Thanks-Living by Sarah Bryan

JPEG image-6B4BCF48EE65-1 Happy November, everyone! Since it's Thanksgiving month (here in the States, at least), we decided to inject some gratitude into Manifesto Mondays. All month long, we'll be talking about gratitude. Enjoy!

We talk a lot about gratitude here on the blog. Gratitude is a huge component of creativity and the creative lifestyle. It opens us up to find inspiration in even the most mundane circumstances, elevating the daily actions of our lives into a more creative place. Talking about gratitude is great, but what does it look like in a real life? How can training ourselves to intentional gratitude change the way we live? Let me tell you a story. . .

Turn the clock back to 2012. I’d been in Charlotte for nearly two years, building a life that seemed on its way to the stability I longed for. Too bad the new year before me was nothing like I’d hoped. Instead of stability and growth, I found myself amid personal discomfort and rampant change. The job I’d waited over a year to find was not what I’d expected, and nothing like what I wanted. My best friend/roommate just announced she was getting married, meaning a change in our friendship and our housing, all at the same time. My work life sucked, and my private life was in uproar. It was the ultimate double whammy. Everywhere I turned, things seemed to be falling apart.

Suffice to say, I didn’t handle it well. I was confused, depressed, and full of self-pity -- the polar opposite of grateful. All I could see was everything that wasn’t working, and I felt powerless to change things. So I did what anyone would do in that moment: I wallowed. I swam around in my misery for weeks that winter, steeping it until I couldn’t soak up the pain any longer. Then spring came at last, and the first glimpses of hope appeared. Emily told me about a book she’d been reading, 1,000 Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. The subtitle called it “a dare to live fully right where you are” and the book jacket talked about “radical gratitude.” After the winter of my discontent, the thought of living again seemed like a brilliant dream, and I was willing to try whatever it took to make that happen.

I picked up a copy, not knowing quite what to expect. What I found was practical poetry, laced with mystic wonder. I was floored by the way this Canadian pig farmer’s wife took the mundane, the dull, and the painful things of life and teased beauty out of them.  She brought life to dusty Biblical Greek, unpacking the mystery of eucharisteo (which means grace and joy), that ancient act that proceeded so many God-miracles. She spoke of gratitude as more than mere thanks; it was an intentional mindset, an active choice to see the gold beyond it dirt-caked exterior: “The heights of our joy are measured by the depths of our gratitude, and gratitude is but a way of seeing. . .”

So I began to reshape my sight. My journal pages filled up, not with self-doubt and misery, but with gratitude and thanksgiving. I counted my own 1,000 gifts, and found myself changed by the process. The job ceased to be such a struggle; in fact, I started to excel in it. I set aside my own fears and pain over my friend’s wedding, and was even able to rejoice with her through the process. Despite my past fears, my life kept unfolding, and I grew alive to subtle beauties and profound glories. I found myself able to find gifts in painful situations, even to counting gratitude as I lay alone in a hospital E.R. after totalling my car in the mountains. Where once I would have been swallowed by doubtful stress, I was calmed by counting the good, the miraculous, and the positive in the middle of an otherwise awful moment.

Gratitude literally changed my life for the better. I discovered that it was far more than thank you notes and polite behavior. Gratitude is the ultimate act of defiance against the dark and painful experiences of this world, and greatest tool to combat the doldrums of the day-to-day life. In my life, gratitude looks like peering beyond the endless rain and discovering the geese that just winged their way across the steely sky. It acts like stopping to savor the taste of warm soup on my tongue during my all-too short lunch hour. It feels like discovering that I can rejoice, even when my circumstances scream for me to weep. Ann sums it far better than I can: “Eucharisteo means ‘to give thanks,’ and give is a verb, something that we do. . .that thanks-giving might literally become thanks-living. That our lives might become the very blessings we have received.”

Sarah HeadshotSarah is the co-founder of Bright Ideas, a designer by trade, and an artist by passionate choice. She was born and raised in South, and delights in sharing Southern culture with anyone who cares to learn. Sarah collects creative hobbies; when she isn’t making art, you can usually find her on the dance floor. Follow her creative adventures on Instagram and Twitter!