It was 3 o’clock in the morning, and the Wharton classroom was full of students cramming for exams and furiously typing term papers on their laptops. The four of us sat huddled in a corner by the blackboard around our physics tutor, a brilliant engineering graduate student. He was clearly obsessed with physics, painstakingly going through every single detail and implication of each step of the formulas we were learning. Our final was the following day, and we were all beginning to lose focus. I stared down at my textbook and then up at the 30 steps of the equation that the tutor was scribbling on the board. I had no idea what he was talking about.

We were all beginning to lose focus

“Listen, Sean, I really don’t think we need to know all these steps for the final. Can you maybe simplify all that into two or three steps?” I asked.

Sean stopped scribbling and looked at all of us in surprise. “OK, I guess I can try to.” He then proceeded to breakdown the 30 steps into maybe 20 equations. I couldn’t take it anymore. Now it was almost 4 o’clock, and we hadn’t even gone through half of the review sheet.

“Two steps! Two steps, Sean, please,” I begged.

Sean turned slowly around and sat down at the desk, as he stared at me for a moment. And then he said something I’ll never forget.

“Sooner or later in life, you are all going to have to understand that the answer does not come in two or even three steps. Usually, it takes 50 steps or more. And that is just for the simple ones. And if you are going to be so impatient that you cannot appreciate each and every step, you will never really learn. And you will never be able to appreciate how beautiful each part is.”

We all sat there in stunned silence, until one of my friends just started laughing hysterically out of sheer exhaustion.

“But, Sean, none of us are going to be able to pass the test this way. Look at this review sheet! We have done one problem! One!”

Sean looked dismissively at the review sheet. “The sheet is not the point,” he said, as he turned back to the board.

If you are going to be so impatient that you cannot appreciate each and every step, you will never really learn. I thought about that sentence for years as I struggled to grow. Graduate school was challenging; listening to clients forced me to find some of the patience I didn’t yet have. Marriage was even harder; learning to love and give to another person every day required me to pause more than I ever had before. And parenting brought me to my knees. A baby doesn’t care what your plans are for tomorrow or even an hour from now. A toddler who wants to dress himself is not going to “fit” into your schedule. A child struggling with her homework or with her friends needs your patience and warmth more than anything else.

I struggled. I made mistakes. But I kept picking myself up and carving out paths of patience within my soul. Otherwise, I will never be able to appreciate how beautiful each part, each step really is, I told myself over and over. And then one day, when my oldest child was 5 years old, she came home with a gift in her hands. That, week she had earned her first allowance. Now she shyly came up to me with her knapsack still on her tiny shoulders, and she held out the wrapped gift.

“Ima, I got this for you with my allowance. Because you’reJust feeling grateful won’t help us cultivate gratitude such a good Ima.” I felt tears spring to my eyes as I opened her present. A white candle etched with gold stood beside a little note that said “thank you” in my daughter’s colorful, messy handwriting. I hugged her. I was speechless. I held the candle like it was the most expensive diamond in the world. I put it in a safe place, and I have kept it since. Every now and then I take out it out and look at it. It reminds me to be patient and grateful for every step in my life. Because the real test is given to us every day: Do I know how to say thank you? Do I see how beautiful the answer in each moment really is?

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that there are three myths about gratitude:

1. It Needs an Occasion

Most of us realize that gratitude is important, but many of us make the mistake of thinking that something extraordinary needs to happen in our lives for us to say thank you. A big raise. The birth of a child. The deal going through. But every day gives us hundreds of reasons to say thank you. Every moment, however ordinary it may seem, has greatness hidden within it. Judaism teaches this to us by giving us the opportunity to say blessings each day. We thank G‑d for everything; even a small cup of water is a chance to pause and say thank you.

2. It Comes Automatically

Many of us wait to feel grateful before we say thank you to someone or make time to pray. But like growing and learning, gratitude won’t happen on its own. It needs to be intentional and planned. This is why the Torah teaches us to pray even when we aren’t particularly inspired. To say thank you even when we aren’t necessarily in a good mood. We can work to create that feeling of gratitude; searching for the blessings in our lives can make them clearer to us on hard days.

3. It Can Be Silent

On the other hand, just feeling grateful won’t help us cultivate gratitude. Our spouses may not know we appreciate them unless we tell them. Our colleagues may not know that we are grateful for their help if we don’t acknowledge them. Our children need to hear the words. And while G‑d doesn’t “need” our gratitude, we need to hear ourselves express it. This is why Judaism gives us the gift of our siddur, which has the words we need to verbalize our thoughts. The Torah shows us how to say thank you as soon as we awaken in the morning, throughout the day, and right before we go to sleep at night: Thank you for my life. Thank you for this beautiful world. Thank you for each and every step of the answer. Thank you for the candle of gratitude that reminds me how far we can grow and what a gift the journey itself really is.