The Art of Gratefulness

Life can be hard, very hard for many. Understandably, yet unfortunately, when met with adversity and painful life events, many will sink into the negative trance of the moment. Some stay there.

Jack Canfield who masterminded the Chicken Soup for the Soul series shared an equation at a workshop of his that I attended many years ago. It is so simple, yet so profoundly true, that it’s the only thing I remember from that time with him. The equation: E + R = O.

“E” is any event or experience. If the event is a negative, painful one, then the “O”, the outcome or course of my life, so the belief goes, also has to be negative. If the experience I’m having sucks (clinical terminology), then the outcome in my life has to suck. “Why me? Why does this ALWAYS have to happen to me? Sucks to be me!”

These reactions ignore the power of “R”, namely how I respond or relate to the event. Is it a lemon or do I make lemonade? Included in the “R” part of the equation are the attitudes and the answers to “What can I do differently? What are my options, choices? If I can’t change things, can I choose my attitude, my mind and emotional set?” In this lies our Freedom in the deepest sense of the word.

As we approach Thanksgiving, in addition to gratitude for people and things, we have the opportunity to celebrate our capacity to be aware and freely choose a more conscious life when times are adverse and painful, a life in which we create our outcomes by choosing our responses. This, rather than falling passively and often depressively into a fatalistic outcome.

A very dear friend, Grace, chose Freedom recently. In her late seventies, Grace, a bright, direct and forceful woman, suffered a neurological condition that has destroyed her capacity to speak. She still listens intently, unfailingly present to each and every conversation; but cannot reply other than through her computer’s voice.

She spends much of her time now, reflecting, praying, writing and tending to her garden, a haven of peace and satisfaction. Several days ago, she handed us a few written pages, describing her life of silence. At one point she wrote, “I realized that it doesn’t require speech to grow a garden!”

I was stunned by the resilience, the wisdom and, surprisingly, the gratitude in that sentence. And so I wrote this poem for Grace and for the Best in all of us.


At this time of year, I invite all of us to be thankful for moments whenever we, those close to us, as well as those we may never meet respond to challenges, choicefully, with a sense of privilege that now we have the opportunity to choose the Best in us.

For now I leave you with the words of Brother David Steindl-Rast who wrote in Gratefulness: the Heart of Prayer: “It is not love that begets gratefulness, but gratefulness that begets love.”Editor’s Note – You can read more of Brother David Steindl-Rast’s work at