Showing posts with label thanks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thanks. Show all posts

Friday, January 13, 2017

Gratitude: A Year Full Of It

So at the start of 2016, I began a new project.  Each day, I would acknowledge some things that I am grateful for.  Typically, it was three statements:

  • I am thankful for...
  • I appreciate...
  • I am grateful for...

Word cloud of the full year of gratitude notes in the shape of a heart.
The entire year's worth of gratitude in one image.

One year later and I can say that I did this almost every day of the year and those days that I missed, I certainly made up for those days that I missed.  In total, I recorded 1326 statements of gratitude, which averages out to about 3.5 statements a day.  I really liked these quiet moments in the morning where I took the time to just be thankful for what I have in my life.  It helped center me (as I've said repeatedly) and will continue the practice well into 2017.  

A secondary practice that came from doing this daily is my weekly thank you note.  Each week, I take the time to write out a card to someone who has played an important role in my life and then, I send that card to that person.  I've really enjoyed this and found it rewarding to be able to compose my thoughts and say something meaningful to the people in my life that have been so kind and helpful.  And so often, I hear from the people that the card arrived on the perfect day---a day they were in a sad state of some kind or another and the card brightened their day.  I appreciate hearing such sentiments though I'm just happy the person knows they are appreciated.   

How did I do it and keep consistent?  I've come to live by my Google calendar and email Inbox.  What I've done is more likely to work if you attempt to limit the amount of unread email to only that which you need to do.  I quickly turnover email that doesn't need my attention or if it's something that I can easily delete or archive.  Each day, I have a series of reminders from my Google calendar show up in my inbox for different "Daily Do's".  I can delete the reminder once I have addressed the item.  Thus, each day, I get a daily reminder about completing my gratitude exercise.  Coupled with this, I created a very simple Google Form (one question:  "What are you grateful for?").  I put the link to this Google Form in a prominent place in my bookmark bar.  Therefore, I can quickly get to the form and proceed to fill it out.  I'd be curious to others to hear how they construct their gratitude practice and what they have found useful. 

So here's all of the word clouds from each month along with a link to that month's reflection.  I'm fascinated by the things that show up time and again as significant and repeated items and those that don't.  Consciously or not, the grateful statements definitely reflect the different things that are going on in my life at any given time and thus some things are more stressed than others at certain times.  

January's Gratitude

Word cloud of the January's gratitude notes in the shape of a circle.


February's Gratitude

Word cloud of the February's gratitude notes in the shape of a cloud.


March's Gratitude

Word cloud of the March's gratitude notes in the shape of a heart.


April's Gratitude

Word cloud of the April's gratitude notes in the shape of a circle.


May's Gratitude

Word cloud of the May's gratitude notes in the shape of the word, "LOVE"


June's Gratitude

Word cloud of the June's gratitude notes in the shape of a cloud.


July's Gratitude

Word cloud of the July's gratitude notes in the shape of a heart.


August's Gratitude

Word cloud of the August's gratitude notes in the shape of a word balloon.


September's Gratitude

Word cloud of the September's gratitude notes in the shape of a leaf.


October's Gratitude

Word cloud of the October's gratitude notes in the shape of a heart.


November's Gratitude

Word cloud of the November's gratitude notes in the shape of a word balloon.


December

Word cloud of the December's gratitude notes in the shape of a heart..

Well, that's the (first) year in being grateful.  I have all this and so much more to be thankful for and appreciate that I have the opportunity to share it with all of you out there.  Thank you for reading and journeying along with me for this adventure.

So, what are you grateful for?



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Friday, December 16, 2016

November's Gratitude

It's the second to last month of gratitude.  So I've been doing this for 11 months now and it's become a clear part of my life that I am indeed...grateful for.  When I look back at the year, I'm am happy to see how taking the time to be thankful in my day-to-day life has contributed to pursuing other projects and actions that pushed me to share that gratitude beyond myself.  In this manner, being grateful appears to be the gift that keeps me giving.


