Monday, December 5, 2011

A year of gratitude

If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is "thank you," that would suffice. 
– Meister Eckhart

I wanted to write this post after Thanksgiving because as much as I love Thanksgiving, I would prefer to see the same type of gratitude fill our lives each day, rather than one particular day per year. Just before I came to New Zealand, I read a book called, 365 Thank Yous. It is a book written by a judge in CA about a year of writing thank you notes. While I had begun to focus on gratitude before reading the book, reading it sufficiently focused my attention for the entire time I have been in New Zealand. Gratitude became the foundation for my thoughts, rather than an afterthought. After nearly a year here, I can say it has made all the difference.

There are few things as important as saying thank you and recognizing all we have in life for which we can be grateful. My list from my time in New Zealand could fill a book, so I will spare you all the details, but I can tell you it runs the gamut from the random people who have offered me rides without my even knowing them when the walking conditions were long and difficult (and it happened again after writing this but before posting it), to a supervisor whose vision for my thesis exceeded anything I ever dreamed possible, to friends and family new and old who made the lonely times on the other side of the world far less lonely, to everyone who reads this blog, to Kiwi hospitality, to Fulbright New Zealand and the US Embassy for keeping me safe post-earthquake. I am grateful for all the people who helped me get here and all the people who have made my stay here not only informative but amazing beyond words. Oh, the list could go on and on . . .

But why does it matter if we feel gratitude? Why does it matter if we remember to say thank you to the people who help us out along the way? The second question may be easier to answer, and it is very, very simple. Saying thank you when someone offers you a kindness is simple respect and good manners. A bit silly to say, perhaps, but how often do we forget to do it? How often do we just expect that someone, or an organization, is there to provide for us, and we forget that there are still people involved in the process?

Do you thank bus drivers? Waiters? Janitorial staff? Do you thank people for gifts? Kind words? An ear when you need someone to listen? Do you thank other lawyers when they pick up the phone to let you know you made a mistake instead of filing a motion? Two simple words, maybe a quick email, or maybe even a short card are all it takes, but the act of saying thank you helps the person notice you took a moment to care and acknowledge that they did something for you. It helps them see that they matter to you.

But what about the first question? Why does it matter to us if we feel gratitude? That goes back to the power of positivity, the power ofthe mind. There is no question that if you want to see unhappiness and destruction in the world, you can find it. We can also choose to focus on it. But then we just start seeing only that bitterness. If, however, we focus on the gratitude, we start to see just how amazing life really is.

I cannot tell you the number of times people have offered to give me a hand (or a lift) when I needed it. People have taken time from their incredibly busy schedules to explain the NZ family law system to me, helped me send out surveys to the lawyers for children, helped me get ethics approval, asked me tough questions about my thesis, given me a bed or a meal, or just offered a smile and a bit of old-fashioned Kiwi friendliness.

I’m going to need these memories going forward. At the end of this month, I start my new job representing children who have been removed from their parents by the government because of abuse and/or neglect. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the job and the people with whom I will be working, but there is no denying that working in that field can make me question humanity at times (and not always because of the parents’ actions).

All lawyers live in a mindset of disaster cleanup and disaster prevention. We are trained to expect the worst. Perhaps, therefore, it is even more necessary for lawyers to take a moment to reflect on gratitude and remember the good that does exist in the world. But really, for everyone, as the news gets more dramatic and depressing, remembering all the reasons we have to be grateful is not only good, but vital, to our survival.

So, outside of the week of Thanksgiving, for what are you grateful? What little moments, events, and people remind you of the good in the world?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.


  1. I'm grateful for your wisdom, your knowledge, your teaching, your caring, your commitment to creating a better world, your presence in my life. Thank you Becca. Namaste!