Phil Greenblatt was immobilized for three years with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and emotionally scarred by a subsequent traumatic divorce.
Lisa Files survived breast cancer, only to cruelly lose her beloved husband to ALS three years ago.
All three are not only surviving but thriving, partly because they used the power of gratitude to transform their lives and help them out of the darkness.
“There are blessings in every difficult thing you experience,” said Newhouse, who overcame her dysfunctional upbringing to write the autobiographical book “Nothing Ever Goes on Here,” and to become a Seattle spiritual energy healer for others. “Can you be grateful for losing your job, for losing your marriage, even for having been abused? If everything were perfect, we wouldn’t struggle. A caterpillar gets its wings by struggling, and so do we.”
Clinical trials indicate that a simple gratitude program can have dramatic and lasting effects on a person’s life—it has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve immune function, create healthier heart rhythms, lessen depression, regulate sleep, lower stress hormones, and even reduce the effect of aging on the brain.
Architect Greenblatt had been practicing meditation for 40 years, but when he heard Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra were offering an on-line 21-day guided gratitude meditation course three years ago, he decided to take it. He was so impressed he ended up repeating it three times.“I came out softer than when I went in,” he said. “I knew I still had hard edges, stuff I had not healed from. I found this healing. Anyone who is older than 30 has suffered enough in their lives that they carry that suffering around. The only way you can relieve yourself of that suffering is to awaken to the point of view that life is a mysterious experience that should inspire gratitude.”
You can even remake your life using the restorative power of gratitude, Newhouse teaches. “Energy is everything in the world, including our thoughts. And thoughts become things. On an energetic level, gratitude is 100 and hatred is negative 100. As you hold gratitude, you shift your magnetic field, and you attract good things in your life, because light attracts light.” She recommends not only jotting down five things every morning that you are grateful for in a gratitude journal, but also starting each morning while still in bed giving thanks. “When your eyes open, you should say, ‘Thank you for this beautiful day.’ While you are saying that, you are programming your day ahead. And we are creators of our experience.” Then, choose the most difficult thing in your list to be grateful for, and make that your mantra for the day, Newhouse suggests. You might have to start out by saying, “I’m trying to be grateful.”
For Newhouse, that difficult thing was being painfully single for 14 long years after her divorce, dating one disturbing man after the other with no luck. One day, she began walking the beach where she lives praying, “God, thank you very much for preparing the man who will be my true husband.” And something immediately began to shift within her. She dreamed about a man named Jim, woke up feeling extraordinarily loved, and three weeks later she met the man named Jim who would become her husband. “We have to begin where we truly are, and if you can’t imagine being grateful, start with, ‘Give me courage to be grateful, give me strength to be grateful.’ Pray to be grateful.”
For Files, who lost her husband three years ago, a structured gratitude program like journal-writing has never felt quite right. There was a long stretch of time when she didn’t even want to be grateful. “There was this big huge wall I knew we needed to push through, but my kids and I just chipped away at the wall little by little instead of barreling through it.” Now, gratitude runs like a constant prayer in her head, like the background music to her life. She doesn’t pray for what she wants, she gives thanks for what she’s been given: for little angels in her life who drop by words of encouragement or small gifts at just the right time, for her husband’s college football number that appears mysteriously on elevator floors or event tables, for dreams and visions that give her peace and strength.
Greenblatt said he had to get to the point of choosing gratitude, even though his life was chock full of trials most people would not be grateful for. Practicing gratitude helped him accept his life, stop fighting and denying what had happened, and let go of emotions he had been holding onto. “You can say to yourself, ‘Yes, this happened to me, and it had a big impact,’” he said. “Now, how are you going to go on living your life in a way that feels real to you, that is true to you? How are you going to be able to move past it?”
Here are some ways to incorporate a gratitude program in your life:
Keep a gratitude journal and reflect on the things you are grateful for at the end of each day. Or, write in the morning so your thoughts have the power to direct your day. You don’t even have to do it every day– recent research has shown writing in a journal once a week can be even more beneficial than daily journaling, because the mind adapts to positive events quickly. Don’t hurry through it like this is just another thing on your to-do list: elaborate in detail, focus on people you are grateful for and not just things, and record events that are unexpected and surprising. Try reflecting on what your life would be like without certain blessings. Write down the things that don’t need healing in your life, and the things that do. Find something positive in every situation, no matter how dire, and you will soon begin training yourself to be more optimistic. If you can’t find gratitude for the broken things in your life, ask to be grateful.
Every day, seek out someone and tell them how grateful you are for something they’ve done. Tell strangers, cashiers, your family, friends, anyone in the varied layers of your life. Be willing to be grateful for even the small things, like someone who unexpectedly smiled at you, a friend who listened, a stranger who made you laugh, a family member who did something that made your life easier.
Seek out a structured, guided meditation on manifesting gratitude. The 21-day Oprah/Deepak Chopra course Greenblatt took is still available either on CD or on-demand streaming at Chopracentermeditation.com, and there are others on-line. There are also many other books about gratitude to jumpstart you, such as “The Little Book of Gratitude” by Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California Davis, “Gratitude Works! A 21-day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity,” also by Robert Emmons, “Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and “Gratitude, a Way of Life”, by Louise Hay and other selected authors. The 5 Best Books on Gratitude at the Positive Psychology Program on-line is another good place to peruse books.
Write a sincere letter of gratitude to another person of your choosing once a week. You don’t even have to send the letter, but the mere act of writing it can help you appreciate the people in your life and shift your focus toward positive feelings and thoughts. A study of nearly 300 college students at Indiana University showed that people who did this reported better mental health.
Even if there is someone in your life who has deeply hurt you, hold onto one quality about that person you are truly grateful for and let the other memories fade. Or, you can be grateful for the lessons you learned from the negative experience that pushed you into a different direction and helped you grow. “Gratitude, like its sister forgiveness, frees the giver first of all,” notes author Lee Coit.
Start noting all the ways your life changes when you start giving thanks for the good and stop concentrating on the bad. ”The universe is a generous, abundant giver, and it likes to be appreciated,” explains metaphysical teacher Louise Hay. “The universe always gives us what we believe we deserve.”
YouVeda Wellness Contributor
1. Be Thankful: Science Finds that Gratitude is Good for your Health, TODAY, May 12, 2017, by Laura Dunn, citing studies from the University of California, San Diego’s School of Medicine, and the Universities of Utah and Kentucky.
2. Gratitude, a Way of Life, by Louise Hay and friends,
3. How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain, by Joel Wong and Joshua Brown, Greater Good Magazine, June 6, 2017,
4. Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal, by Jason Marsh,Greater Good Magazine, November 17, 2011.)