I was at a retreat some years ago, where the participants were encouraged to think of their lives as gardens, to be tended much as we would tend a real garden.

Things we wanted to change — characters flaws and past faults, attitudes that were standing in our path — were weeds in our spiritual gardens, to be pulled and guarded against. Old ways of reacting to the events of our lives could be overcome and replaced with better ways of being and responding.

Scars or trauma from past events could be healed. Our garden could be encouraged to blossom by cultivating the “soil” of our spiritual being with healthier practices.

Though depression was not the focus of the retreat, it was one of the outcomes from the varied experiences that brought us all there, one effect that we all shared to varying degrees.

Many of the women there had grappled with it on and off for years — mainly chronic, reactive depression. For some, the depression had become an ever-present companion.

One of the tools, among the many we were given, was called the “gratitude list”.

It was a way to help us focus on something outside of ourselves and our own feelings — to help us climb out of the pit or, at least, take a step back from the edge.

We were also encouraged to take up regular prayer or meditation, whichever suited us and fit best with our own beliefs, and we were led in a series of guided meditations to help us learn how to relax and focus our energies.

How It Works…

I have since heard many variations on how to work the gratitude list, but here is the version I first learned.

Whenever you feel that life is getting away from you, whenever you feel your thoughts racing and tumbling over each other, whenever there is no quiet inside, stop — breathe — then think of something for which you are grateful.

…not just any random thing, but something meaningful. something that took effort and clarity to summon.

Start with the letter “A”. 

Think of someone whose name begins with that letter. Bring their face clearly to mind, and then remind yourself why you are grateful for that person.

The first letter is easy for me — “A” is for A****. She is my sister, whom I have known and loved all my life. It’s easy for me to picture her, too. I know her face as well as I know my own.

One reason I’m grateful to her for being in my life because I love the way we sing together. We’re even better as a trio, but I have to wait ’til I get to “N” to add my other sister.

Is there another “A” in your life for whom you are grateful?

However, if there is someone who springs immediately to mind for whom you are not grateful, you must think of something about them for which you can be grateful. And, you cannot move on to the next person until you do.

I don’t say this is easy, just that it works. It is an exercise — you are learning to exercise your character — to pull some weeds from your garden.

Perhaps the only reason to be grateful for that person that you can find right now is that they are no longer in your life, but that will do for a start.

Baby steps.

Once you have completed all your “A”s, or as many as you can, move on to the “B”s, and then the “C”s — you get the picture?

Some nights, when my mind is racing, I use my gratitude list to help me get to sleep, the way some people count sheep. I’ve never made it past “J”, even on my worst nights, so sometimes I start at “Z” and go the other way, just for practice…

Cultivating Gratitude

The truly great thing about encouraging gratitude in your life is the freedom it brings. And, the more we cultivate our gardens, the more we cultivate an attitude of gratitude, the more we free ourselves from past woes, and open ourselves and our lives to the universe.

Whatever your conception of universal good, of God, of some higher power, or of spirituality, when you encourage a grateful heart — when you deliberately set about living with an attitude of gratitude — you will find it is one of the most powerful positive forces you can bring into your life.

There is so much for which to be grateful, and if we will only look for it, we will find so much more than we ever thought existed.

Love abounds. Abundance overflows. It’s just a matter of finding that for which you are grateful. Once you change your outlook, your life will never be the same.