Gratitude by Jori Lichtman


"It's such a waste of mental energy to be furious that something isn't the way you want it to be."

-Jane Green, best-selling novelist and cancer survivor, quoted by Janice Kaplan in The Gratitude Diaries.

One of my mom's friends recommeded Janice Kaplan's The Gratitude Diaries to me. My mom had been proudly forwarding my blog posts to her and she reached out to tell me that she too, had always been introspective, gravitating toward non-fiction books and content that inspired her to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

Not surprisingly, a few pages in, I was hooked – and I have since started my own gratitude journal which I love writing in every night. I’m pretty proud of the personal progress I’ve made in this area. After all, a few months ago, I did declare positivity as one of the four ingredients my soul needs to be happy, healthy, and thriving – and gratitude and positivity are pretty close cousins. (I added a fifth ingredient, laughter, shortly after, which I’m grateful has also continued to play a starring role in my life).

But as I have mentioned many times before, I have a blessed life (not without its own challenges) with three healthy children, a loving husband, parents, and sister, and so much more. While I have written about gratitude, attitude, and showing appreciation before, I am well aware that there are people around me – some right in my own backyard – who have faced significant life detours I can’t even begin to imagine.

So about halfway into reading The Gratitude Diaries, I knew my next piece would shine the light on some of these amazing individuals – in this case, three amazing women/moms/fighters/givers.

Interestingly, right after formulating the piece in my head, I flipped the page to find Chapter 12: Making Bad Times Better. In this chapter, the author discusses gratitude with people like the women I reached out to. They had suffered. They had faced terrible news. They had every reason to be mad and angry. Kaplan speaks to Jackie Hance, whose three daughters, then eight, seven, and five, were killed in a shocking car accident in 2009. The woman driving her children, her sister-in-law, died as well. Toxicology tests showed alcohol and drugs in her system. I read Hance’s book, I’ll See You Again, a couple of years ago. Of course, I cried most of the way through it.

Even though Jackie Hance’s story was beyond tragic and unimaginable, I was not surprised to meet her again in a book about gratitude that so powerfully states: “We all understand that life can be a struggle. Bodies get damaged and strings are broken, children are tragically lost and jobs unfairly stolen away. A lot doesn’t make sense. Gratitude helps you find meaning – and some version of contentment – in the chaos.” About her own gratitude journey, Hance reveals: “I still try to find reasons every day that I’m grateful….I write a list in the morning and keep it with me all day….Writing a gratitude list takes work for me, and I have to keep reminding myself not to skip it. But the feeling lasts, so it’s worth it.”

Armed with this new favourite quote, over the next week, I am honoured to profile three amazing people who have truly taken gratitude to heart. I will share their stories one at a time so you can truly savour their words and soak in their wisdom.

Thank you to Ellen Schwartz, Lesly Title Weinstein, and Ramona Blinick for courageously sharing your stories and inspiring everyone whose path you cross.

"If you live with your heart full, you life a fulfilled life."

– Ellen Schwartz, founder of Project Give Back and Jacob’s Ladder 

Ellen, please share your story with us.

I am a mother, wife, daughter, teacher and friend. I truly woke up to the real world at the age of thirty when our first child was born. At just four months of age, he was diagnosed with a rare genetic neurodegenerative illness called Canavan Disease. We were told that Jacob would never see, speak, sit up or walk. He would lose his ability to eat, drink, swallow and eventually breathe. Jacob would most likely not live until his fifth birthday. Miraculously, today, Jacob is 18. Although severely mentally and physically handicapped, he continuously teaches us lessons about life and learning. Due to his inspiration I have found my voice, my purpose and appreciation for all of life’s blessings.

What role does Gratitude play in your life? Would you say you’ve been on a Gratitude journey? Or does Gratitude come naturally to you?

Jacob’s appreciation for the little things in life gives me huge perspective on everything life has to offer. He expects so little and is always surprised by what he receives. Lucky for me, I get a front row seat to view pure gratitude in action. He is forever grateful and due to this he is always smiling. I follow suit.

I have always witnessed my parents model gratitude as well. They are continuously making efforts to thank those who helped them, whether it is a doctor, a nurse, a doorman or a waiter. When anyone shows them kindness, they respond with such genuine appreciation. In turn, people are always going out of their way to be kind to them. I witnessed this circle of gratitude as a young girl and now as an adult woman.

Between watching them in action and seeing Jacob’s instinctual thankful response, I believe that I too naturally appreciate most things and try so hard not to take anything for granted. Through these influences I have learned that if you live with your heart full, you live a fulfilled life.

What are you grateful for today?

I am grateful for my health, my family and my strong relationships based on unconditional love. I get to do what I love and love what I do. I get to teach others, especially children how to follow their passion. In doing so, I am always inspired and blown away by the kindness that surrounds me.

Do you ever find it hard to feel grateful? In those times, what do you do? Do you have a “mantra” you say to yourself?

I rarely let myself feel ungrateful. Negative thoughts only cause damage and produce more negativity. But, there are times when I do feel defeated and low, like the world is against me. It’s at those times that I go and lay down beside Jacob. I hug him tightly and feel his kind energy. He always gives me the warmest reception and biggest smile and I can’t help but perk up and feel grateful once again. Jacob’s bedroom is the first thing we see when entering our home and the last room we see when exiting. We get a burst of perspective as we walk in and when we leave. I am so grateful for this re occurring lesson every second of every day.

Is there anything else you want to share with our readers about gratitude? Favourite quote? Advice you’ve received?

My favourite quote is forever changing, but right now it’s Maya Angelou’s:

"I've learned that people will forget what you've said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Jori Lichtman is a 2015 Momentum Trip Participant with the Village Shul.


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