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“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” – Lao Tzu

I have the distinct memory of walking out of the store and looking up. As I stood in the parking lot surveying the gray and dreary sky, I remember thinking to myself , “when is this going to end.” The thing is, it was a perfectly sunny day, but for me it was as if someone had turned the color off. I knew that I should be able to see the brilliant blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds, but all I saw was endless gray. 

I was living in Knoxville. I was married, working, and in the midst of my child bearing years. I was also unhappy. There was no real reason for my malaise. Maybe it was the fluctuating pregnancy hormones, maybe it was just the stress of being a young working wife and mom. I have no idea. I just know that I woke up each day with the feeling of an impending doom that I couldn’t shake.

It was around this time that I was introduced to Sarah Ban Breathnach and her book Simple Abundance. One of the things she suggested was the keeping of a gratitude journal. I’m not a big fan of journaling (I detest my sloppy handwriting), but I thought I could manage to make a list of five things I was grateful for each day. 

My first list was pretty basic, but as I kept at it, writing down five new things everyday, I felt something inside me shift. Slowly, things became better. The color returned to my life. The sadness fell away. 

I eventually abandoned the gratitude journal, but I have kept the practice of being grateful in my life. When good things happen, I note it. I go out of my way to not only thank people for what they bring to me, but to also point out their good qualities; the things I most appreciate about them. I’m even grateful for the negative in my life. It’s not always easy, but I know the crappy people, the lousy situations, and the unbearable slights always benefit me in the end. While I don’t enjoy the beat down, I’m sincerely grateful for these challenging situations. 

Recently, I’ve felt the need to amp up my personal gratitude practice. It’s not that I’m unhappy in the way that I was all those years ago. It’s more that as I work to push my life forward, as I diligently peel away layer after layer in an expressed effort to be the person I’m meant to be, I’ve felt the need to deepen my personal gratitude practice. 

Earlier this year, I started waking up five minutes earlier. Using my fingers as my rosary, I spend those first five minutes before I get out of bed listing every single item that comes to mind for which I am thankful. In addition, I’ve made a conscious effort to note and express gratitude for the more mundane things that occur throughout my day. While it’s easy to remember to be grateful for the big exciting things that happen, I work hard to express gratitude for things as simple as finding a coin on the ground or biting into the perfect grape or the stranger who offered me a smile or kind word.

 As I’ve amped up my gratitude practice, I’ve waited for the shift. I know in my heart that gratitude is the key. I believe, like all those years ago, that as I acknowledge and express my gratitude for everything good and bad in my life that I can get closer to my truth. Closer to being who I’ve been tasked to be. 

It hasn’t been enough. The shift hasn’t happened.

Then last night it hit me. The problem, the reason the shift isn’t occurring is because I don’t feel it. While I’m extremely proficient at noticing and stating my gratitude in my head, I just don’t feel it in my heart. 

It didn’t take much pondering for me to ferret out the reason why. The simple truth of the matter is that I’m terrified that the second I open my heart and truly feel grateful for the people, things, situations, and abundance in my life will be the second that some malevolent force will snatch it all away. 

So, I hold back. I theorize and intellectualize my feelings. I express my gratitude with my mind, but there is a wall firmly in place to keep me from feeling that gratitude deeply in my heart. To loose that which I hold in my head would be sad. To loose that which I hold in my heart would be a devastation that I’m not sure I could survive. 

I have no idea how I’m going to traverse this swamp. The thought of having to open myself up to more heartache, more disappointment is not something I cotton to. 

But I know that this is the key. I know that it’s no longer enough for me to state my gratitude — to think it.  I know that I have to feel it in my heart. I know that I have to bust down yet another wall. I know that I have to make myself so open and so vulnerable that the loss of what I’m grateful for would be nothing less then devastating. I know that only by opening my heart fully and risking it being broken will I ever get close to being the person I’m meant to be and living the life I want to live. 


  1. Just another sneaky way fear robs us of our joy and keeps us from being really, truly alive. Good for you for facing yet another dragon down.

    • I’d like to say it’s getting easier and I feel stronger, but it’s just as hard now as it has always been.

      • It is harder. And you are stronger. Keep pushing my dear!

  2. Beautiful insight! All that listening to the Daily Love Extravaganza interviews must’ve popped open another door of knowing. Keep me posted on how it goes. I need to at least get back to my gratitude journal I think.

  3. Denise, for some reason, I’ve been feeling that head gratitude (vs. heart gratitude) paradox, too, and I’ve wondered, “What’s up with that?!” I WANT to embrace it heart and soul, but “wanting to” isn’t the same thing as giving into it and letting it take you along for the ride.

    It’ll be interesting to see what you discover in the weeks and months ahead… and I’d be truly grateful if you’d share more of your insights.

    • Since writing this essay, I’ve really tried to slow down and just be in the moment. I rush so much that I don’t have time to just appreciate the moment. I’m realizing how fast I go, how focused I am on getting things done, and how little I celebrate what I have. It’s a practice for sure…to just sit and be and realize how blessed I am.

  4. I can relate to this, Denise. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject. It was beautifully written.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. Always love it when you pop up in the comments.


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