in my days gave me the realization that if I could string together more of these small moments, these tiny joys, the heaviness that kept me small and vulnerable might actually lighten a bit.
Enter my daily gratitude practice, or, as I have come to affectionately term it, my String of Tiny Joys. Each of those sparkling, tiny moments became a lifeline of sorts, a way to lift me up and move me forward when I often had no idea where I was headed. I bought a journal and began to jot my tiny joys, one per day, one per line, inside. When the page filled, I read down the list of my journey from the first to the last, feeling a growing sense of lightness inside. I had rediscovered my love of walking, so many of those initial entries were simply notes of my mileage and destination. One mile daily turned into three, then five, then a daily habit that made a solid lifeline back to the person I’d once been.
I continued my exploration of tiny joys, and began to follow the sparks that spoke to me. I found my way back into yoga, forged a new path through to meditation, connected with new, international pen pals and rediscovered writing. I also discovered that sunrises are my favorite time of day, that I’m a pretty decent tarot card reader, that I actually like writing poetry, and that I’m better at baking bread than I was in high school. All of this came in one or two sentences a day over the course of the last six years.
My intention was to find a way out of grief, and that string of tiny joys was the daily gratitude practice that got me there. It really is as simple as it sounds: get a notebook, set an intention to notice one thing every single day that moves your heart, and, at the end of the day, jot it down. No matter how bad your day turns out, no matter the weather, traffic, your job/kids/spouse/world, I promise there’s a tiny joy hiding somewhere for you to find. Perhaps it’s the way sunlight edges the clouds to look silver, or the smell of rain after a storm–that tiny joy is simply waiting to be discovered and felt.
How long can your string of tiny joys carry you? I’d love for you to find out. Starting this evening, I’ll be posting a tiny joy from my day here on the blog, and I’d love to hear yours. If you’re a blogger yourself, consider posting in your space and linking back. My intention is to carry this forward through the month of June. Join me on a tiny joy journey toward building your own daily gratitude practice?