The Skill of Gratitude

I was not raised in a religious home. Though culturally I have always been deeply connected to Judaism, it has never been a way for me to find consolation or reassurance in difficult times. My identity is firmly planted in the roots of my grandmother’s Yiddishkeits, my father’s voice when he recited the Kaddish on Yom Kippur, my children’s faces at their B’nai Mitzvah. And yet, it took me 50 years or so to understand the meaning of one of the central tenets of the Jewish religion, which is gratitude.

Who is rich? Those who rejoice in their own portion – Pirke Avot 4:1

It took the emptying of my nest and the loss of people I loved dearly for me to begin to feel gratitude for what I have. It’s not that I was greedy or unsatisfied with my life prior to these things happening, it was simply that I didn’t give gratitude much thought at all. Though there were events and moments when I felt hugely grateful, gratitude wasn’t part of my daily life. I was busy; I was distracted; I was taking care of everyone, managing lives and exhausted at the end of each day. I didn’t give much thought to gratitude, though I was, somewhere underneath all of the other stuff I was feeling and doing, grateful for all I had.

With time to focus on myself, with the needs of others no longer rattling around in my head and a calendar filled with daily commitments and responsibilities no longer hanging on my refrigerator, I began to understand, with striking clarity, the things that matter most. I began to feel gratitude in much bigger ways than I ever had before.

I redirected my emotional energy away from my children, grown and on their way to adulthood. Like most mothers, they had been the catalysts for so many of my emotions while they were growing up – their happiness far more important than my own. I took that attention I had given them for so many years and turned it towards my husband – and I think, I’m fairly certain, that he did the same thing, though it wasn’t something we ever discussed or agreed upon. There was never a moment when we looked at each other and said: “Let’s think about us, now.” As we adjusted to our new, “just the two of us” life, we found ourselves happier together than we had ever been, and that happiness has grown to include gratitude, not only for companionship and love but for being able to appreciate each other in a new and wonderful way.

My grown children, fully formed, have helped me to make the leap from a parent who is molding and shaping to a parent who is listening and understanding. Finished with the task of bringing them up, I am now filled with gratitude for the people they have become, with all of their unique traits and quirks, oftentimes reminders of myself and my husband.  I can’t help but worry and wonder about their lives and their futures, of course. I will always be their mother, no matter how old they are. Spending time with my young adult kids and knowing that they actually seem to like me makes me so grateful.

Not every day is filled with positivity. There are days that are disastrous, painful, lonely, unproductive, boring, tiring. I get through those days and crawl into bed, grateful that the day is over, knowing it will be better when I open my eyes the next morning. But even when things are awful, I am comforted by the gratitude that has become a part of me at this middle part of life.

Gratitude is humbling and empowering at the same time. By feeling appreciative of what is right there in front of me, I find myself calmer and more at peace with my small corner of the world.

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  • So true, so true. Thank you for reminding me. So many things to remember, floss your teeth, do your kegels, and walk 10,000 steps. But you’re right maybe the most important is gratitude.

  • I love this, Sharon. Having raised my brothers and immediately start my own family, (unintentionally, but…), I felt like I would never get the opportunity to just be me without feeling responsible for anyone else. It is the greatest feeling in the world! Enjoy every minute of it!

  • Nice, Sharon. I agree that its easier to feel gratitude when you have a moment to breathe. Gratitude takes perspective and that’s not possible when we’re frantically busy raising children. Maybe its one of the gifts of growing older.

  • Agreed! My intention is to practice gratitude more often but it seems to slip past me. Building in space and time to breathe – I’ll have to work on that.

  • I am in a different parenting phase, but I can relate…

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