The gratitude gremlin*

Nico's edible appendanges, something I am totally grateful for

I’ll confess. I have a gratitude gremlin.

As soon as i hear the words “gratitude journal” or attitude of gratitude” I wince. Maybe it’s the result of being in the world of personal growth for too long, maybe it’s my own cynicism, maybe I’m just crabby.

But something about this stuff kicks up the critical voices in me. “You’re not grateful enough. If only you were more grateful. Quit your complaining. You have so much to be grateful for…”

Feel free to psychoanalyze me. I know some of these voices are of the old, scolding, parental variety. They have become so much a part of me I can hardly escape them and I usually forget they aren’t true.

They are simply another way I have invented to beat myself up. Can I get an amen?

For those of you who don’t know me, let me be clear: I think practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful things we can do. It gives us power and joy. It gives us a feeling of abundance. It is a practice that can turn your life around. For most people the gratitude journal works like a charm! But me? I need another way in. The traditional lists of what I am grateful for don’t work for me. The gratitude journal feels strange, like I am trying to look on the bright side and discount the way I am really feeling. It can feel inauthentic.

My Birthday Ritual

I am turning 40 next week. To celebrate this huge milestone, I decided to do a personal ritual, something powerful for the 40 days leading up to my birthday. Inspired by the book 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life, I settled on giving something away every day for 40 days. It could be a material gift, a thank you note, a genuine smile… the only rule is that it has to be a conscious give. And then I recorded what happened at the end of each day.

I wrote thank you notes.
I gave big tips.
I consciously let people ahead of me in traffic.
I bought two loaves of olive bread and kept my eyes peeled for the lucky recipient of the second loaf.
I took friends out to lunch.
I mailed a friend a skirt I knew she’d love.
I made brownies for all the neighbors.
I mailed a friend of photo of herself laughing that I had taken years ago.

This practice has been transforming.

What it gave me

It has reminded me of my kind heart, my generous spirit, and the abundance of my life. It has reminded me that I have SO much to give every day and that there is no greater joy than delighting others. It has trained me to look for opportunities to give and it has opened me up to receiving with even more joy and openness.

The other day as I walked up to our local produce market, a man had two bouquets of marigolds in this cart. The bright orangey yellow made me gasp in delight and I complimented him on his choice. In my mind’s eye, I saw him handing me one of the bouquets and saying, “You should have this. This one is for you…” swept up in the moment. He didn’t. Wouldn’t that have been perfect if he did?

But I walked away smiling at the thought, knowing that this would be my next give and loving the innocent way I expected him to give to me. That is what gratitude does. This is how giving opens our heart.


*This piece is part of the awesome Holiday Joy Up series. You can read more about it here. Just pay what you like and receive ten days of inspiration during this holiday season!



  1. Posted November 1, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    ok THAT just made my night. Thank you for sharing that and I’m so glad you are a part of the Joy Up Project. I hadn’t heard of it and will be joining in. I NEED it. It’s amazing how sending Love outward fills us up so deeply. Miguel Ruiz talked a lot about this. That to feel love all we need to do is express it outward. Sounds easy. But on a bad day? It’s nice to be reminded of how simple it can be to buy two loaves of bread and look for the recipient of the second loaf. Or Two bouquets of Marigolds. I’m saying YES YES YES!

  2. Posted November 1, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Hey, girl, it sounds like you found a great practice that opens your heart, that opens your eyes to the abundance of your life and fills you with the joy of giving and blessing others; so just do it. Giving does open our hearts to so much beauty and hope and love. And yes, you can get an “amen.” AMEN!!!

    Lately, I am finding that I am “giving” more patience, more grace, more leniency to the people in my life. This practice is helping me get over some anger and resentment that have built up in my heart and mind. What has surprised me is that it has been easier than I thought it would be. I’m not saying it has been easy, only that it has been easier than I expected.

  3. Posted November 1, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I love this so much. I am going to try and do it for the next 40 days to celebrate your birthday!

  4. Brandy
    Posted November 1, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I love this idea and feel so inspired! I have a practice of always donating to causes that my friends are involved in-like if they’re running a charity 5K or putting up a project on Kickstarter.

  5. Posted November 1, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I believe gratitude is a life practice that we walk with. It is in our breath. Gratitude journals work for some (I stop and start all the time), but a continual practice of gratitude, the constant awareness of it, is for me more powerful than retracing my day and writing it down.

