When you learn to be grateful, you also learn to be happy.
By Carol Ungar
The fitness cognoscenti famously claim that an early morning brisk walk gets the day off to a great start. But, when I started my day that way, I felt guilty. I loved the feeling of moving through the brisk morning air but I wondered whether my priorities were misplaced. Wasn’t it wrong for me to be out walking before I’d davened?
Walking undoubtedly boosted my energy level and my mood, but I gave it up and yet longed to find a way to reconcile my need for early morning exercise with my need to start my day with prayer.
Then Rav Shalom Aroush’s “Garden of Gratitude,” came into my life. A follower of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, Rav Aroush, a Jerusalem rabbi known for his popular expositions on Bratslav philosophy challenges us to say thank you to Hashem one hundred times daily—in addition to Chazal’s meah brochos.
He claims that this practice is nothing short of revolutionary, that it’s a proven talisman for a happy life.
I’d written gratitude lists before, 5, 10, or 20 items hastily scribbled into a notebook but this was gratitude on steroids. How would I ever find 100 things to be grateful for each day?
Then Hashem put in idea into my head. Why not start my day with informal thank yous to Hashem and why not say these thank you during a brisk walk? Meditating before prayer is an old Jewish tradition. The early pre Ba’al Shem Tov Hassidim Rishonim famously spent several hours meditating before they even opened their siddurs. And so the early morning gratitude walk was born.
These days I don my sneakers at dawn right after negel vasser and toothbrushing and I go outside to say thank you. Not just for the big things like health, family, and community but the overlooked blessings like a doorbell that works, the electric light in the hallway, and a reliable cleaning lady.
I’ve thanked Hashem for the sidewalk, the asphalt, the street signs, the traffic lights, the trees, the neighbors, even the stray cats. Yes this sounds hopelessly mundane, yet imagine life without all or any of these things.
And gratitude has a way of growing exponentially. When I thank G-d for my feet, I also thank Him for my toes, my heels, my ankles, my socks, my shoes, my bones, my tendons, ligaments, toenails and so on. In case you think this doesn’t work, I recently went through a very tough time and my gratitude walks helped me to hold onto my optimism, where I might have despaired. How sad can you be in a world that is so full of blessings?
And so gratitude walks have become part of my routine. I don’t have babies anymore so I’m free to leave the house, but you can take a gratitude walk at any time of the day or night. If you can’t walk, you can do this seated or while driving. It’s amazing.
Let me know what role gratitude plays in your life!
Carol (Chana) Ungar is a mother and grandmother living in E”Y. Her writing has been published in Binah, Ami, the Hamodia, Tablet the Forward and many other places. She’s the author of Jewish Soul Food: Traditional Fare and What It Means, the only cookbook on the planet that explains the little known mystical meaning of Jewish food.