Word cloud of this month's gratitude notes.

This month was a good month to focus on daily gratitude.  Never mind that it is filled with Thanksgiving--the problematic US holiday for giving thanks (made more problematic than usual this year with events at Standing Rock occurring) but this month of the 2016 election and the bigotry and hate crimes that followed, keeping a focus on those things to be grateful for was essential for me.  It would be extremely easy to slip into a deep sadness at the President Elect stocks his cabinet with white supremacists, climate-change deniers, and people who wish to take public institutions and hand them over to private interests.  The future feels bleak on many levels but the daily practice of taking time for the many things that I can appreciate each day has helped to center me and move forward to fighting against the harm to come.  

I also started writing thank you notes to authors and I have found that to be a great experience.  I've realized how much I appreciate the people's whose work I enjoy so much but I never realized that just sending out a thank you letter to acknowledge their efforts helped me to better realize the efforts and impact o my life.  So many authors that I write thank you notes to include specific ways in which I can say their words have impacted me and this helps me think or at least connect the dots more clearly about their work and my life...and we all know I like to reflect and connect dots! 

Finally, there is this great article that I came across about practicing gratitude.  It caught my attention because it did give me pause to wonder about how the thank you notes that I write are impacting people.  I assume that they are received positively and I hope the act may inspire others to call upon people they are grateful to be thankful for, but ultimately, for me, it is just about saying thank you to people in my life for being the people who they are.  

Well, that's all for now.  One more month before I've completed my first year of the gratitude project.  I wonder how I might tweak this for next year.

Check out the past entries on gratitude:


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Friday, November 11, 2016

October's Gratitude

So this month got a bit busier than I would have liked.  I managed to stay on top of my daily gratitudes and am only slightly behind in my thank-you notes, but I have not started the process of thanking authors as I wanted to do.  So I've got my work cut out for me for November but that makes sense as well since November does include Thanksgiving, right?


Word cloud of October's gratitude entries.
In looking at the total count of gratitude notes that I've logged, I'm somewhere in 1000s which is nice to see and I'm curious what the word cloud will look like at the end of the year.  What will stick out as my biggest themes?  I've got a few guesses (certainly, my cats, my partner, my body, and access to essentials always rank high).  

In this month's cloud, I notice that learning, partner, body, opportunities, friends, and life stick out rather strongly.  Given the opportunities I had to spend with friends and professional colleagues this month, that doesn't seem so surprising.  I also realize that since I work out in the morning and it's usually after a workout that I do my gratitude journal, that body stands out as much as it does.  It is a luxury to get to have the time and resources to be able to work out my body in ways that I choose and that my body is healthy enough to push in the ways that I do.  I also found October percolate with several different professional opportunities that I am also grateful to be able to part-take in.

So this marks ten months of expressing daily gratitude and if I were to sum up the impact on me in terms of how it has affected me, I would say that it just pushes me to notice and speak up more toward being grateful to the world around me.  It can be easy to engage in a negative downward spiral of how horrible things are.  There are certainly horrible things happening all the time.  Yet as a result of many things beyond my control (my class, race, gender, geographical original) and a very few (in contrast) things that are in my control, I am not subject to horrible things and am increasingly aware of that through my own active learning and observations as well as this gratitude journey.  Thus, as I see more reasons to be thankful to people, places, and events, I speak to them even more.  

Catch up on previous months' gratitude reflections:

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Friday, October 14, 2016

September's Gratitude

The daily practice of starting my day with what I am grateful for is powerful.  It gives me a chance to think about the big and the small things that are true joys and the things that I sometimes never realized I should be thankful for or acknowledge.  And it has lead me into thinking about ways of being grateful that I had never thought of before.  
Word cloud of this month's gratitude.

