When I was growing up, my mom instituted a Thanksgiving ritual whereby each family member was given five dried corn kernels and we would go around in a circle and each say one thing we were thankful for, repeating the cycle until we’d all thought of five reasons to be grateful and added our corns to a communal basket.
I recently read The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan. For her one-year experiment in changing her attitude, she kept a daily gratitude diary in which she wrote one to three things she was thankful for every evening.
I’m not the world’s most optimistic person, and sometimes I can only see the bad side of my position as a freelance worker: uncertain income, loads of little piecemeal assignments not adding up to a proper salary, the dread of IRS calculations, no vacation time, feeling cut off from humanity and stuck in the house, and so on.
But in the spirit of Thanksgiving corns and gratitude diaries, I’d like to offer five reasons why I’m very grateful for what I’m doing now.
- A truly flexible schedule. No day is ever exactly the same as the next. It’s no problem at all to fit in doctor’s or vet’s appointments; I’m always in for workmen and deliveries. Chores, errands and bits of food prep can squeeze in wherever they need to. I can get up and make a cup of tea whenever I like. I generally find time to have the cat on my lap for a couple of hours every day while I read. And sometimes I even get the luxury of a nap!
- None of the petty crap of a 9-to-5 job. Boy, I sure don’t miss commuting to London, having a boss and annoying colleagues, putting on a faux-helpful demeanor for customers, and watching the clock in near-existential despair. Yes, I have employers nowadays, but it’s really completely different – they’re just names on the other side of e-mails. I am my own taskmaster; the buck stops here. Plus I almost never bother with makeup.
- Varied work. On most days I split my time between editing scientific journal articles, reading for work and pleasure, writing book reviews, and blogging. Even if I’m preparing multiple reviews at the same time, assignments feel distinct depending on the venue. Writing a strictly structured 350-word review for Kirkus is nothing like writing 950 words with a theological slant for Third Way magazine, for instance.
- Occasional affirmations. The majority of my freelance queries are met with silence if not outright rejection, but every so often I get a ‘yes’ that can make my day and keep me going. Although it’s not a paid assignment, I was particularly pleased when Third Way magazine asked me to write their 2015 Year in Fiction roundup. I’ve also recently started working with Publishers Weekly, the Times Literary Supplement, Stylist magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Life revolves around books. I’m surrounded by books all day, every day – much more so than I ever was in my six years of working in libraries. I’m always deep into 10 or 15 books at a time, with stacks of print and virtual books waiting for me. I get paid to read books and write what I think about them. Isn’t that amazing?!
From The Gratitude Diaries I learned that thankfulness appears to boost the immune system, lower stress, attract others’ help, and spark 20% more progress towards goals. Really, why not try it?
As one man Kaplan met puts it, “I’m happy, healthy … and in the most productive moment of my life. If I don’t walk around the street buoyant and jubilant, then what’s wrong with me?”