Backward Gratitude

Feeling thankful when things go missing

I’m sitting here in the dark, with a few candles lit, writing this piece. The power went out earlier today and hasn’t yet come back. We’re having crazy rains and wind here in San Francisco where I live. It is such a strange thing when the power goes out, isn’t it? Part of what makes it unsettling is that we never know how long it will be out. Will everything flicker back on in a moment? In an hour? A few hours? I’m hoping it will come on by morning! But no one knows!

Right before the outage, I was hanging out with my beau and I said to him, “I’d better get to work on this article so I can finish it this afternoon.” We said our goodbyes, I straightened up the house, and then everything got eerily quiet.

Oh, drat. I know that sound of silence: no power. Sigh.

The first thing I realized was that I’d been using my laptop at the kitchen table all morning long – unplugged. Ditto my mobile phone! I quickly called the closest library to me and asked, “Do you have power right now?” They did! I grabbed my laptop, my mobile, my air pods, my Kindle and even my sleep cozy headphones and rushed over to the library, braving the wild winds and rain! I charged all of my devices just in time before the library closed.


So here I am. I’m home. It is pitch dark outside. No one around me has power, either. When I got here, I immediately lit candles so there is that old-fashioned glow going on in the house.

At first, I felt really unsettled and a little frustrated. This sure would be a cozy night to watch a movie. (There’s no streaming and no power to turn on the monitor!) I wish I could have a long call with a friend. (Gotta save the phone juice in case of emergency!) This would be a great time to do that research project in my studio. (Oh yeah, I need internet and also heat!)

Then, when I realized that there were A LOT of things I couldn’t do, I decided to switch my thinking.

What COULD I do?

Well, I’d charged this laptop to 100 percent, so I could still write this article. I also remembered that there is hot water, even when the power is out. I could take a bath by candlelight! I also charged my Kindle so I could read one of the many books my sweet niece had recently sent me.

It was a good feeling to focus on the things I could do and to be grateful for the hot water and having had the opportunity to charge my laptop and Kindle!

But then something else happened: “Backward Gratitude.” (I just made that term up!) To me, what it means is being able to feel extra grateful for the things that have gone missing at the moment.

For instance, as all the food in the refrigerator starts to go a little warm, I am so very grateful that most of the time, without me even thinking about it, the fridge and freezer work to keep things cold.

Since I can’t use the internet, I am so incredibly grateful to imagine all of the times when it is working and I am able to connect to people and places and information from all over the world!

I can’t use my toaster and wow, am I ever grateful for the thousands of other times I am able to pop a piece of bread in there and it comes out brown and crunchy. What joy!

I can’t grind coffee beans or use the coffee maker; but I am so grateful for almost every day those two things work for me.

There’s some song with the lyrics that go like this, “… you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” (I’ll look that up when I can use the internet again. Ha ha!) Ain’t that the truth.

When things are gone, it is a really great practice to feel grateful for them. That way, if they return, I may be way more conscious of feeling grateful.

So, here’s an advanced version of this: Look around you right now at all the beautiful things you own and more importantly, the people you love. Now ask yourself, how would I feel if these were gone from my life? Close your eyes and let yourself feel it. Then pop your eyes open and let yourself have everything back. Let all those riches come to you anew.

Wheeeeee! How amazing right?

That’s what can happen for us when the lights go out around us. Something turns on bright inside!

I hope you’ll practice backward gratitude by appreciating things when they’ve gone missing. Or, you can practice by pretending things are missing – and then, voila, getting them back!


Editor’s note: The power came on 27 hours later after I wrote this article. The songwriter who sang, “… you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone is Joni Mitchell. I’m feeling extraordinarily grateful for the ability to toast bread and grind coffee beans and connect with the world through internet!

Sherry’s mission is helping people find creative, intentional and impactful ways to celebrate life and to express love for family and friends. Visit her website or email her to say hello at Sherry’s book, “Say it Now; 33 Creative Ways to Say I Love You to the Most Important People in Your Life,” is now available on Amazon. Join Sherry’s free 5-day challenge, "Olly Olly Oxen Free: Permission and Belonging," here.

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