It seems that each month as I progress with this project, I find another way of expressing or thinking about being grateful.  This month, after reading Kate Harding's Asking For It, I was so moved by the book that I felt compelled to find her online and thank her for her willingness and ability to write such a book.  That of course triggered another thought of how rarely I do this and yet how many authors have enriched my life with their words.  With that in mind, I think I will likely make an effort to reach out and thank authors as I complete their works and to let them know that their words have impacted my life.  

I remember the first two authors that I did this with, decades ago:  Sara Douglass and Terry Goodkind.  I don't know what inspired me to write to Terry Goodkind, nor do I remember how I ended up writing to him (not sure I had his address), but with Douglass, I contacted her online to gush about how much I loved her novel, BattleAxe.  Their correspondence has long since been lost but that connection and their expression of warmth upon receiving such excited words from a teenager was a pretty meaningful experience to a blossoming avid reader.  I think about the thousands of books read between then and now and realize how much I have missed an opportunity to do something that is long overdue: thank people in my life whom I may have never met but have left an indelible mark on my life.  So, for the rest of the year as I finished books by authors who are still alive, I intend to send them thank you notes.  

What else have I been contemplating about gratitude this year, take a look at my previous posts:  

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Friday, September 23, 2016

August's Gratitude

Another month of gratitude and I indeed have so much to be grateful for as I settle into the new job and rely on the help of strangers (who are becoming friends) and I'm embarking on other interesting projects.  So I've been doing this daily gratitude for eight months now and I'm happily surprised that it hasn't become monotonous.  Instead, each morning I think about the great many things I do have to be grateful for--the myriad things that went right and thus continue to propel forward in life.  It's pretty awesome (in the original meaning--not the TMNT version of the word) to consider.


August Gratitude Word Cloud
This month started to add a new bit to my gratitude practice.  Last week, I mentioned how much I really enjoyed SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal.  Her book gave me a new idea on how to up my gratitude game this past month.  She mentioned as one of her means of improving social health was asking the following two-part questions:
  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being horrible, 10 being amazing), how are you doing?
  2. What can I do to help you move up a point?
I totally fell in love with this idea and have since added it to my daily repertoire of gratitude.  Though it doesn't seem directly related to my daily gratitude, I see it as a perfect compliment to it.  In my life, I have so many things to be grateful for (and those are just the things I can draw my attention to at a single moment). This question gives me the means of doing something with that gratitude in a sense--to pay it forward and perhaps generate gratefulness in others.  

Question one is more than the standard, "How are you doing?" which most of us blow off with a "I'm good."  It requires a bit more reflection of one's own scale and determine where they fall.  So right off by asking, I'm generating a moment of reflection (which isn't always good per se, but can often be helpful). 

But it's the second question that surprises people but also opens up new opportunities to connect and help one another.   Many times, I get that I've raised them a point just by asking, which is great to know but I've really grown to like the people who speak to something I can (actually) do to help them out.  In helping them out, I find my own rating on the ten scale goes up a notch as a result too.  

It's a fun exercise and whether you're practicing gratitude or not, I definitely recommend you give it a try!

Wanna know what else I've been reflecting upon with regards to gratitude?  Check out the past entries in this series:

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Friday, August 19, 2016

July's Gratitude - NSCC Edition

July Thankful Blog Post Word CloudAnother month and so much to be grateful for.  I thought for this post though, I would focus on one thing in particular.  For those that don't know, I left North Shore Community College at the end of July for a new position at Regis College.  It was a hard decision but the right decision.  So I want to spend this reflection thinking about how grateful I am to the many people at NSCC that have made so much difference in my life.

North Shore Community College changed my life in so many ways.  After I attained my bachelor's degree, I ended up getting an associate's degree at NSCC in Criminal Justice.  I did this because I was a year out of college and still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  I knew I wanted to go back to grad school but I didn't know for what.  So in the meantime, I wanted to continue to be intellectually engaged and because the place that I worked at after college paid a certain amount to go to college, so long as you were in a degree program, NSCC was the best place for me to go.

