Stretching Those Gratitude Muscles

For the past three Fridays, I’ve been taking a “full-body barre” class that my niece is teaching, via Zoom, at my workplace. Woof…it’s TOUGH! Fifty minutes of isometric holds, (allegedly) controlled movements, and core exercises that leave me sore and muttering about the uncooperative state of my 62-year old body. I walk a lot, but this is different. These movements push my muscles to the max and leave them shaking with fatigue. Yet I keep going back for more because I know that stretching these oh-so-tight muscles is good for me—that eventually I’ll get stronger and maybe a little more flexible. And, to be honest, once I get started, I enjoy pushing through physical and mental resistance.

This week, as part of a Lifestyle and Movement Challenge at work, we were asked to try a different type of exercise—to begin or end our day by listing twenty-five things we’re grateful for. “TWENTY-FIVE?!” my brain screamed. I’m used to jotting down a few things every now and then, but twenty-five?! Every day?! This would definitely stretch my gratitude muscles—muscles that I haven’t been flexing strongly enough lately.

On Monday, I squeezed out a random list of things for which I’m grateful. A quick little workout. That felt good and my day went better than your typical Monday. I walked into the work week feeling better prepared to handle whatever the day threw my way. Less like a raw nerve.

On Tuesday, I did the same, and found myself straining a little harder. “Coffee” showed up again. Maybe that’s cheating.

By Wednesday, I decided to try another strategy. Instead of mentally flailing around, I picked a daily theme for my gratitude list. Over the course of the next few days, I focused on journaling about the following:

  • The people for whom I’m grateful. How fortunate I am in this regard.
  • Special places, some of which appear to be quite ordinary at first glance—the wooded trails at work, a local museum, this desk, a warm bed.
  • Difficult experiences that turned out to carry positive gems inside of them. This took some doing—like trying to perform those pretzel-like movements in exercise class.

Whether it’s exercise or some other lifestyle practice, I almost always find myself initially resisting—prone to contemplating the easy way out. I’d rather take an easy walk than do planks. I’d rather read a book than do lunges. I’d rather drink coffee than water. But once I push through that resistance, I feel a little bit stronger, a little bit healthier. And in the case of this week-long, pumped-up gratitude exercise, much more fortunate and hopeful.

It’s never a mistake to flex your muscles—to push beyond what’s comfortable—in both physical exercise and gratitude. It’s been a good week with an abundance of things, people, places, and experiences to be thankful for. (Without this exercise, would I have appreciated them?) I’m glad I dug a little deeper. I’m glad I stretched those gratitude muscles.

Now to keep going. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.

And, hey, if you have some ideas for more gratitude themes, send them my way!


Pens and inks used in this post:

  • Pink: Esterbrook Estie (medium nib) with Organic Studio’s Emily Dickinson
  • Blue: Waterman Phileas (“L” nib) with Monteverde Sapphire
  • Caramel: Diplomat Aero (broad nib) with Monteverde Fireopal

11 thoughts on “Stretching Those Gratitude Muscles

  1. Hello, Mary! I am a relatively new follower of yours. I’m not one to post, though feel compelled to share how grateful I am to have read your notes on “gratitude muscles.” I figure there’s no better way to strengthen mine than to post my thanks to you. 😉

    I’d love to learn more about the pens, nibs, and inks you choose for today’s journaling. May I inquire about the blue, magenta, and the one that looks like Southern sweet tea? Your handwriting showcases your ideas and art so lovely.

    Your writing moved me today – thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Jen! Your comment will find its way into my journal tomorrow morning! Very much appreciated. The pink ink is Organic Studio’s Emily Dickinson, the blue is Monteverde Sapphire, and the one that looks like sweet tea is Monteverde Fireopal. Three current favorites!

      • Thank you for your reply! I’ve decided to begin a gratitude journal – and perhaps I’ll begin by using one of the inks you mentioned to commemorate the idea coming from you! I’m treating myself to a few Valentine’s Day sale pick-ups along with a new journal, so I’m adding these three to my cart! I may even need a bold-nib pen as these inks really shine through yours. I’m a fine-nib gal myself. It’s a pleasure to meet you virtually, and thank you for sharing with all of us!

  2. So glad to see and read your post. It is a joy to read them and to see handwriting and inks. Now to push those gratitude muscles!

  3. 25 a day?? Holy cow! I keep a 5-year diary in which I write ONE kind thought about a person each day (I guess it’s a specific kind of gratitude journal). Sometimes I feel kind of bad that I have to think for a long time just to have a kind thought about someone, but I always do eventually. But the important part is that when I started keeping this journal, I started being more aware of kindness so that I would have something to write at the end of the day. And if you are writing 25 things you are grateful for, I’m sure you are much more aware all day of all that there is to be grateful for. And I bet more of that comes into your life as a result.

    • Yeah…25 is a lot! I’m sure I can’t sustain that but I’m going to continue to push a little harder. I felt better last week. Maybe that’s why?

  4. I’m glad to see Mary Oliver made your gratitude list, she was such a good poet. I’m in awe of your commitment to writing your gratitude items down, a thing I do very rarely indeed. I try to make sure I focus on the positive things that have happened or are happening every morning when I write my journal rather than allowing it to be a dumping-ground for a load of negativity. I’m afraid when I’m tasked to complete something like a gratitude list, my contrary nature makes things very difficult.

    • Mary Oliver has been a beacon of light in these noisy and trying times. Absolutely love her. I so relate to your “contrary nature.” This surely does not come naturally to me, but I think the benefits are finally sinking in. My journal is also a place to work through worries and problems. I guess balance is the key, as always. Thanks for your comment!

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