Wake Up Grateful

The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted


By Kristi Nelson

Foreword by Brother David Steindl-Rast

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$17.99 CAD

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This practical and inspiring program is filled with guiding principles, reflections, exercises, and meditations for making gratitude a daily practice, especially during uncertain and challenging times.

Is it possible to be grateful in challenging times? Our wellbeing depends on it, but how do we achieve it? In Wake Up Grateful, Kristi Nelson, executive director of A Network for Grateful Living, unlocks the path to recognizing abundance in every moment, no matter the moment. With questions for reflection, daily exercises, and perspective prompts, Nelson introduces readers to the benefits of a daily gratitude practice. Using the story of her own cancer experience as a touchstone, Nelson provides deep insight and help in finding resilience and wellbeing in the face of life’s uncertainties and offers the promise of profound personal change.


Page 74: "We Look with Uncertainty" by Anne Hillman, The Dancing Animal Woman: A Celebration of Life, 1994, 3rd Printing, 2007. Bramble Books. www.annehillman.net.

Page 90: Excerpted from "Hymn, with Birds and Cats" by Francine Marie Tolf

Page 104: "Laughter" by Dale Biron, Why We Do Our Daily Practices © 2014, Pack Mule Press

Page 118: "Rethinking Regret" by Elaine Sexton

Page 135: "Darn Lucky" by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, originally published on A Network for Grateful Living's website, https://gratefulness.org

Page 152: "The Unbroken" by Rashani Réa. Written in 1991 following the fifth death in her family. www.rashani.com.

Page 166: "What I Want and What I Can Have" by Jeanie Greensfelder, from I Got What I Came For (Penciled In, 2017)

Page 196: "Benediction" by Bernadette Miller

Page 211–212: "Hokusai Says" by Roger Keyes

dedicated to

Brother David Steindl-Rast,
and all those committed to living gratefully

My parents,
for giving me the gift of life
and then — each in their own way —
showing me how to love it
fiercely and with joy.



Introduction: Alive and Grateful

PART I: From Gratitude to Grateful Living

1   Gratefulness: Gratitude for the Great Fullness of Life

2   Grateful Living as a Way of Life: Five Guiding Princiles

3   The Practice of Grateful Living: Stop. Look. Go.

PART II: Grateful Living in the Real World

4   Savoring Uncertainty

5   Treasruing the Body as It Is

6   Appreciating Our Emotions

7   Befriending Our Full Selves

8   Cherishing Connection

9   Holding the Heart of Grief and Loss

10   Belonging in Nature

11   Celebrating Sufficiency

12   Healing a Hurting World

13   Living a Grateful Legacy


Beyond Grateful

Exploring and Learning More

Other Storey Books You Will Enjoy

Share Your Experience!



The book you are holding in your hands has been written by a hero of mine. It is not the fruit of speculation, but has grown out of suffering and of heroic trust in life. Kristi Nelson discovered grateful living while struggling with stage IV cancer at age 33. She knows how it feels to face dying. But that very experience has taught her to speak with depth and weight when she is talking about living — grateful living. She knows the deep joy that springs from simply being alive and she can show you ways toward finding joy in your own life.

A miniformula for grateful living runs through this whole book. Kristi has unpacked and unfolded it, until it developed into this full-fledged guide to finding joy and well-being. The three-word formula is: Stop. Look. Go. Moment by moment, life is offering you gift after gift — exactly what you need to thrive. But unless you stop, you will rush right by that gift; unless you look, you will miss it; and only if you go and do something with it can you fully avail yourself of that gift.

Practice Stop. Look. Go. faithfully over and over, like practicing a dance step, and you will soon notice with surprise that you are getting more and more in step with life — that you had been out of step, without even noticing it. You practice dance steps in order to dance, and grateful living is a dance with life — life as it is, in all its ecstasies and also in its agonies. Grateful living is passionate interaction with the world in all its excitement, vulnera­bility, and risk.

Dare to take that risk and you will be drawn into an altogether unpredictable adventure. "I would wake up every morning and notice that I was still breathing," Kristi writes. "I would have to touch my face to make sure it was not a dream." Breathing with trust in life — that was enough. It was the risk she took. She realized, "I was still alive. And being alive was enough."