I made friends in the program and learned much from my instructors, all of whom were accessible, friendly, and understanding.  Two of them remains a life-long friend, mentor, and amazing influence on my life.  They have guided, supported, and engaged with me from day one and still continue to do so until this day, even in my decision to leave NSCC.  Those were the first two friends I made there, but certainly not the last.

When I returned after my Masters Degree, I was welcomed by those two people and many others who treated me with respect, kindness and encouragement.  They guided me to improve my teaching skills, while also taking advantages of the many trainings and opportunities that the institution had to offer.  

As a part-time faculty member, there are so many great friends, mentors, and colleagues I encountered that shaped and prepared me to become an instructional designer.  These relationships continued as I became the instructional designer and full-time staff at the institution and new ones flourished.  It's funny, I often heard from faculty and staff about how much they learned from me and all I could say is that street worked in both directions.  I can't really imagine what my life would be without NSCC.  It's had such an amazing and powerful impact on me as a student, an instructor, an instructional designer,  a leader, and most importantly, as a human.  What made working at NSCC so wonderful has been the people I got to work with on a daily basis, the coworkers and our director on our team, colleagues in other departments, the invested faculty, and of course, the students.  

It's so very curious how our lives take turns one never expects and how the connections that one makes can often find ways of having long term repercussions (in this case, beneficial).  I think about those early relationships that I had and how they put me in a place, ten years later (almost to the semester) where my professional trajectory is so very very different from what I could have imagined.  I am so grateful for those who helped shaped my future were the faculty, staff, and administration of NSCC ten years ago and of course, many of them today.  
  
Though it is the right time for me to leave, I leave with a saddened heart of not being able to see so many people that I have been grateful to see on a daily basis and from whom I have learned so much, felt so welcomed, and regularly inspired me to do my job better.  

I could create a list of the many many people that I am thankful for at NSCC.  Of course, I feel like I would be listing two-thirds of the staff and faculty with the remaining third being those whom I never got to work with directly.  Thank you.


Interested in my other reflections on gratitude for the year, check them out:


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Friday, July 15, 2016

June's Gratitude

June is a crazy month.  Work is busy and it was that way before I had to take nearly 3 weeks off to do courses for my PhD.  So it can get quite stressful and yet, I maintained my gratitude practice throughout the month, which helped center me at times as the stress ebbed and flowed.  


June's Thankful Blog Word Cloud
Taking time each day to acknowledge the big and small elements of my life has proved quite useful as a calming device and to lessen stress.  It helps me to situate the good and marvelous while de-emphasize that which is looming.  It can also turn that which is stressful into something positive.  For instance, I am clearly stressed with reading and course work during June but by pausing and reflecting on it, I am also thankful to be in a doctoral program where I have the opportunity (really, the luxury) to engage in intellectual acrobatics about the nature of higher education.  As my mind comes to that realization, it makes the stress of trying to get everything done for the class a bit less daunting.  

So I have been practicing daily gratitude for six months and weekly thank-you notes for about four months.  I don't know that I've seen much change (though I'm not necessarily looking for change, but just seeing if I register any difference) but I do find it brings me joy and helps me to keep life in perspective.  I'd like to think I can keep things in reasonable perspective, but I think we all believe that about ourselves (just like we're all above average), so helping to center myself in regards to the great things that are present in my life certainly helps.  

For those interesting in seeing what else I've been reflecting on when it comes to gratitude, here's a look:


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Friday, June 17, 2016

May's Gratitude

We round the corner on five months of acknowledging gratitude and taking the time to give thanks to people.   It continues to be a rewarding experience that grounds me daily in the big and the small things of my life.  This past month, I have taken to my gratitude letters that I have also been doing for several months to a new level.  I'm actually writing them out and mailing them.  Ok, I'm typing them up first and then writing them out (The goal in that is to minimize the number of scribbles and mistakes--which is about 2-3 per card, even when I type it out first).  I do like the process of writing out the gratitude notes, even if I fear that the recipients will not be less able to actually read my words.  I'll risk it.  It also makes me wonder if I should at some point trying handwriting out my daily gratitude (make an actual gratitude journal).  
Word cloud in the shape of the word "LOVE" of things I'm grateful for.

