April 20, 2015

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THE GRATITUDE DIARIES

How A Year Looking on the Bright Side Transformed My Life

PREFACE

Given that I am working on a new project about gratitude, I should have woken up on this late March morning to sunny skies, singing birds, and friends gathered in my living room singing “Kumbaya.”

Instead, everything that could go wrong did.

But somehow, I kept seeing rays of sunshine.

To start, my old Volvo wouldn’t spark and jumper cables had no effect. The neighbor who came over to help saved the day by driving me to the train station, twenty minutes away. I got to the city and stepped onto the rainy, windy sidewalk just as a bus raced through a huge puddle and sent a thick stream of muddy water all over me.

“Yuuck!” I screamed, though my language might have been a bit more colorful.

A few passersby clucked in sympathy, but I didn’t want to go to my important meeting looking like a survivor from a Tough Mudder race. My favorite J.Crew was just a few blocks away, so I dashed over, quickly bought a bold-print skirt, and changed in the fitting room.

I got to my meeting on time but the CEO I had come to see had a fake tan and extremely overmoussed hair. He texted while I talked and managed to look up only at the end. “Hey, you look hot in that skirt,” he said.

Since I was pitching a project, not cruising Match.com, I should have been furious. But instead I laughed and told myself I’d been saved from working with a man who spent more on hair products than I did.

I went to have coffee with my best friend, Susan, whom I have known since we met in summer camp at age eight. She is intensely loyal, fiercely critical, and relentlessly blunt.

“You must be miserable,” she said when I outlined my day.

“Not really. I’m trying to be positive.”

“How can you be positive about a dead car?”

I took a deep breath. I could do this. “The car was fourteen years old and had 150,000 miles on it. I never expected it to last this long. More important was that I have a nice neighbor who came to help.”

“Yeah, that was good,” Susan admitted. “How about getting soaked on the sidewalk?”

“Look at the funny side. The idiot CEO complimented my skirt. And think how lucky I am that I could buy a new outfit without breaking the bank. “

Susan dumped two packets of Splenda into her coffee and stirred furiously. For years she’d heard me gripe about needing more money, so this appreciating what I had was a switch.

“I’m your best friend. You can bitch and complain all you want.”

“I don’t feel like complaining,” I said, surprising myself as much as her. “I can’t change what happened, so it feels good to change how I think about it.”

Susan took a long sip of coffee. She has an ambitious, hard-driving nature. Though inordinately successful at work, Susan is often stressed, pressed, and occasionally depressed. Like all of us, she gets so busy concentrating on what she wants that she forgets to be happy for what she has. I worried my good spirits might grate on her. But she just raised an eyebrow.

“If this is that gratitude stuff you’ve been working on, I think I need it. How do I sign up?”

It was time to share my secret. So on the top of a napkin, I wrote the heading Three Reasons I’m Grateful Today. Then I pushed the napkin across the table and handed Susan a pen.

“Fill it in,” I said.

Susan stared at the napkin for so long that I finally took it back and crossed out Three Reasons and changed it to One Reason.

“We’ll start easy,” I said.

That was exactly what I had done a few months earlier. I now knew that writing down one thing every day that made me grateful could change my attitude about everything else. A glowing sunset. A good friend’s hug. The first hint of spring.

One thing.

Who can’t do that?