I am slightly embarrassed to admit I spent several years of my life seriously engaged in the art of performance magic. Despite all the rumors you may have heard about the irresistible sexual magnetism of magicians, I will tell you that if being a a frumpy-ass teenage Mormon pipsqueak wasn’t enough to ensure my perpetual virginity, pulling coins from people’s ears sealed the deal. HOT!


That time of life was really hard for me. I was profoundly insecure (see aforementioned frumpy-assedness) and depressed at the thought of being an unloveable little goblin forever. It was all “poor me” until I read a book about a child with cystic fibrosis. The story touched my heart and made me appreciate my own body and life for the first time.

That night I prayed and sincerely thanked God for my body, however flawed I thought others thought it was. As I prayed in gratitude, my heart filled with a love that I had never before experienced. I felt the words, “I know you,” pierce my heart like a laser beam.

I was overwhelmed with love, purified by it. After that day, I was different. I knew that God loved me SO GOLLY FRICKEN MUCH and I knew that God loved everyone else just as much as he loved me. So rather than worrying about what they thought of me, I tried to love them the way that God loved them. I stopped worrying about external beauty and became concerned with cultivating inward beauty.

Years later, long after I had hung up my magician’s hat, I learned of another magician who used his hat full of tricks to start the religion called Mormonism. That’s right, Joseph Smith. After my faith in both Mormonism and God eroded, I found myself getting more and more deeply depressed and anxious.

It got to the point where I couldn’t leave the house without a panic attack. I was too upset about being a victim of the church that built my whole identity on a lie, a victim of my parents who birthed me into a miserable existence without my consent, a victim of our modern labor system whose meaningless seemed absolutely torturous given the brevity of our cruel lives.

I didn’t know if I could find a way out of the darkness.

Then I remembered the experience I had as a teenager, and I realized my brain, like a magician, had shown me an illusion. I had been transformed by gratitude and the illusion was that the resulting overflow of love  had come from something outside of myself.

When I discarded my illusions of god, I realized that the true magic had been within me all along.


So I retraced my memories and realized gratitude must be the key that opened the door to my inner well of love. So I began to cultivate gratitude. The more I looked for reasons to appreciate my existence as a defective primate on a godforsaken rock hurling meaninglessly through space, the more I found them.

Eventually, this led me to the most transformative “spiritual” experience of my life. One night, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the experience of leaving the church. The more I contemplated, the more grateful I became. And the more grateful I became, the more love I felt, until at last, I found myself weeping in the bathroom of a friend’s house, a veritable holy of holies.

As I wept, I again felt the voice that pierced my soul as a teenager, but this time, I recognized it as my own voice. I looked in the mirror and saw the god I once looked for in heaven.

As I wept with love, my gratitude increased. I looked back on my life and saw how all my suffering had paved the way for this transcendent experience. The bad was part of the good. Their separateness was as illusory as my separation from the part of myself I used to call god.

I had no more bitterness in my heart for Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, the church, or my parents. Everything had already happened and nothing could be changed. All I could do was appreciate the lot I’ve been given. And I’ve been given a lot.

Gratitude is the magic that fundamentally shifted my view of myself and the universe. It turned my curses into blessings and my insecurities into strengths.

Gratitude doesn’t make all our problems disappear, but it does help us summon the strength to face them.

In the name of Tanner Gilliland, Ramen.

Click this link for ideas on cultivating gratitude!

Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland

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