Weekly Assignment: Practice Gratitude

Maya Angelou graffiti and Life Doesn't Frighten Me poem

Every day this week, write down five things you’re grateful for. Try to write different things every day, but write whatever comes to mind. You’ll quickly start to see that you have much to be grateful for. If you’re having a rough day, feel free to start simply. Be grateful for the roof over your head, the birds singing outside, having enough to eat, that driver who let you change lanes in heavy traffic, your cat, the poker game you played last week, whatever.

In her book, Letter to My Daughter, Maya Angelou describes how her mentor taught her to practice gratitude. She was in the midst of an awful depression and felt like no one could help her.

I told him I was going crazy. He said no and then asked, “What’s really wrong?” and I, upset that he had not heard me said, “I thought about killing myself today and killing Guy. I’m telling you I’m going crazy.”

Wilkie said, “Sit down right here at this table, here is a yellow pad and here is a ballpoint pen. I want you to write down your blessings.”

I said, “Wilkie, I don’t want to talk about that, I’m telling you I am going crazy.”

He said, “First, write down that I said write down and think of the millions of people all over the world who cannot hear a choir, or a symphony, or their own babies crying. Write down, I can hear — Thank God. Then write down that you can see this yellow pad, and think of the millions of people around the world who cannot see a waterfall, or flowers blooming, or their lover’s face. Write I can see — Thank God. Then write down that you can read. Think of the millions of people around the world who cannot read the news of the day, or a letter from home, a stop sign on a busy street, or … ”

I followed Wilkie’s orders and when I reached the last line on the first page of the yellow pad, the agent of madness was routed.

That incident took place over fifty years ago. I have written some twenty-five books, maybe fifty articles, poems, plays and speeches all using ballpoint pens and writing on yellow pads.

When I decide to write anything, I get caught up in my insecurity despite the prior accolades. I think uh, uh, now they will know I am a charlatan that I really cannot write and write well. I am almost undone, then I pull out a new yellow pad and as I approach the clean page, I think of how blessed I am.

As you continue to practice intentional gratitude, you create a shift in your own awareness. You start looking for things in your life that you can be grateful for, and the more you look for them, the more you find. Does practicing gratitude actually create more awesome things in your life or does it just help you see what you’ve been overlooking? Does it matter?

Start now. What are you grateful for?

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