Coming alive means taking hold of whatever life is offering us, here and now. It is enough — and more than enough. And we may trust that it's exactly what we need — like it or not. Life knows best. Life deserves our trust. And there is no better exercise than Stop. Look. Go. to get us into shape for catching each moment's gift. Let's not allow it to slip through our fingers!

Catching the moment. Yes, that skill is what every page of this book wants to teach you: to catch the moment and to live in its fullness. Kristi Nelson is a coach you can trust. Right now, life is pitching her book your way.

Wake up!

Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Azcuénaga, Argentina, January 2020



Wherever you are is the starting point. —Kabir

Not dying changed everything. Not only did I not die, I actually got to live. And living offered me the chance to bring the most meaningful lessons I learned from facing death into my life and the lives of many others. What I have come to understand about taking nothing for granted has transformed my life. My hope is that it will transform yours too.

At 33 years old, I was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin's lymphoma that had metastasized to my spine. After going through 18 months of hospitalizations, surgeries, chemotherapy, and treatments, I asked my oncologist, "When will I be out of the woods?" He answered, "You will never be out of the woods." Having worked so hard to stay alive, I had not grasped the degree of uncertainty and struggle that would come with being a survivor. Understanding that my life would only ever be lived with the caveat of "for now" was sobering. I wondered so many things: How do I continue to live this way? What am I able to count on? How can I possibly plan for the future? How do I live while expecting to die?

The first few years of uncertainty and remission put the blessings of my life in sharp relief. I was in super-soak mode — every experience was saturated with new meaning, and I was absorbing it all fully. I did not know any other way to live the moments I had than to greet each one as gratefully as I could. Not sure how much more time was mine, I was awestruck by every moment, every person, and every thing. Being grateful the first few years was relatively easy and revelatory. I would wake up in a room bathed in light, hear birds singing, and notice I was still breathing. Sometimes I would have to touch my face to make sure it was not a dream. I could put both feet on the floor and walk freely to a kitchen where I could make a cup of tea. It was enough to make me start each day with tears of joy. Being alive was enough.

But over time, all those amazing reasons to feel grateful joined the ranks of the taken-for-granted. I got healthy and busy. I began chasing goals and the fulfillment they promised. I martyred myself to a job, complained about things like traffic, my weight, and colds. I ruthlessly compared myself to others, succumbed to retail therapy and debt, and suffered from stress. Each year that passed, I built up a kind of gratitude tolerance — what used to be enough got left in the dust in the pursuit of having more. Having cheated death, I began cheating life.

After some challenging years, dramatic wake-up calls, and my share of spiritual suffering, I came to realize that maintaining a grateful perspective is a true practice. Just as it takes commitment to keep a muscle strong, the same is true of perspective. This capacity for grateful perspective is a muscle I needed to build and use, and it is still something I need to nurture and tend daily. I am the first to admit that I can lose perspective quite easily, so I work at it every day. But the practice of looking at the world through grateful eyes and with a grateful heart is an exquisite end in itself. I know it matters, and the results are worth everything.

Grateful living has become my way of life. It helps me focus on what is working and what is enough. It helps me notice all that is beautiful and breathtaking. Even in the most challenging times, from a grateful perspective I can see that there is an opportunity to learn, to deepen trust, to love, and to breathe. Fixing my awareness on what is available and possible in each moment — what is sufficient and sacred — I am less inclined to take life for granted. I am often filled to overflowing because of it, and this moves me to want to make a difference for others. Grateful living reconnects me with a fidelity to life. And this fidelity reminds me what a gift it is to be alive, and that it could always — and will someday — be otherwise.

Brother David

I first met Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast in 2003 when I was working with Lynne Twist at the Soul of Money Institute in San Francisco. One day, Lynne returned from a retreat at Upaya Zen Center in New Mexico with Brother David. I had no idea my life would be forever changed by this meeting.

Brother David was an intriguing paradox. In Birkenstock sandals with socks, a brown leather belt cinched at the waist of his black-and-white robes, shaved head gleaming above bushy eyebrows and sparkling eyes, he was both playful and sincere, magnetic and humble. I had lived in Germany when I was young, and I found Brother David's voice to be comforting, the familiarity of his accent lulling. I was not familiar with his teachings, but I knew that whatever his outlook on life, I was drawn to it.

