One of the things I like best about the end of the year, is to see posts with lists of the best books of the year. I asked myself, “Which book that I read this year was my favorite?” I’m an avid reader, and I have read many really good books this year, however I was able to answer this question within seconds. My pick is a book that is not only extremely well-written, but it also spoke to me in such a personal way. In fact, rarely a day goes by that I don’t reflect on how this book has impacted my life this past year. So, which book was my favorite to read this past year? Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass.
I bought the book because the topic appealed to me, and I expected to enjoy the book and be inspired as I read it. I was at a point in my life where I needed to be intentional in being grateful. My life changed a year ago in November when my husband was admitted to the hospital. This past year, my husband has spent months in the hospital and nursing home recovering first from a staph infection that resulted in half of both of his feet being amputated, and then later from nerve damage that has resulted in him no longer being able to walk and requiring 24 hour care. He has been back home since the middle of June and I continue to try and balance caring for him, single-parenting my two sons (who both have autism), being a professor, and serving as an associate pastor. The changes and the constant daily demands on my life can easily drain me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I eagerly began Bass’ book hoping to find encouragement and help in being grateful. I was not disappointed, in fact, I have a difficult time in remembering the last time a book had this much of an impact on me.
Bass writes, “Gratitude is not a psychological or political panacea, like a secular prosperity gospel, one that denies pain or overlooks injustice, because being grateful does not ‘fix’ anything. Pain, suffering, and injustice—these things are all real. They do not go away. Gratitude, however, invalidates the false narrative that these things are the sum total of human existence, that despair is the last word. Gratitude gives us a new story” (loc 2614, Kindle). I needed a new story, one where I was not defined by all the trials in my life, but one where I genuinely experienced joy despite my circumstances. I was inspired to follow Bass’ example and began to keep a gratitude journal. I’ll admit that I have not been consistent in doing so, but I find that even if I’m not writing it down, I am making a mental list of what I am grateful for several times a day. In fact, I have incorporated this practice into the theology classes I teach as well. I have heard many positive comments from my students when we take five to ten minutes in class to think over the past day and list the things and people for whom we are thankful. It is easy in our busy lives to only focus on the things that went wrong, that inconvenienced us, or disappointed us. However, when we take time to review every moment of our day, we find many things for which we are grateful.
In conclusion, I want to say that this book has helped me to practice gratitude and experience gratitude more fully over the past year while being fully honest and open in acknowledging that my life is difficult and that I struggle with the load that I have to bear. This has been freeing. I don’t have to have “fix” my life to live in gratitude, it is there with me even in the heaviest of storms of life.