The Joy of a Two-Dollar Dinner: Why Gratitude Actually Works
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
Counting my blessings in the midst of adversity is like whistling in the dark, my voice betrays me.
Even if I’ve summoned the energy to count things, the act doesn’t feel authentic. ‘Who am I kidding? Thankful that I had toast for breakfast when my fridge is empty?’
Some days it feels that grudgingly contrived.
Other days my heart is filled with joy as I write, ‘I had toast for breakfast and it was delicious!’ That exclamation point not adequately conveying my enjoyment of the toast or the pleasure I felt sitting across from a new friend and realizing that I’d discovered a kindred spirit.
You might argue that toast was the only thing that these two examples had in common: That ‘gratitude’ is a matter of context, the answer to hunger versus the the joy of social communion.
I’m going to argue that both are examples of how real gratitude can change our perspective, and help us to change our lives for the better.
My first acquaintance with the idea of keeping a gratitude list came from Oprah, who assured me that good things would happen if I would keep track of my blessings. Her assertions are backed up by academic research conducted over the past two decades. The results suggest that gratitude provides us with positive feelings about ourselves and an altruism towards others.
It was my mother, of course, who opened my eyes during a recent phone conversation when I was complaining about my lack of progress.
Mom cut me short, “Suzie, 2016 is going to be your best year yet. Look at all the good things that have already happened.” She listed a variety of wonderful things that had occurred in the last four months, writing this column being very high on the list.
Her observation changed the way I viewed counting my blessings. Instead of simply writing down a list of things, I considered the goodness in my life, mind-fully.
In other words, I expanded my view and focused on the good that is already a reality. Recalling God’s constant provision in what we have received or overcome, strengthens our faith in God’s promise to ‘use everything for our good’.
An example of this cause and effect is beautifully expressed in many parts of the Psalms. We find within one psalm, an anguished cry for help, even doubt, and then a few verses later, a confident statement of God’s deliverance. From Psalm 28:
1 To you, Lord, I call;
you are my Rock,
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your Most Holy Place.
But look at the change later in the same psalm….
6 Praise be to the Lord,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
7 The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
Since this is within the same psalm, we might surmise that nothing in the circumstances have changed, only the psalmist’s confident faith in God. This reminder that we can share our fears and our hopes with God and remain sure of His deliverance, is one of the reasons I read the Psalms every day. They inspire me.
If all of this sounds a little ‘woo-woo’, here’s a pragmatic view of gratitude: When we keep a positive attitude, we are more likely to find productive solutions.
A Joyful Two Dollar Dinner
This simple pasta is so delicious that I included it in my birthday dinner. The joy of this dish is that even on its own it is rich and satisfying and will fill your belly and bring a smile of gratitude to your lips. Yes, it’s that good.
1 lb of pasta $1
1 stick of butter $0.50
1 head of garlic or 1 bunch of parsley $0.50
Total Cost: $2.00
Feeds 2 – 4 people depending on how hungry you are
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil (by salted, I mean imagine the ocean)
2. When the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pound of pasta and give it a nice stir to separate the individual pasta.
3. While the pasta boils, in a separate large sauté pan or skillet, gently melt the stick of butter. Add 3-4 cloves of minced garlic and saute, being careful not to let the garlic burn.
4. When the pasta is al dente or ‘toothy’, drain it and then add it to the melted butter and garlic. Gently toss the pasta with the butter, until the noodles are coated. Salt and pepper to taste. Note: if you were to add ½ to 1 cup of grated parmesan to butter sauce you would have Fettuccine Alfredo.
If the wolf is at the door, this modest dish of buttered pasta is elegant and very satisfying and a lovely dinner to share with your favorite friend. There’s no shame in this game. Enjoy!
…“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” - 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson writes weekly food and religion columns for the Summit Daily News and is the author of ten books. You can find her at www.suzanneelizabeths.com