Brother David and I joined Lynne and some friends for dinner and a performance of Cirque du Soleil, where we sat side by side gasping and holding our breath in unison as trapeze artists flew through the air making the seemingly impossible possible. The next morning before he departed, Brother David gave me his address and we exchanged a few letters over the following year. Many years later I learned that I was one of hundreds of people with whom he maintained a personal correspondence, some for many decades. His beautifully handwritten notes are a treasured keepsake in many a home and heart.

Over time, I learned that the roots of Brother David's teachings grew out of his teenage years in Vienna during World War II. He and his friends could not imagine a life beyond the war. When bombs fell, he would wait them out in a church basement, and when he emerged to the blue skies and silence of a new day, everything felt more vivid and alive. "The war made us live in the moment because the next moment a bomb may fall unknowingly," he said. "We lived every moment joyfully, not knowing if it would be our last. In the midst of this constant death, we were really joyful. When the war was over, there was a decisive point when I remembered a passage from the Rule of Saint Benedict, a little fifteen-hundred-year-old book by the founder of the Benedictine order, with a sentence that said, 'Have death at all times before your eyes.' With the war over and my life ahead of me, I suddenly remembered how we had been so happy being forced to live in the present moment with death at all times before our eyes."

The experience of the war in his youth, combined with the teachings of Saint Benedict, sparked Brother David's desire to pursue a life of monastic contemplation and study. But he was never one to see monasticism as a passive or reclusive existence. He began to travel the world as an ambassador for interfaith dialogue and as an activist alongside Thich Nhat Hanh and other spiritual luminaries. From a depth of knowledge nurtured within the monastic tradition and a rich outer life rooted in the everyday world, Brother David dug deep to the center of poignant universal truths and has blessed the world with his resonant and accessible scholarship. The centerpiece of his explorations has always been gratefulness, a quality he asserts is at the very heart of prayer, happiness, and a world at peace.

In 2000, Brother David and a few close friends founded A Network for Grateful Living. The original purpose of the nonprofit organization was to create an Internet platform to share Brother David's teachings about gratefulness and to offer inspiration for the growing global community of people interested in "online support for offline living." The website was loaded with tools and features to uplift the practice of grateful living, and offered a monthly newsletter and Word for the Day email with an inspiring quote for contemplation. After meeting Brother David, I subscribed.

The Call

Brother David and I had the shared experience of facing death and surviving, and the subsequent challenge of finding a path that would support and sustain a posture of gratefulness toward life. Brother David went the way of monasticism. I went the way of nonprofit leadership in organizations focused on personal and societal transformation. We found one another and our deep common ground in the commitment to living gratefully, and all the gifts that flow from it.

In January 2014, I learned that A Network for Grateful Living was searching for a new executive director. I was not looking for work at the time, but when I read the job posting, I felt as if I could check off every one of the skills and strengths they were seeking. I sensed serendipity in the air. The interview process involved a teleconference with Brother David. I was thrilled to see him again and, ultimately, to be chosen by the board for the position I am thankful to have held these many years.

While gratefulness and grateful living are terms Brother David has successfully brought into greater awareness, I began to feel that we needed to be able to offer a stronger example and articulation of grateful living as a day-to-day practice. When people would ask me about the steps involved in living gratefully, I had little to offer aside from Brother David's advice to simply Stop. Look. Go. This advice sounds wonderful coming from an endearing 93-year-old Benedictine monk with a twinkle in his eye and one of the best accents in the world. But it was far less compelling coming from me, and I struggled with how to make the practice of grateful living more understandable and actionable.

So, with encouragement and support from everyone at A Network for Grateful Living, I set out to write a book articulating a framework based on Brother David's teachings that would make the gifts of grateful living accessible and relevant to the widest possible audience. I wanted to make grateful living readily available and resonant to you.

