Photo of the Thankful Tree hung with notes of gratitude written by family members of Kris Gilroy Higginson.

Gratitude notes grace the Thanksful Tree — an annual tradition at the home of Seattle Times editor Kris Gilroy Higginson.

By Jacqui Banaszynski

Gratitude is hot. Researchers study its benefits on health, happiness and longevity. Therapists teach it as a grounding activity that puts anxiety in perspective. Philosophers write all manner of homages to its value throughout human history. And in recent years, gratitude journals have become a booming business.

I am grateful for all of that. Even my failed attempt at a gratitude journal became a non-written reminder to note the small amazements of the day as I pass through them.

Last week, gratitude was front-and-center during what may be the ultimate American holiday. Thanksgiving comes without the drag of gifts or trappings of religion; just family (if they’re nearby and you get along — or, sometimes, even if you don’t), friends, food and, in my household, a bit of football.

This Thanksgiving, I was especially grateful to have eight people — friends, neighbors and the young son of a friend of friends — gathered around the table at the mountain cabin. It was relatively modest by historical standards; I once had “waif Thanksgiving” dinner for more than 30, including some people I never met; one of them managed to take a shower and nap, then load three plates of food and go back to his medical residency without ever introducing himself. But the maturity of the crowd at the cabin last week didn’t prevent some joyful chaos: A full wine glass ended up on the floor in shards and puddles just as people arrived; a light bulb fell and shattered as a gracious guest was on a ladder replacing the burned-out lights in my sconces. As for the kitchen … let’s just say the only alternative to two hours of post-dinner cleaning would have been a jackhammer and/or new countertops. Once the dishes were done and leftovers stored, I sunk in front of a woodstove fire before I got to the floors. Floor-scrubbing was left to the next day; it’s a chore that wraps my back in pain but gives me a deep sense of satisfaction, which I think is another way to think of gratitude.

Gratitude as a writing practice

As I mopped, I thought of many things, among them how thankful I am for a lifetime of purposeful words and the writers who give them loft. So many have made my career not just one of purpose, but of wonder. Example: Who can resist a quick prayer of writer-thanks for the anonymous Los Angeles Times editor who came up with this seasonal headline:

To give my mop-and-think time some focus (focus being essential to effective story work), I ping off the work of one of my favorite writers, Ashley Lodato, a columnist for the Methow Valley News. We’ve featured Lodato a few times on Storyboard; she has a knack for meditating on the quotidian moments of life — a high school graduation, an overabundance of zucchini in the garden — without cliché or treacle. That’s good writing, and not easy to do.

In last week’s newspaper, Lodato again delivered, this time with a short essay on gratitude. (It’s that week, after all.) She, too, found journaling not to be her thing. But she, too, walks through her days with awareness and frequent awe. From her column:

As I move through my life in the valley, from work to family time to recreation to time in public, I gather little nuggets of gratitude that I sometimes think of as my Methow Valley gratitude alphabet.

She follows that with multiple entries for almost every letter including, yes, X. Her words reflected where and how she lives — riding horses and running on mountain trails, working for the local land conservancy, volunteering at the elementary school and, of course, writing.

I am accepting the invitation in her column to build my own gratitude alphabet. Mine will be different than hers — on-time arrivals but no yoga, a garage in the crowded city but no wolverines, the silence of mountain snow but no longer the skiing. What will be the same is how this practice provides a way for those of us who work in the warp-speed of deadlines to slow down and instead wrap ourselves in the wonder of words — words that say something specific and profound.

Further Reading