Even though Frosty the Snowman arrived before Halloween this year and the advertising machine is already full-bore into its message of “buy more-save more,” the holiday season – which actually invites an inward turn and a time of settling — is a perfect moment to note the gifts we already have.

One of my patients recently told me about the practice of 1000 Gifts, a gratitude journal where you write down a gift from life and then spend a bit of time unpacking it. Then you repeat, 999 more times, on a schedule that you devise.

The key here is that each of the 1000 gifts is different. This process makes you dig, and I’ve found that it will turn up some unexpected gifts, including some you wouldn’t think to ask for.

Just what constitutes a gift?

Some are easy: The smell of morning coffee, cloud-fluffed skies, your favorite winter socks. Others are more challenging. Sometimes the things that dog us, cause us to suffer, relentlessly trail us like a shadow — these too can be gifts, gifts that may cause discomfort or mistrust until we sit down with them and allow them to have their say.

For instance, one recent morning, sitting over quiet coffee with the morning sun glittering off the last orange leaves of autumn, I was smoldering with discontent in spite of the idyllic moment. I was searching for an inspiration in this late fall morning for a sense of gratitude, and all I could come up with was “the blessing of not feeling like I have enough.”


But there it was. Completely unwelcomed and completely right in that moment. The gratitude of this morning was to unpack this discontent.
The 1000 Gifts is not some Pollyanna-ish “welcoming challenges as opportunity for growth” project. It’s sometimes more like sitting down with an estranged family member and leaving the guns and knives of entitlement and blame at the door.

Some gifts come wrapped in rags and barbed wire. Others arrive like a lazy, contented cat napping in a sunbeam. All are worth noting, and spending a few minutes of attentive inquiry to see just what might be lying unpolished below the surface.

You could write down 10 gifts a day and work through your 1000 in just over three months. Or you could string them out, one a day, and have the project last a few years.

We tend to become what we do on a daily basis. This kind of practice can rewire your perception and help you to see opportunities where previously there was just annoyance or dismay.