It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well. The real challenge is to practice gratitude in tough times. In a year like 2020, with COVID-19, social unrest, politics, and a shaky economy, can we find the grace to be grateful? 

I remember a time, not too long ago, when I was in a very dark place in my life. As I struggled to find a way out of my misery, some friends of mine gave me a gift of gratitude beads.

Similar to Buddhist mala beads or Catholic rosary beads, gratitude beads are a string of 100 same-sized beads with one larger bead in the center attached to a tassel. You sit with the beads in your hand, starting with the bead to the right of the large bead, and move your fingers from one bead to the next. Rather than reciting a mantra or repeating a Hail Mary for each bead, as you slide forward along the strand you say one thing (silently to yourself) for which you are grateful. You keep going until you reach the big bead again. That’s when you know you’re finished.

The first time I sat to do this, I couldn’t think of 100 things. Isn’t that sad? I struggled to find 100 unique elements of my life that elicited gratitude.

So, I stepped back for a moment. I realized gratitude didn’t have to be for material possessions or measurable success. I could start with the most basic elements and build from there.

I began again.

I am grateful for air. I am grateful for sunlight. I am grateful for trees.

I did this every night before I went to bed.

I am grateful for my parents. I am grateful for my sister. I am grateful I have enough food to eat.

As time went on, I was able to add more personal things.

I am grateful for my health. I am grateful for my job. I am grateful for hope.

Then, a funny thing happened. The more I practiced gratitude, the more things that I could be grateful for began to show up in my life. People, situations and opportunities arose to help me on my path, support me and show me the way clear to my new, happier life.

I eventually adopted an attitude of gratitude.

Even now, in the face of adversity, through gratitude I can look at a situation, no matter how challenging, and look for that one element that will teach me something, and be grateful.

For me, gratitude has opened up a whole new way of living in the world.

And so, as you hover over your turkey and mashed potatoes this Thanksgiving holiday, I challenge you to question whether giving thanks on just one day of the year is enough.

Can you be grateful today …  and every day?

A note about Gratitude Beads

Frank and Heidi Smith created Gratitude Beads 101 as a way to share their philosophy of gratitude with the world. They are the friends who gave me my first set of gratitude beads, the ones I recently gifted to my daughter Emily as she embarks on her own gratitude practice. Always a positive force for good, Frank and Heidi made practicing gratitude easier for anyone seeking the practice. Frank also created beautiful soothing guitar music perfect for a spa, meditation class, or deep relaxation, as a Windham Hill recording artist. His personal mantra has always been “Just Love.” Sadly, Frank passed away a few weeks ago following a long illness. You can still hear his music on Pandora and Spotify. And you can still get a set of gratitude beads, $15 for the set. To order your gratitude beads,  Email Heidi directly. Tell her you read this story and were inspired.