Since Thanksgiving in the States is just one week away, I’ve been thinking a lot about “Gratitude” this month…as do many of us during this time of year. The past few weeks have brought several changes to our family — some bittersweet (my husband’s father recently passed away, which was sad for us, although he’d had a long and interesting life) and some joyful (my grandfather will be celebrating his 99th birthday in a few days, and I can’t wait).
But I find myself being thankful for small blessings as well as big ones. For little bursts of happiness, tiny triumphs, unexpected tidbits of good fortune, simple gifts. And, looking back, when it comes to the pleasures of literature, I couldn’t be more grateful for our beloved Jane Austen. I “discovered” her work in November of my freshman year in high school, and I can’t think back on that time without remembering what joy reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time brought me. I’d always loved reading, but P&P made me admire brilliant writing in a way I hadn’t before… Austen was an unexpected but wholly amazing gift, and I remain in awe of her talent these many years later.
Between my delight in delving into Austen’s writing and the inspiration I gained when first becoming a mother (a gift that also happened in November!), I finally had the courage to begin my first novel and start sending out personal essays to magazines. As some of you may know, I spent about a decade as a freelance magazine writer, mostly for parenting publications, before my debut novel, According to Jane, was released. The essay below, “The Power of Gratitude,” is one of those early magazine pieces, and it’s included in the collection Wanderlust in Suburbia and Other Reflections on Motherhood (on sale for $2.99 on Kindle or FREE for a short time on Kindle Unlimited). I wanted to share it with you all because it still expresses how I feel, even though I’ve now gone through a dozen gratitude journals and that “little baby” of mine is now looking at colleges…LOL.
I also remain grateful to each of you for being a part of an incredible writing & reading Austen community. I *love* having a place where we can talk about Mr. Darcy or Mr. Wickham or any of the Austen characters from any of the books at length, and knowing that all involved will understand! Thanks for being so supportive all year long!
Is there a blessing you feel particularly grateful for this month? If so, please share. I love reading your thoughts 🙂 . xox
“The Power of Gratitude”
- Full moons.
- Crunchy autumn leaves.
- My husband.
- Rock music from the ‘80s.
- Loved ones’ good health.
- Chocolate of all varieties.
- Compelling fiction.
- Trustworthy friends.
- My son’s birthday.
Those are just a quick ten things I’m grateful for—the first set of many that spring to mind. I know they run the gamut of experiences, but I don’t expect anyone else’s list to mirror mine. People should be free to construct their own list and share it. Or not.
As for me, I’ve made a practice of giving thanks each night for treasures such as those. Even, sometimes, for the disappointments that get tossed my way, especially since I don’t always recognize when I’ve encountered the proverbial “blessing in disguise.” I’ve discovered that openly acknowledging my appreciation taps into an undeniable vein of power—a kind of warm reciprocation between the elements of good that exist and myself.
Admittedly, I still have difficulty pinning down the origin of that power—it’s source. I wonder, does the process of saying “thank you” create such good karma that the positive forces of the universe join together to reward us with further blessings? Or, does the very act of seeking things for which to be thankful open our eyes to the true magnificence of our world and, thus, expand our awareness of what is available to appreciate? Is there another explanation?
I’m not sure.
But I’ve been told repeatedly by self-help writers, TV psychologists, and a variety of popular life coaches, etc., that consciously giving thanks for all we have in our lives is an act that changes us. That the more we express our gratitude, the more we’ll have for which to be thankful.
And just about everyone suggests keeping a “gratitude journal”—a daily opportunity to jot down a few items we appreciate from the mundane to the profound.
Never one to leave blank spaces on anything (whether I had a worthy answer or not), I dutifully filled up my first gratitude journal with the requisite five things per day. Topping those early lists were entries that evidenced my obsession at the time—namely, striving for parenthood. On any given week, I might be thankful that my husband and I:
- Passed our basic physicals.
- Traveled together and experienced life as a couple beforehand.
- Completed our graduate work.
- Moved into a more accommodating, family-friendly living space.
- Planned and saved accordingly for the still-mythic “Baby.”
- Carryout pizza.
- Musical theater.
- Frequent-flyer miles.
- A laser printer that worked.
- My TV’s unerring ability to record missed episodes of my favorite shows.
Treasures, I decided, came in many packages.
Some days, though, it was a struggle to come up with something new to appreciate. The umbrella stashed in the car on a rainy morning? Avoiding a traffic jam en route to the dentist? The new Szechwan place? True, I was learning to “see more” as time went on, but I was far from being fully observant.
Case-in-point: During pre-parenthood I was shockingly oblivious to such luxuries as an uninterrupted night’s sleep, a dinner of adult-only food and conversation, or an evening of television blissfully free of Blue’s Clues videos. I suppose I could say now that I’m grateful for the “perspective” life-with-toddler provides.
When we discovered I was expecting, I became instantly thankful for:
- That little blue stripe.
- The goddess known as my obstetrician.
- Folic acid.
- Mothers who had lots of personal survivor stories and tissues on hand.
- Any opportunity to put my feet up.
Perhaps there are many people, parents or not, who are accustomed to being overwhelmed by the marvel of life, floored by the inherent responsibilities of true adulthood, and mesmerized by the blink of time’s passing. People who possess far more natural perceptiveness than I had before my son’s entry into the world. But I’m grateful now for those wise souls, too. Their presence helped me recognize what I was experiencing when baby-love knocked me over. All I knew then was that I was honored to get to be part of the motherhood adventure. And thankful—in advance—for all the lessons to come.
I remember being appreciative of every trimester that passed safely, of every doctor visit that ended uneventfully, and of every blood test that resulted in “normal.” The more I was grateful for, the more I realized how much there was to say thank you for each night. Even when the ultrasound machine all but shouted “Beware!” and I was sent immediately to the hospital and placed in the high-risk ward, I was incredibly grateful for the skilled and speedy doctors, the top-of-the-line medical equipment, and the compassionate nursing staff. And for Shakespeare’s immortal line, “All’s well that ends well.”
I do believe that expressing gratitude holds a special power, whatever its source. November is a time of year when citizens of our nation remind each other of our many blessings. Here at home, I have an additional, more personal reminder. Several years ago my son was born on Thanksgiving Day. For us, it’s become a holiday entwined with strands of gratefulness, celebration of life, and a love of family. The miracle of his presence has, in fact, permeated every day of the year, forcing me to acknowledge that I can’t confine my gratitude to merely the fourth Thursday in November—even if it’s become our family’s biggest holiday.
I will, however, spend part of the night writing an especially long list of things I appreciate. I hope, whatever the size or style of your celebration, you and your loved ones will have extra-long lists, too.
Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. Her essay collection, Wanderlust in Suburbia, is available on Kindle for just $2.99 (and *free* for a short time on Kindle Unlimited), as well as in paperback. Visit her website: www.marilynbrant.com .