My third child, Emunah, was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. The doctor quickly untangled it, and even though I had subsequent hemorrhaging, the baby was healthy. We went home a few days later.

The first night home, Emmy cried uncontrollably. Despite every effort, I could not console her.

The following morning, I took her for a check-up. After testing, we were rushed straight to the NICU because her jaundice had spiked, and the situation was grave. We spent a week in the hospital.

That was one of the hardest weeks I had ever endured. I was still weak. I was pumping breastmilk around the clock and my husband was delivering it to the hospital at all hours. I sat by the baby’s incubator, unable to hold her, touch her or feed her. I felt numb. I felt guilty leaving my children when I was at the NICU, and even more guilty when at home with my other children. I wished I could clone myself.

I was emotionally and physically exhausted, but overjoyed when we were able to bring Emunah home just hours before the start of Yom Kippur.

For weeks, my happiness level was at an all-time high.

Burnt meatballs? Who cares! My baby is alive!

Hours spent sitting in traffic? No problem, my baby is alive!

I was overwhelmed with relief.

But as the days and weeks went on, of course, the happiness high didn’t last. Everyday life got in the way, all the minutiae associated with raising a family.

If only there was a way to package exhilaration and contentment, and pull it out when needed.

Studies show that gratitude has the highest connection to mental health and happiness than any other personality trait studied. Of course, the Torah already enjoins us to “serve G‑d with joy.”1 The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement takes it even further and said, "A person must always be happy.”2 He also advised, “Stay far away from depression. Let your heart rejoice in G‑d.”3 He understood that joy was a device to repair ourselves and our world.

It is for this reason that I have maintained a gratitude log for the past 18 years. It helps me feel happy.

Because I logged the simplest of moments each day during even the greatest trial of my life, I can now, years later, look back at my entries and see that even in the darkest of days, there are glimmers of light. It not only helps us feel happy in the moment, but long afterward.

The journal acts like pre-packaged happiness—there for you to open up when you need it most.

Most of us intuitively know that gratitude makes us feel more fulfilled and helps us to lead richer lives. Yet, so few of us actually practice any form of gratitude on a regular basis.

My husband recently shared with me that, at work, he received a very expensive bottle of wine from someone at a different corporation. As soon as he opened the package, he immediately sent an email thanking the person who sent it.

It took him less than 30 seconds to write the message. A few weeks later, he received a message back: I want you to know, I’ve sent hundreds of bottles to various people in different companies. Unbelievably, you are the only person who has thanked me.

This is a sad indication of where we are as a society, and as a result, we are missing out on one of the easiest ways to experience happiness in our lives! Gratitude is an obvious answer to personal dissatisfaction, and every time we are reminded of it, we think, Yes, yes, I should do that. But moving from thought to action is where most of us fall off course.

“Thank you” notes are a simple way to drastically increase happiness levels.

Dr. Martin Seligman says that writing a gratitude letter and delivering it in person could lower levels of depression for as much as a month.

On Mother’s Day, our family tested this theory out. We went back to the NICU to show appreciation. We ordered pastries and delicacies, and we each wrote personalized notes and presented them to the staff.

As we drove up to the hospital, I was flooded with memories not only of my NICU baby, but of all of my babies and the various challenges and joys that came with them. Suddenly, I began to doubt if I was really ready to face the NICU staff.

Because of COVID, we were not allowed upstairs, but one nurse came down to greet us. We introduced her to Emmy, who gave her a handwritten card, thanking her for saving her life.

I told the nurse, “When days get hard and you are exhausted, please know that you aren’t just saving babies. You are saving families. I am a happy mother because of your help. Because you helped save our Emmy, I had the strength to have more children. We are a more complete family because of you.”

We all had tears in our eyes during that very powerful moment.

The impetus to go back to the NICU actually stemmed from a beautiful passage in the Torah.

Miriam and Yocheved were midwives in Egypt under the names Shifra and Puah. Pharaoh commanded them to kill all the baby boys, but they defied his orders and risked their lives, saving many children.

The Torah describes G‑d’s reward for them and then states: “The nation increased and became strong.”4

The placement of this sentence seems strange. Why would this be written among the rewards of these midwives? Surely this description could come before or after enumerating their reward.

Perhaps this is teaching us that the greatest reward you can give to others is to tell them how they impacted you and allow them to see the fruits of their labor. G‑d writes that we increased and became a strong nation because that was the reward. When Miriam and Yocheved looked around at all the people and saw what came out of their efforts, that meant everything to them.

When thinking about how to thank the staff of the hospital, any expensive gift would fall short. They saved my child’s life. Nothing can truly compensate for that. Instead, showing them how strong and beautiful my daughter is today gives them emotional encouragement to continue their job.

Each of my children recognized how beautiful our visit was, one even exclaiming it was their favorite memory. I am still living off the high of the gratitude experience, and the nurse’s words, “You can’t imagine what this means to us. Just the other day, a baby in the NICU passed. It’s so hard for us when that happens. This moment gives us strength.”

Even if your children were never in the NICU, we can all take a moment to express gratitude to anyone who helped us become the person we are today. Try it out; the results may surprise you.

Below is my letter. Feel free to use it as a springboard to write your own letter to anyone that has affected your life.

To the dedicated Staff of the NICU,

It has been eight years since our baby was in your care. She was rushed to the NICU for jaundice levels that were extremely dangerous. For one week, she was placed under the lights, hoping to bring the bilirubin down. You worked around the clock feeding her, monitoring her and making sure she was alive. You worked tirelessly to keep her safe and healthy. It is now eight years later, and I want to thank you with all my heart.

You have helped our family in more ways than you will ever know. Our daughter, Emmy, is now a young girl. She has the sweetest disposition. She loves to help her mommy in the kitchen, she loves to give charity, she loves basketball and reading, and mint-chocolate chip ice-cream. She is a beautiful child with a sunny disposition. Together, we are a happy family because of your help.

Please remember that when you are hustling, working hard, and stretching yourself to help others, your efforts are far-reaching. When you think you have nothing left to give, know you are saving lives and families. You will never be forgotten. You are heroes.


The Pachter Family