The Book

Wake Up Grateful is a guidebook — plus a whole lot more. It is a framework for transforming your life and the world around you. It's a book you can pick up any day and open to any page and find a nugget of wisdom, a quote, practice, or question that will leave you more reflective and resourceful in bringing gratitude into your life. It holds a personal story that offers hope. It is a source of inspiration and guidance for everyday life and for specific areas of life where it is common to struggle. Navigate at your own pace and notice which lessons speak most directly to you and which elements work best for the circumstances of your life. It is a process of continually reminding yourself to return again and again to what matters.

A grateful life is made up of grateful days, and grateful days are made up of grateful moments. This book is meant to point you toward a way of life that will bring you more of these moments and experiences. You can personalize the practices and tools and apply them to challenges as they arise. Reflection questions may inspire insightful time with your own journal. Some of your explorations may be solitary, and some may be strengthened in relationship. You may want to use this book with your family, partner, or friends, or start a group in your community. You can find Grateful Living Groups around the world at Grateful.org, where you will also find an abundance of additional resources to support your continued practice and exploration.

I explain in Part 1 what I see as grateful living's Five Guiding Principles: Life Is a Gift, Everything Is Surprise, The Ordinary Is Extraordinary, Appreciation Is Generative, and Love Is Transformative. These principles are touchstones you can turn to at any time and in any situation to remind you of what matters most in living gratefully. We will also explore and expand on Brother David's practice of Stop. Look. Go., including Five Points of Perspective for the times when you need them: embrace poignancy, invite peak awareness, acknowledge privilege and plenty, align with your principles, and open to pleasure.

Part II focuses on how you can bring grateful living practice into specific areas of life that call for deeper attention, and where it may be able to serve you the most. I will examine ten areas where many of us often need support: uncertainty, the body, emotions, ourselves, relationships, loss, nature, contentment, our world, and legacy. Finding presence and perspective in these aspects of our lives is what helps to open up a sense of possibility. I have chosen to share my personal cancer story, as well as the voices of people who have been practicing grateful living in the face of these sorts of challenges, and a favorite poem in each chapter. My hope is to deepen a sense of relatedness so that greater resonance and possibility are awakened in you.

The Path

I believe that if you are a seeker and your heart is moved by what is true and what is possible, then you will be drawn to the path of grateful living. Look for those who are easily moved, and you will likely find the most grateful people. Moved by grief. Moved by beauty. Moved by hope. Look for those who have the capacity to let themselves be rocked by the magnificence and hardship of life as it is, and you will find people for whom gratefulness is a way of being.

Grateful living offers a path and a promise. It is an intimate orientation to life. The more gratefully and intimately we dare to approach and engage with life, the more intimately we will experience it, and everything it has to offer. The more we befriend and acknowledge vulnerability, uncertainty, and impermanence, the more appreciative and alive we become. Grateful living rests in this paradox. When we are awake, we experience this paradox and its gifts every day.

The path of grateful living is one that activates our hearts and lives toward love. Grateful living gives our hearts wide wings and stamina for the journey because it is grounded in all that is real and based in life as it is. It supports us to be moved and impacted — fully present for the opportunities of our lives, our relationships, and the larger world to which we belong. Grateful living allows us to show up for life, and then it sticks with us unconditionally — whether we feel gratitude or not, whether we are happy or not. It hangs around as we go through the great fullness of life, offering its radically gracious presence.

May this book offer you a deep well from which to drink and nourishment for the journey, and may your heart overflow into blessing every day — within you, and all around you.

Part I


Chapter 1


Gratitude for the Great Fullness of Life


It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.

Brother David Steindl-Rast

Gratitude is great. When we receive something we want, when experiences bring us pleasure, or when life goes our way, it is natural and meaningful to feel gratitude. Gratitude is like a magic potion that we can sprinkle on a wilted plant to bring it back to life. Sprinkled on a relationship, it does the same. Scattered throughout a day, it leaves us and those in our path happier. Scientific studies continue to reveal that gratitude is simply good medicine, for us and for others. When we feel grateful we are happier, healthier, kinder, more generous, more satisfied, and more resilient.

Most of us would like to feel grateful far more often. But how? How can you experience gratitude when life gets challenging? What can help you sustain the experience of being grateful without needing life to be other than it is, or without wanting more from the people and world around you? How can you navigate the stumbling blocks that keep you from being grateful even when you want to be, or know you should be?