  6. Posted November 1, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I experience these same feelings of guilt when I think about gratitude. I believe it just stems from my natural tendency to try to be perfect. It’s good to be reminded that being grateful isn’t about guilt. It should be easy – like all other good things.

  7. Posted November 1, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Oh! This just made my day. Such a beautiful idea.

    I mostly like gratitude practices .. sort of .. I like thinking of all the things I am grateful for while I wait to fall asleep, or saying random thank yous in my head when something in the world moves me or I well up with gratitude for being alive .. but I just cannot manage to keep a gratitude list. I can do it for a day or two or three, and then it dies a slow and painful death.

  8. Shawn
    Posted November 1, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I have a similar gremlin … one that leaves me with my own pity party. So, I decided to do something about that myself for the month of November. One random act of kindness each day with my kids. I’m very excited to do it! Lovely post and thank you for sharing. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  9. Posted November 1, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Andrea! Loved reading this- I’m in the middle of my 29 gifts challenge (inspired by the book as well). It’s brought up a lot of interesting issues I never realized I had around giving and generosity. In particular what I’ll “allow” myself to count as a gift.

    Love your idea to use it as a way to usher in a new year and milestone birthday for you. Absolutely beautiful and grace-filled and inspiring!

  10. marilee pittman
    Posted November 1, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    When I was a littel girl, my favourite book was about a little mouse who loved aquring beautiful things.She would hold them for a brief time and then give it away. This spoke to me then and contiues to be a joy in my life.
    I have tried to find the book ( I can see the illustrations in my minds eye) without success. I believe it was written by Walter De Lamare.

  11. Mariella
    Posted November 1, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Gratitude journals have never done it for me either. Feel the same way as you described. Phew! Nice to know I’m not the only one! Love your bday ritual…..gonna give that a whirl myself! :) xo ~ M.

  12. Posted November 1, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    That is so you! I love it!!!

    You know I think you pay it forward just with your being… happy birthday!

  13. Posted November 1, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    aw I was about to feel a bit cheesy for my last post. I know what you mean, of course. but euw. its like having to get over that whole Pollyanna thang that is so naff and hideous in my head. but sometimes you need to get over it because the gift in it is – well – you know what the gift is.

    Its always good to hear about another way of making it into that space. and I do always think that real poverty is having nothing to give, or feeling that you have nothing to give. not being able to be generous is that seriously downside of being broke for example.

    I like your giving idea. this joy up thang sounds interesting. joy is good stuff. I just went to see / hear Les Voix Bulgares who are properly utterly awesome. I tingled with joy at it. And what amazed and delighted me so much was that (sometimes just 4) women with their voices alone could fill a concert hall to brimming. Humans are amazing.

  14. Nattie
    Posted November 1, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this reminder of gratitude! I recently read somewhere, “If you are too busy to serve, you are too busy.” This speaks volumes to me, that we have the opportunity to serve our friends, families, neighbors, and even strangers, every day, and what we get in return is the best part – the opening of our heart. Love this love this love this. You have inspired me!!!

  15. Nattie
    Posted November 1, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Almost forgot – one more thing – reminds me of my all time favorite book as a child, and still to this day – “The Giving Tree”, by Shel Silverstein.

  16. Posted November 1, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    This is so lovely. One of my favorite ways to address moments of panic about not having enough is to do precisely this: to give away. That is a quick way, as you say, and a sure one, to remind myself of the enormous abundance I live in, even when I can’t see it. xox

  17. Laura
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    Fabulous! What an awesome present for yourself, and everyone else.

    I think I see where you are coming from and this post got me all tingly. I got married over the weekend and one of the really pleasurable ways of getting into the spirit of it has been THANKING everyone involved and making gifts for those who were especially helpful in the lead up. It’s like you find a hidden well/garden/sky/field within yourself when you can say, with full affection, ‘thank you so much for being a positive, generous delight to be around’. The sentiment feels like a gift in itself. It’s amplified the pleasure enormously and the after-glow has been really lovely.

    Enjoy the lead up to turning 40, that’s an incredible milestone. Whatever the day brings, I hope it is brimming with love.

