A Pinch of Gratitude

Goes a long way on a hot summer day

By Renee Whitmore

I am naturally a see-the-glass-empty type of person. Not half-empty. Death Valley dry. Especially in the summer, when it’s scorching hot and I walk outside for just a minute and by the time I dive back into the AC, I’m stewing in my own juices. Sweaty summers are not on my list of favorite things.

One of my dear friends once told me to make a list of all the things I was grateful for. Think of it as an intervention. I looked at her and thought, “What a silly-Thanksgiving-lunch-elementary-school-pop-psychology-Dr.Phil thing to say.”

“No, really,” she said. “Try it.”

So, I did. I thought I might be able to come up with five things. Max. The usual. Family. Friends. Blah. Blah. But by item 86 (popcorn) and 87 (raspberry white chocolate mochas), I had it going on. That list — it’s 117 things and counting — helped me stay more positive. So, now I practice gratitude. And by practice, I mean, it really takes practice.

It’s not just the good things that are easy to be grateful for. The magical mind shift (now there’s a left-brain term for you) happens when you can take the bad stuff, drop it in the mental lettuce spinner and pump the handle until you see something good inside.

Gratitude works. I’ve seen it in action.

It works when I am overwhelmed with grading papers and final exams and students in sheer panic. Gratitude: I have a job. And I like it.

It works when I forget to make dinner and Chinese food appears on the table. Gratitude: We have food. And a table. And a Chinese take-out place five minutes from the house.

It works when I have gained three pounds this week. Gratitude: Those doughnuts were delicious.

It works when my 15-year-old son, David, needs to be at five different places in the time span of three hours. Gratitude: At least I can still drive him. Next year he will be driving himself. OMG.

It works when my dog wakes me up at 5 a.m. every morning. Every morning. Gratitude: I have a dog that never barks at me in a disrespectful tone of voice; never says things like, “What’s for dinner? Ugh! I hate Chinese food.”

It works when my kids are semi-sick and beg to stay home from school. Gratitude: I give them a dose of Tylenol and a list of chores to complete by the time I get home. Usually that makes them feel much better the next day.

It works in Wal-Mart when that person with 27 items (three of which need price checks) cuts in front of me and my five-item cart in the checkout line. Gratitude: I have more time to catch up on how Oprah Winfrey lost weight — this time — from the magazines in the magic aisle. I call it that because stuff magically appears in my cart: gum, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, nose hair trimmers. The essentials.

It works when the heat index is 101. Gratitude: At least my AC works, even if it wheezes like it’s having an asthma attack. I do need to change the air filter soon.

It works when my credit card bill arrives and I not so subtly notice the interest payment for the month. Gratitude: Um. I’ll get back to you on this one. Still working on it.

I’m sure there’s some Freudian explanation behind all this, or some neuroscientist somewhere who can explain what happens when your dopamine throws a headlock on your endorphins, but all I know is that being grateful works.

If a natural pessimist like me can do it, anyone can.  PS

When Renee is not teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she is working on her first book.

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