Imagine being able to have gratitude that is unconditional and lasting. A gratitude that does not depend on what happens, but comes from the inside out. Not a reaction to something, but a proactive approach to life. A gratitude already with you as you wake to greet your days — before anything has even happened. This is gratefulness. As the connective tissue between our moments and experiences, gratefulness allows us to find gratitude in the "great fullness" of life in all its real-world moments of messiness and magnificence.

Gratitude Is Great; Gratefulness Is Greater

To speak about the differences between gratitude and gratefulness might seem like quibbling over semantics, but there are important distinctions. The common understanding of the word gratitude


  • “This book reminds us of what is most important and not to be taken for granted — and how to align our lives with that vital awakening to the beauty and possibility that is always present amidst the darkness and the fear.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) and author of Full Catastrophe Living and Mindfulness for All

    “Like gratefulness itself, the book comfortably holds extremes: it’s expansive yet concise, individual yet relational, and personal yet universal. It represents an abiding belief in abundance and fierce commitment to wonder, but it’s also grounded in reality, recognizing that life is uncertain and hard, and that it is lived in a flawed, fallible body. Wisdom and grace abound in the text, which is calm and cognizant of the fact that people are seeking gratefulness amid raging battles and hard circumstances. Wake Up Grateful is an invitation to a new way of living, even in the most challenging times.” — Foreword Reviews 

    Wake Up Grateful will make you think about gratefulness more deeply and give thanks more widely. This is not a book to rush through, but to savor. The pages crackle with raw honesty, deep wisdom, profound realizations, and practical guidelines. Reading it was a true gift, and left me more convinced than ever before that gratefulness is the deepest touchpoint of human existence.” — Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at University of California–Davis, and author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Gratitude Works!, and The Little Book of Gratitude

    Wake Up Grateful is exquisitely touching, powerful, and real. This book will make a lasting difference to those fortunate enough to read it. The creation of a new future will be profoundly served by this message and the heart and depth from which it comes. I hope this book gets into the hands of as many people as possible.” — Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money and founder of SOMI

    “With this book, Kristi offers a timely guide to circulate more gratitude in our hearts and build bridges in our communities. If her five guiding principles were pinned to every bathroom mirror, not only would we Wake Up Grateful but we would most certainly wake up to a different world.” —
    Nipun Mehta, founder, ServiceSpace

    “Kristi Nelson has written a book absolutely packed with information that is both inspiring and practical. This is a difficult balance to achieve, and she has done it beautifully. Put this book on your nightstand and read a little bit every day.” — Stephen Cope, Scholar Emeritus, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and best-selling author of The Great Work of Your Life

    “Kristi Nelson has written a soul-revealing and stirring companion for life’s peaks and valleys. I’m grateful for her wisdom and this book.” —
    Rachel Bagby, founder, Singing Farm Sanctuary

    “The capacity to look at oneself and one’s life exactly as they are with gratefulness is the capacity most needed to live fully, rise through suffering, and contribute to the well-being of the world. Kristi Nelson’s inspired work ought to be in every school desk and hotel nightstand and on every kitchen counter. With her guidance we are prepared to hold our lives tenderly, be kind, and love each other fully.” — Maria Sirois, Psy.D., author of A Short Course in Happiness After Loss (and Other Dark, Difficult Times)

    “The most valuable spiritual guidebooks, the kind you keep next to your bed, are grounded in the writer's personal awakening. Cancer taught Kristi Nelson to accept the uncertainty and impermanence of life, and through that she discovered gratefulness as a path to healing and wholeness. Now she offers it to us, and it is a blessing to receive.” — Mirabai Bush, Senior Fellow, Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and coauthor of Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying

On Sale
Dec 4, 2020
Page Count
240 pages

Kristi Nelson

Kristi Nelson

About the Author

Kristi Nelson is the author of Wake Up Grateful and an ambassador for Grateful Living. She has a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School and has spent more than 30 years in nonprofit leadership, development, and consulting. She has worked at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and the Soul of Money Institute. Nelson is a Stage IV cancer survivor who cherishes living among friends and family in western Massachusetts.

Learn more about this author