  18. Posted November 2, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Oh I love this, I too wince at gratitude journals and phrases and yet think being thankful is so important. I look for ways to remind myself to be thankful in ways that won’t give me another stick to beat myself up with. I haven’t found the perfect way yet, but am continuing to look…and thank you for posting so openly about your experiences.

  19. Posted November 2, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I own the book 29 Gifts but haven’t read it yet. I hope it inspires me like it inspired you.

    It is so easy to get swept up in how other people think and feel about us that it’s easy to forget to open ourselves up to possibility. Happy birthday!

  20. Posted November 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Love this post, as I too, feel like I “should” keep a gratitude journal but really have no desire to do so. What I do is keep a daily journal of scribbles for my daughter – just one thing she did or said that I wanted to remember. So maybe that’s my own form of gratitude journal :)

    Love the idea of doing something for someone else every day. You have given me a great gift through Mondo Beyondo, so thanks for that! Happy birthday!!

  21. Melissa
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    I feel the same way with gratitude lists. I feel like I am forcing it. I like your idea for your 40th birthday, I am going to do it for my 42nd, coming up in January. Thanks for the inspiration!

  22. Posted November 3, 2011 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    A while back, on a day when my gratitude journal felt forced, I tried starting a “favorite moment” journal. It was such a simple thing to do, I’ve continued the practice, and it’s been surprisingly light and rewarding and so so easy (while still going deeper). I have a dated calendar (a cute one that makes me smile) and at the end of the day I just write what my favorite part of the day was. Just one sentence: “my favorite part of the day was reading stories to my son,” or something of the sort. It’s simple and small and it never feels like I’m trying to twist bad days into good. But it does help me wake up to small moments I perhaps take for granted on bad days. It also helps me recognize patterns in what are my favorite moments, which sometimes surprise me. I think it’s a good alternative “gratitude” practice. Because even on a crappy day, you can still pick a favorite moment of the day. And even on the worst days, taking note of that favorite moment usually brings a smile to my face. Which is welcome and nice.

  23. kristen
    Posted November 3, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    you’ve totally inspired me to do this. it’s in perfect keeping with all of the streamlining and giving away of material things in my life that i think would be happier somewhere else…but i love the idea of giving like this:

    I settled on giving something away every day for 40 days. It could be a material gift, a thank you note, a genuine smile… the only rule is that it has to be a conscious give. And then I recorded what happened at the end of each day.

    thank you!

  24. Posted November 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much! I am very inspired by this. I just signed up for Joy up and it starts on my bday :)

  25. Diane
    Posted November 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink


  26. Posted November 3, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Welcome to being 40 (almost). You will love your 40′s!!

  27. elisa mikiten
    Posted November 3, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    I really loved this post.

  28. Posted November 3, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    YES! I can so relate to this. I always wondered what was wrong with me when I just wasn’t feeling all the gratitude stuff. I love your idea and put it into practice yesterday. I’m participating in a 30 days of gratitude flickr pool and have decided to photograph all my acts of “conscious giving”. Thank you, thank you!!!

  29. m
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    my fave way to give back is to write real snail mail to people… ! people love real mail

    And cheesy as it is when I am grateful for the good things in my life it is better.

  30. Posted November 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I just wanted to thank you for mentioning 29 Gifts; I checked it out of the library and already I am seeing a difference in the energy! I’ve mentioned this blog post on FB, Twitter, and my own blog because it is such a wonderful concept! Thank you again!!

  31. Posted November 9, 2011 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful idea! Will try this for my 26′th next year.

  32. Posted November 9, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    I love this!
    I am one of the cheesiest gushiest persons I know, and the gratitude thing to me sometimes feels… insincere or a form of denial somehow.

    This feels so sincere and authentic!

    And I’m so glad for you for your birthday!!! Hawaii is absolutely lovely and a worthwhile gift for a big celebration. :-)

    Happy Happy Day!

  33. Posted November 13, 2011 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    Followed a link from my friend at 6512 and Growing and so glad I did.

    I HEAR you on the sentimental gratitude overload. This is much more my speed and real, honest, alive. I really love it.

  34. Posted November 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I found your site doing a search for superhero and personal development. I like it. By the way, I really enjoyed this post. I always try to show gratitude. Usually it is simple thank yous and sometimes it is a thank you card (I have a stack always sitting by my desk). I have found this has created lasing relationships and great friends. Keep up the good work Andrea.

5 Trackbacks

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