Audacious Gratitude - by Julie Dostal

Posted by Joel Bennett on

Audacious Gratitude: An intrepidly bold and daring willingness to appreciate even the smallest things of life in the face of difficult circumstances. 

When I write guest blogs or guest editorials, I typically write as Julie Dostal, the Executive Director of LEAF, in beautiful Oneonta, New York.  When I was asked to write this one, I decided it was important for me to write it as just me, Julie.   I am a wife, sister, dog-mom, public speaker, problem-solver, musician, photographer, and a woman in long-term recovery from addiction. 

It is that last piece of who I am that taught me about the wonders of audacious gratitude.  There were times in my journey that if just one more of my recovering peers told me to write a gratitude list, I would have been tempted to throw the nearest solid object at them.  Fortunately, I never did that. There was a lesson to be learned in the sage advice of those who cared about me.  They were not telling me that I had to “feel” grateful, they were telling me that I had a choice to “be” grateful.   

Wait a minute!?

 I feel terrible.  My circumstances are measurably terrible.  I feel like huge parts of my life are terrible. And, you want me to “be” grateful?  (Insert a huff and tightly folded arms at this point.)

 Their advice contradicted my own beliefs, but I listened.  They were not asking me to disrespect my feelings.  They were not even asking me to deny that something was amiss in my life.  My friends and my peers were simply nudging me to challenge my thinking. 

Things can feel terrible AND I can be grateful at the same time.   This is where audacity comes in.  

I encourage you to look up and read any definition of the word “audacity”.  It’s a wonderful word that may have gotten a bad rap over the years.  We might say, “Can you believe they had they audacity to…. (fill in your blank)?”  On the other hand, acting with audacity is bold, and brave, and confident, and unrestrained.   Those are awesome words.

I aspire to words like those.  Yet, I also acknowledge that we are clearly living in unsettled times.  As we approach the pandemic’s second holiday season—with various forms of grief, loss, restrictions, anxieties, shortages, financial strains, and other very real-life struggles—being grateful may seem audacious.  Being outspoken about one’s gratitude will seem out of place, inappropriate, or even insulting, especially to others who are deep in the midst of difficulties.

Actually, sharing gratitude is medicine.  And like most medicines, one does not have to deny the aches, pains, or fears in order for it to be effective.   My doctor would never ask me to wait until a wound healed before I take the antibiotic.  In this same way, audacious gratitude does not require that I have to feel better before I take time to care for my spirit. 

Being grateful is both a heart-felt and also a cognitive, intellectual practice.  It’s not hocus-pocus, or magic. It is a choice I have to make about how I want to look at my circumstances and in spite of how I feel.  Audacious gratitude is daring to find life’s gifts even in the face of terrible circumstances. 

Making an unexpected choice can reap unexpected rewards. As I practice the choice, and believe me it takes practice, something remarkable happens to my spirit.  It is like a balm or a healing salve that gives rest to my soul and to my mind.  If only for a few moments, they are precious moments.

I find myself being consciously grateful for rain, and grass, and leftover broccoli (okay, that’s a stretch).  I thank God for my husband, my favorite chair, a wonderful friend, and music.  I remember that I love purple, and birds, and the house with the beautiful Christmas lights.  With that, my breathing slows, my mind rests, and my spirit finds comfort.  I find there is a deep knowing that peace can exist in the midst of chaotic times.

I’ll take audacious any day. 



Julie Dostal is the Executive Director of the LEAF Council on Alcoholism and Addictions in rural, upstate New York.  She has been doing the work of primary substance misuse prevention for more than 20 years and is a sought-after trainer and speaker at the local, state, and national levels.

Want more audacity? Check out this article “The Seven Traits of Positive Audacity” by Dr. Joel Bennett, published in Spirituality & Health Magazine (Sept./Oct. 2016) and available for free download here.

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