Desiring Gratitude: 4 steps to living a life of thanksgiving

In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves. ~Br. David Steindl-Rast

I’m sitting in Pasadena, California, on a bed in a hotel room with my two beautiful dogs by my side. I’m here because my 11-year old son is in dress rehearsal for a musical he’ll open this Thanksgiving weekend.

As I close my eyes and practice deep-breathing for several minutes, I connect with my emotions. I’m feeling a great sense of peace at the moment and a strong sense of gratitude and calm.

I have so many blessings in my life: an intimate relationship with my Creator, a family that I adore, a writing career that I treasure, fabulous friends and a personal story that fuels my daily purpose.

I’m thankful and, moreover, I’m grateful. Being thankful is the ability to express gratitude and take notice of the simple pleasures in life. As important as being thankful is, the art of gratitude, to me, goes deeper as you learn to live your life as if everything—EVERYTHING—is a miracle. And, it is.

Recently, both of my parents have faced serious and life-threatening health conditions. I’ve flown across the country three times in the past four weeks to assist in caring for them, and in comforting them.

These are the parents who adopted me from foster care in the United Kingdom. I love them dearly, and facing their end-of-life chapters has not been easy. I do not know, nor would I dare to guess, the number of days, weeks, or months ahead that God has planned for them.

What I can be certain of is the gratitude that I will insert into every minute of time that I have left with my mom and dad. And, in the past month, this practice of mindfulness in gratitude has made every thought, action and emotion a more enriching experience as I work to serve and honor my parents.

Gratitude enriches everything: it means being aware—continuously—of all you’ve been given, and it shifts your daily focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present. Moreover, gratitude makes people happier and more resilient, it strengthens relationships, it improves health and it reduces stress.

My mother suffers from congestive heart failure and pulmonary fibrosis. Within the past month, she has lost the ability to walk on her own, drive on her own, and requires assistance with the most basic of daily routines. Her situation would challenge, mentally and emotionally, even the most positive and resilient human being. Yet, I have watched my mother—in the face of physical death—show gratitude for everyone and everything. It’s been miraculous to behold. My mother’s example of gratitude through adversity has brought proper perspective to my level of daily awareness: every difficulty carries within it the seeds of a greater benefit, a greater meaning.

During this season of Thanksgiving, I urge you to commit yourself to living every second of every day in a state of gratitude. It’s one of the most loving gestures that you can offer to yourself, and it’s goodness cannot help but spill over into the lives of those around you.

Here are four simple steps toward a more gratitude-inspired life:

  1. Appreciate each day’s gifts: There’s a gratitude exercise that instructs to imagine losing some of the things that you take for granted, such as your home, your ability to see or hear, your ability to walk, or anything that currently gives you comfort. Then imagine getting each of these things back, one by one, and consider how grateful you would be for each and every one.
  2. Find joy in the small things: Try not to wait on joy, or delay it until “tomorrow” or “someday.” Find joy now, in the smaller things like the sweet buzz of a hummingbird, or the gentle roll of an ocean wave. Don’t delay the experience of joy until some big achievement like landing that promotion or purchasing that dream home. Those things are great, too, but joy lives in all things big and small.
  3. Keep a gratitude journal: Write down, every day, a list of three to ten things you are grateful for; you can journal first thing in the morning or before going to bed at night. The key to this exercise is consistency! Another exercise you can try is to write a gratitude letter to a person who has exerted a positive influence in your life but whom you have not properly thanked. You may even want to schedule a meeting to share your letter with this person.
  4. Take the 21-day challenge: Try going 21 days without complaining or criticizing. I’ve done this challenge before and it offers great insight into the way a person thinks and reacts to life’s ups and downs. If 21 days seem overwhelming, start with a lesser amount and build up. Remember, you’re not in competition with anyone. You’re working to live a life of gratitude. Be grateful for your willingness to make a change for the better.

A final note, remember to let go. Let go of anything that holds you back from experiencing the joy and celebration of a life that overflows with gratitude.

I revisit the above four steps daily. It’s a never-ending and forever-enriching process.

In the good times and in the bad, gratitude waits for us. Look for it. Desire gratitude, no matter your age, situation or location. Honor those you love and show up fully for them. See the beauty in the little things—it will make the bigger things seem even sweeter.

And, be grateful for the journey, my friend. Be grateful for the journey.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Onward to gratitude,

Michelle Madrid-Branch is an author, speaker and global advocate for women and orphans. She is the author of Adoption Means Love: Triumph of the Heart, The Tummy Mummy, and Mascara Moments: Embracing the Woman in the Mirror.

You can connect with Michelle on Twitter @LetHerBeGreater or on Facebook. To learn more about Michelle, please visit

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