“Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response” – Mildred Barthel

Some of us seem to be naturally positive people who wake with smiles on our faces, I’m not one of them. I have to start my day with a grateful list to positively charge my attitude in my quest for a merrier disposition. Even more so this time of year when the holidays can be a challenging time for many of us.

Happiness can be as simple as adjusting your attitude

Happiness can be as simple as adjusting your attitude

Years ago I was given the direction to list at least ten things I was grateful for each morning. As much as I grumbled, resented, and doubted it’s effectiveness at first, I eventually started seeing the world through an entirely new perspective.  My circumstances had not changed much, but for the first time in my life I was in control of my own happiness – something all the riches in the world couldn’t buy, and believe me I’d already tried that route too.

Since Thanksgiving is suppose to be a day of thanks, I tried something new this year and posted my grateful list for the day aloud on my Facebook wall. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much it amplified my mood even further! This is how it read:

I get some time with my favorite person on the planet, my daughter

#1 on my list? A visit from Tatjana, my favorite person on the planet

Giving Thanks: My daughter will be here within the week, having turkey with my cousins, Dad’s upcoming 80th birthday with our whole family, the last fabulous celebration of the same birthday (he knows how to milk it), reconnecting with so many long lost friends, my PCA backers, my new web developer (who is patient and kind), Daisy for being a constant source of cuddles and giggles, the PCA members and TRS clients who’ve made me feel truly appreciated this year, and NINE AND A HALF HOURS OF SLEEP LAST NIGHT (a miracle and it’s not even Xmas yet), and all of you, of course!

Looking forward to celebrating with my family

Looking forward to celebrating with my family

Okay, so  you may think – “well she has SO much to be grateful for, much more than I do,” or at least that is how I felt when I started this. My whole world (as I knew it) had come crashing down around me. Nothing was how I’d planned or wanted my life to be. I couldn’t think of one thing to be grateful for, so a friend said, “Do you like sunshine?”

“Yes'” I replied.

“Well put the sun is shining on your list.”

Enjoying the sun

Start small if you find it difficult – feeling the sun on my skin makes me happy

Thankfully, I did eventually get out of my own way, because life today is a gazillion times better than anything I had dared to dream when left to my own devices. We’re in such a hurry these days we overlook so many of the things that should delight our souls, so “stop to smell the roses!” I promise, if you start with baby steps and strip it back to those small, simple basics to begin with, that list (and your happiness) will grow.  Not only will you be in a much better mindset to tackle the day, you’ll already be perpetuating more happiness and good fortune.

Keith Haring Gingerbread Art

Keith Haring Gingerbread Art

Of course, if the grateful list isn’t quite enough to make you feel jolly, you could always try throwing on some Bing Cosby and do a little baking! Tatjana and I made these gingerbread cookies a few years ago to honor an old friend.

Servings: 12
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes


Keith Haring Gingerbread Art

  • parchment paper for tracing and cutting guide
  • images you would like to make in gingerbread
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar packed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening or unsalted butter
  • 1 cup Karo syrup
  • 2 large egg whites room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 pound powdered sugar


Keith Haring Gingerbread Art

  1. Tatjana suggested she find some images online that I would then trace onto parchment paper for a cookie cutting guides in the dough.
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix flour through all-spice together in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Melt brown sugar, vegetable shortening (or butter), and Karo syrup together in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until combined. Then add to dry ingredients while still warm, using a mixer with dough hook, stir until just incorporated. Dough will be crumbly, but will come together as you roll it out still warm.
  4. Dust the counter with flour to prevent dough sticking to it. Dough must still be warm as you roll it out. If it cools too quickly place it into a warm oven for 2-3 minutes to soften, then gently roll it out to an even 1/8″ thickness. Place parchment stencil over dough, and cut around edges carefully with a paring knife. Carefully transfer gingerbread shapes to a nonstick baking sheet.
  5. Bake in preheated oven 10-15 minutes, until dark golden brown all over. Remove from oven, cool 5 minutes, then carefully loosen edges using a spatula to place onto cooling racks to cool completely.
  6. While gingerbread is cooling, mix royal icing ingredients together in mixer fitted with a wire whisk. Start slowly, so powdered sugar dose not fly out everywhere, and gradually increase speed to medium high. Beat for 5 minutes, or until stiff peaks form. Add a little more water to loosen consistency, or add a little more powdered sugar to stiffen until you have the desired consistency.
  7. Fill a pastry bag fitted with desired tip, and decorate gingerbread to match your original print outs from online.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with a nice cold glass of milk.

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  • December 5, 2013
    5:21 am

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been having trouble feeling grateful and/or joyful lately. Yesterday was my birthday but it gave me no respite from the responsibilities and hardships of the world. It can be really hard to find that silver lining in the clouds, but it’s there….somewhere. I’m using my biggest magnifying glass to seek it out.

    That photo of you and your daughter is so beautiful. I have a little dog that looks just like the one you are holding in the other photo. Her name is Angel, and she really is one. I am grateful for my son and my 4 little, furry buddies. Looking forward to baking some gingerbread of my own this holiday season. Got to find pleasure in the small things. I am also grateful for your posts. They are uplifting. Best wishes always!

    • December 6, 2013
      7:00 am

      Wishing you a belated happy birthday, Melanie. Hang in there and know that a lot of us find this a particularly difficult time of year, and by focusing on the little joys, happiness will follow.

  • December 7, 2013
    6:01 am

    Thank you Julie for reminding us all how life changing gratitude is. How important it is to give thanks regardless of our circumstances. In the past three years I have lost just about everything and one I hold dear to me but I have to look at it with thankfulness because these circumstances have brought me to a better place. For those who are feeling very dark this season….3 yes ago I lost my job, everywhere I apply I could not find a job (except 2 for a few months- $ I earned paid for gas to get there), lost custody of my child, lost All my close n far friends, parts of my health, money, cars, my home I built with my bf and just two weeks ago my bf. Now I find myself in a different state a different school apt etc. Yet thru it I count the blessings of new closer friends, church, helicopter school,a new car, post 911bill I could go on..my point is Abba allowed me to lose just about everything so He could bless me way beyond what I had been or would have had and been. Now I am gaining a character of gratitude and possibiliites. I have become so much more. Hence, I am reminded to be thankful thru these times.thank YOU Julie for reminding us all.