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Gratitude and Joy Are the Best Self-Care

Poppy fields inspire gratitude and joy

Today’s post is from guest writer Siv Ricketts. Links are affiliate links, and she earns money from qualifying purchases.

Make a List: Gratitude

What book has made a lasting positive impression on your life? If you’re a reader, you know: some books are more than good. They’re life-changing. Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts has been one such book for me.

Though Voskamp has endured heartbreaking tragedy within her own family, she found her way to gratitude and, through gratitude, to joy. A friend dared her to create a list, not unlike our To Do lists or grocery lists, of 1,000 things she loves. She began writing: light reflecting through dish soap bubbles, the curls of vegetable peelings, toast with jam. Ordinary things in ordinary days. She writes to say thanks. She writes as a spiritual practice, an act of faith.

Voskamp writes, “As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible.” Thanks is always possible. As flowers grow in sidewalk cracks, we can find beauty in the most unlikely places. Also, much of the time life clips along at a pretty great pace, with only minor speed bumps or curves in the road, making thanks even easier.

Small Moments of Grace

I read One Thousand Gifts shortly before our family participated in an overseas service trip. I didn’t want to go, anxious about balancing participation and parenting as our seven-year-old would be the youngest participant. Though I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to write, I packed a journal and found at least a few minutes each day to scribble thanks: watching my sons easily make friends despite language barriers; playing patty-cake with young children; a rainbow.

Someone on our team termed these acts of thanks SMOGs, Small Moments of Grace, and we practiced them together. The act of recording and sharing thanks amplified our joy, even when we felt sticky-hot and physically depleted, even when the plumbing backed up in the entire school. Interestingly, our trip took place over Thanksgiving week in the U.S., and we returned home to the Christmas season with an entirely different perspective on what we have, how little we need, and how to give thanks.

The next summer, I packed my journal when we took a two-week camping road trip through nine states. This time I took a cue from One Thousand Gifts and numbered my thanks; I got to 262, an average of 18 gratitude notes per day. Writing things down trained my eyes and heart to notice what I might otherwise have missed. Or, even if I’d seen them, I might not have said thanks. My journal provides a unique record of the memories we created: s’mores and stargazing; laundromats in National Parks; huckleberry ice cream; a Bald Eagle in a tree above a river; driving past fields of wildflowers.

I continued to pack my gratitude journal anytime I traveled, but it took years for the practice to take hold in my daily life. When I began blogging in 2014, I regularly wrote Thankful Thursday posts. In 2017 my husband bought me a journal, and I recognized the opportunity to begin a daily gratitude practice. Now I can’t imagine life without it.

Gratitude: The Three a Day Happiness Advantage

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, maintains that we can train our brains to become more grateful, and thus happier, by recording as few as three unique gratitudes each day. Though some might write their gratitude at the end of the day, mornings work best for me. Beginning my day in reflection, reviewing what made me laugh or added beauty in the previous 24 hours, prepares me for awareness.

This summer my husband, seventeen-year-old son, and I embarked on a month-long road trip, camping our way through National Parks and visiting family and friends. Of course I packed a journal and said a lot of thanks.

So why has my gratitude practice become so important? I have a few thoughts:

Gratitude Enhances Joy

My husband and I regularly remind each other of a simple truth: we find what we’re looking for. If you’re looking to buy a Toyota RAV4, you will suddenly spot RAV4s on every road and in every parking lot. When I began making a list of things for which I am grateful, I found reasons to be grateful everywhere.

My gratitude practice increased my appreciation for my life in the present moment. It helped me see with new eyes what I already had and decreased my desire to accumulate more. I even titled my blog Miracles in the Mundane since I view my ordinary life as an opportunity to treasure hunt for hope, beauty, and joy, all occasions for gratitude. In The Happiness Advantage, Achor lists surprising and impressive results of practicing gratitude: greater energy, emotional intelligence, willingness to forgive, social connection, and better sleep, more than enough to convince me!

Gratitude Blesses Others

It’s one thing to keep a private gratitude list, but gratitude multiplies when you share it. On our 2012 camping trip I wrote, “Fun with Quinn doing his National Park Junior Ranger activities,” yet it increased our joy when I told Quinn how much I enjoyed exploring the park with him. On our 2021 road trip I wrote, “Watching Quinn fall in love with Santa Fe art galleries.” Again, it increased our joy when I told him how meaningful that experience was to this mama who has been dragging him to museums and art galleries his entire life. (Note: I read this paragraph to him, one more opportunity to bless him with gratitude and increase our joy).

Gratitude Deepens My Relationship with God

Anne Lamott calls “Thanks” one of the three essential prayers, alongside “Help” and “Wow.” I consider “Wow” and “Thanks” to be intricately entwined. When I stood this summer at the edge of the Grand Canyon, marveling at its vast beauty, I felt minute in comparison. Living on the coast of California, I feel the same when my feet sink in the sand at the ocean’s edge. The incredible beauty of our natural world, the world designed and developed by our artist God, elicits such overwhelming feelings of awe that sometimes the only appropriate words become, “Wow, thanks…”

When I notice I’m too caught up in my own spiraling thoughts, the consistent cure involves interacting with the world that speaks to me of God’s goodness. I go for a walk, or sit outside with the sunshine on my face, or snuggle my Boxer-Labrador. I notice what calls to my senses—the sweet perfume of my roses, the laughter of children on the playground, the deer bounding through the nearby pear orchard—and use those miracles to again remind me to say, “Wow, thanks….” Or I grab one of my now-many gratitude journals and flip through to recall God’s faithfulness over the years.

Voskamp writes: “Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.” Giving thanks has opened my eyes to see God’s gifts more fully, and to see good gifts even in difficult circumstances. Gratitude has led to greater appreciation of my daily life, and it has deepened my relationship with my loved ones and my God. Gratitude has become one of my favorite acts of self-care, the first thing I do after my first sip of coffee each morning.

Siv Ricketts has focused her career working in and writing for the Church as a youth director, a communication director, and a freelance writer/editor. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, two sons, and their menagerie of pets, and she writes to encourage you to have hope, seek beauty, and live joyfully in your ordinary everyday life. You can find her on her blog and on Instagram.

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