How we feel grateful

This morning I thanked the soles of my feet.

It was long overdue. They take me where I need to go. They help me connect with the earth. They ground me. They carry a heavy burden. Every single day I walk all over them, and yet no blessing is dedicated specifically to them. So this morning I decided to thank them.

To me, gratitude is a decision on multiple levels. It’s a decision to consciously feel it and it’s a decision to express it. And the manner in which we express it also is a decision.

The decision to express gratitude always was obvious to me. Say thanks to the person who holds the door open for you. Write a thank-you note when you receive a gift. Say a blessing when you see a rainbow. It seems simple enough. But the two book ends — deciding to feel gratitude consciously and deciding on an appropriate way to express it — weren’t so obvious at first.

When I initially had spoken with a friend some years back about the concept of being conscious of gratitude, it didn’t make that much sense to me. What do you mean that feeling gratitude is a decision? You either feel it or you don’t, just like anything else that you either feel or don’t. Happiness. Sadness. Pain. Love. It was a challenge to internalize the conscious aspect of gratitude, since I was so used to my life being inherently tied to emotions that aren’t always within my control. You either feel them or you don’t.

It’s not that I hadn’t felt gratitude until then. Sure I had. But only after that conversation with my friend did I realize that I wasn’t fully paying attention. There are so many things for which to feel grateful. People, inanimate objects, thoughts, ideas, emotion, God.

My friend suggested keeping a gratitude journal, which essentially is writing down things for which you’re grateful in a diary. I decided to keep an online blog, instead, as it was more accessible and practical than carrying around a notebook everywhere I went or writing on pieces of scrap paper found in some desk drawer or small side pocket of my handbag. And I decided to write in it daily, listing three things for which I am grateful. Any three things, whether it be a magnificent sunset or the existence of popcorn.

The journal was only a tool to get my mindset on a track where feeling gratitude would be a conscious thing. Putting these feelings in writing was my chosen mode of expression. It turned into a gratitude machine:

1) Decide to consciously feel gratitude about something

2) Feel gratitude about that something

3) Write down the something for which you feel gratitude

4) Repeat for a total of three cycles

The repetition and practice were essential in making the awareness automatic. I recorded in the gratitude blog daily for months… until eventually it fizzled out. Maybe I felt that I was ready to experience the feeling without the need for any prompts. Or maybe record keeping fell by the wayside just because that’s what happens in life. I don’t actually recall why. But like with many things I learned, when I stopped practicing the journal exercises, I eventually stopped being so conscious about feeling gratitude. And even when I did remember to feel it consciously, I was rusty. I had forgotten how to do it well.

That’s where I’m at now. Which is why I’ve decided to pick it up again — to get back into consciously feeling gratitude. And this time I decided to create a gratitude machine that’s a little more interesting, and hopefully more effective, and possibly even entertaining along the way.

So I created a Facebook group. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this. It’s kind of a pay-it-forward-themed social experiment. A group gratitude journal machine. A forum in which to share the things for which you feel grateful. Perhaps you’ll inspire some others to write their own entries. Or maybe someone who sees your list might go, “Yeah, I feel that one too!” Or maybe someone who’s skeptical about this idea and yet thinks it’s kind of interesting might decide to give it a try. Or maybe, though hopefully not, the idea will be a flop, or will start out strong and fizzle out, just like my original blog some years ago.

Though I’ve got to think that if, say, even 5 percent of the people reading this right now decide to play along, we might have a shot. We might be able to work off one another’s energy and contribute to a collective ever-flowing stream of gratitude. Such lofty goals, but who knows? How about let’s try?

The group is called “Just 3 Things” and the link to it is:

Thanks in advance for playing along! I am forever grateful.

The gratitude blog that I had kept was mostly about things, not people. As for people, I’ve been working on not needing a tool to remind me to choose consciously to appreciate them and the roles they play in my life, whether via what they do or by virtue of them simply being there. This is important, because it’s not always as obvious as a person who holds open a door or gives you a present. Oftentimes, we forget to say thank you to those closest to us, perhaps because we’ve accepted the things they do as their job and not as things for which to feel grateful. They’re around so much that we might start to take them for granted.

As of late, I have been practicing expressing gratitude for people with the same immediacy as for those things processed through the gratitude machine.

Because why wait to express it? Why wait for a day when something scares you into thinking that time is limited? Why wait for a day when time actually is limited? Isn’t that today anyway? And the size and shape of what you’re grateful for doesn’t matter. It can be:

Thank you for bringing me flowers for Shabbos.

Thank you for decorating my home.

Thank you for giving me your last chocolate chip cookie.

Thank you for texting Laffy Taffy-type jokes back and forth.

Thank you for taking my coffee order every other Tuesday night.

Thank you for washing the dishes.

Thank you for checking in.

Thank you for talking with me about gratitude.

Thank you for that single sentence.

Thank you for existing.

There is virtually no downside to feeling gratitude. And all types of journals aside, expressing gratitude requires no specific location or instrument. It doesn’t cost money, doesn’t expend physical energy, doesn’t negate the importance of anything else. It does make others feel appreciated. It does show others that you care. It reminds you that you care. For me, gratitude, when I remember to feel it, promotes inner calm. It shifts my perspective and I see life a little differently. It helps me feel present. And hopefully, by example, my children will learn the importance in recognizing that there are so many things for which to feel grateful.

We can’t control what we get in life or what exists in our own little world. But we can control how we receive it. We can express gratitude in multiple ways, be it verbally, in a journal, emailed. And even in scribbles on some random piece of scrap paper found in the small side pocket of a handbag.

About the Author
Dena Croog is a writer and editor in Teaneck, New Jersey, whose work has focused primarily on psychiatry, mental health, and the book publishing industry. She is the founder of Refa’enu, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mood disorder awareness and support. More information about the organization and its support groups can be found at You also can email with any questions or comments.