For many years now, the month of November has become synonymous with gratitude in my family. With birthdays, anniversaries, and Thanksgiving, our family is fortunate to be able to come together repeatedly throughout the month, in order to celebrate one another and the beauty of our lives.
And yet, looking back, I believe that for many of these celebrations, I had a surface-level kind of gratitude. I was grateful for the big things and when life went the way I wanted it to. I now know that I only learned the healing power of gratitude, after I became a mother.
My first daughter was born in January of 2007 and here in Wisconsin, it was a cold, snowy winter. While I adored my baby girl, caring for a newborn was exhausting and I found much of my maternity leave to be isolating.
Deep down, I knew that something wasn’t right. I knew that I was feeling so down, so low, so hopeless. I secretly knew that I had postpartum depression, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to speak up to anyone, for fear of admitting that I was a failure as a mother. I stayed silent, keeping my pain to myself, trying my best to just make it through another day.
As I couldn’t bring myself to reach out for help, I sought distraction instead of a solution. To fight the loneliness and silence of my days, I had the TV on far more often than I’d like to admit. One snowy afternoon, I found myself watching Oprah as I nursed my daughter.
On that afternoon, she had teachers who had been featured in a new film and book, The Secret. Although I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about everything the speakers shared in this interview, I found myself captivated by the idea that my thoughts could change my life.
I knew I had been feeling overwhelmed and frustrated lately. I knew I felt that everything was suddenly so hard and that daily life was becoming a battle. I knew that I no longer wanted to feel this way.
I wanted to be happy. I wanted to enjoy my daughter, my husband, and our life together. I wanted to wake up excited for a new day to begin. I wanted to love my life and eagerly await the beauty that was yet to unfold.
I was also struck by the emphasis these teachers put on gratitude. When I looked at my life, I realized I had been so focused on what I didn’t want and what wasn’t going well, that I wasn’t spending any time or energy giving thanks for all of the good in my life.
I began to wonder and question if I might really be able to change my feelings and my life, by simply focusing on being more grateful.
I decided to give it a chance. Now at first, it felt forced. As I went throughout my day, I made mental notes of what was going well and said an inner “Thank you!” to God or the Universe. I made a point to look for what I appreciated about my husband and made sure that I let him know what I appreciated about him or about what he was doing. Each evening, I wrote in my gratitude journal, writing out a list of ten things I was grateful for that day.
Some days were easier than others, but gradually, I realized that I had moved into a brighter space. Life no longer felt so hard or hopeless. Though there were still daily struggles, I now felt as though I could handle them.
With time and practice, I learned that gratitude expands. The more I gave thanks for in my life, the more I found to be thankful for. The more I appreciated my husband, the closer we grew together.
By my birthday that September, I felt as though I was healed. I’d say that I was back to being myself, but that’s not quite true, as I know that I grew through this experience. As I celebrated my 25th birthday with my husband and daughter, I knew that life is far more magical than we ordinarily allow ourselves to believe. I found myself eager to step into the adventures that awaited us, knowing that life would surely present us with challenges and sorrows as well, but without a doubt, I was blessed beyond measure.
It’s been nearly seven years now and I can admit that I continue to struggle with depression from time to time. After my second child was born, I reached a point where I didn’t know if I could make it to tomorrow, and somehow I found the courage to speak up in order to receive the help I so desperately needed. I was also diagnosed and treated for postpartum depression after my third child was born. Yet even with medication, I know that other tools and practices, such as gratitude, were essential to my healing process.
From this experience, I know that intentionally focusing on what I am grateful for, helps me step into a more positive, joyful place. At the same time, I know that when I’m in the midst of days that are filled with cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, doing laundry, changing diapers, and refereeing arguments, it can be hard to actively appreciate anything.
Earlier this year, I found myself longing to be able to embrace all of my life (including the chaos and the mess) and intentionally live my days with a grateful heart. I wanted to learn how to live with a deeper and more genuine sense of gratitude, and I wanted to discover new ways to teach my children to appreciate, enjoy, and celebrate life, every day.
I believe that we are here for one another, that we need one another, and that we are so much stronger when we join together. I believe there is strength in sharing our stories, honoring our truth, and seeking connection and inspiration to support us on our journey.
From my own experience of struggling to appreciate and give thanks for my daily life in the midst of the many duties of mothering, I wanted to learn how other mothers were living with a grateful heart, even when this journey of motherhood can be so hard. And so I sought out mothers who inspired me, and then I asked. Through this quest, a free, collaborative e-book was born.
Embracing Life: Loving Boldly with a Grateful Heart shares a series of interviews with these amazing mamas, each offering her own experience, perspective, and wisdom. If you find yourself in need of some encouragement and inspiration, it is my hope that Embracing Life will help to nourish your heart and renew your spirit.
Wherever you are on this day, whatever you may be going through right now, remember that you are not alone. I invite you to open your heart and mind to the healing power of gratitude, and prepare to be amazed at the wonders that surround you.