I liked how the word-cloud played out this month with each letter of the word "love" having a significantly large word that resonates well with the project ("grateful" in L, "life" and "friends" in O, "appreciate" in V, and "thankful" in E).  I was curious to see how the word cloud would display as the word "Love" and it seemed to capture the essence of my thoughts perfectly.  

I don't know that I have much more to say in this post.  My brain is not so much running on empty as it is preoccupied with other deeper questions going on right now relating to other life issues (nothing bad--just sorting myself out).  

Previous month's reflections:

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Friday, May 13, 2016

April's Gratitude

Another month of daily acknowledgments for that which I am grateful and while I continue to enjoy the practice, it raises questions about such a practice and how I go about it.  

What about those things I am regularly thankful for? 
I could easily spend each day's gratefuls on some clearly identified items (my cats, books, wife, family, friends, work, health, running, access, etc) that come up almost instantly when I think of what I'm thankful for.  In this way, this practice reminds me of prayer--particularly as seen on TV wherein the child is saying, "And God bless mommy, and daddy, and Jimmy, and my dog, and my teacher, and Bobby from down the street...."  Do I avoid the frequency of these or just come up with more items on top of them? I generally set myself to a minimum of three grateful acknowledgments per day, in part because I want this to be a contained practice--not something I slide into doing for hours on end (because there are indeed millions of things to be grateful for).

Do I try to acknowledge as many things as I can identify as being thankful for or just those things that are salient at the moment?  
I wonder about this because there are many days when several things come to mind but I already acknowledged them in the past few days already.  If I acknowledge only that which is salient, it seems like I'm likely to then keep coming back to those which I mostly quickly recall and that is likely to be those that I most frequently acknowledge.  It seems a bit cyclical and reductive.  Each morning, my wife, my cats, and my health come to mind instantly, but I'm adverse to just listing those each day as I feel like it doesn't do the project justice.  


Wordcloud for grateful April
How much attention should I give to new or different things to be grateful for?
I like the idea of finding different things to be grateful for that I don't often take the time to notice or acknowledge.  I've often said that many of us live lives of great joy wherein in millions of things go right that we never really acknowledge, so there should be ample things to be thankful for.  But what happens if I come up short on some mornings.  Am I grasping at something that is not there because my morning brain isn't fully functioning yet or because I'm having trouble to have a larger view of my life?  

What about grateful nots?  
No, that's not a means of tying things but I wonder about negative grateful things.  That is, I'm grateful for something not to have happened.  If I write, "I am grateful for this computer not electrocuting me" does that count?  I suppose I could flip it (and I often try to do so), turning it into: "I'm grateful this computer is functioning."  

What about when being grateful coincides with privilege?
On some level, being grateful is acknowledging privileges that adorn my life and realizing that many may not be available to others.  Having a supporting, respectful, and caring partner is a privilege at the end of the day and is the result of personal choices and systematic factors.  Having a job that I love also had to do with the privileges afforded me of growing up in a middle-class two-parent home in a predominantly white part of the country.  These things are not entirely of my own making--though it is easy to fall prey to that thinking .However, being privileged-aware while also trying to be grateful is tricky waters to navigate.  With each grateful statement, I recognize there are a variety of systematic privileges that contribute to the object of gratitude.  And therefore, being thankful for things that are the result of systematic privileges feels problematic.  For instance, should I be thankful that I've been pulled over once in the last decade if, HYPOTHETICALLY, there are many examples of me not necessarily obeying speed laws or full stops?  While it's something to be grateful for, it is something that reflects a systematic privilege of being a white middle-class male as opposed to nonwhite middle-class men who are disproportionately pulled over while driving. 

Does being grateful also mean obligation?
By acknowledging my gratitude for something, does it then create an obligation in some way?  If I am thankful for my cats, does it mean to make sure to give them more attention that day?  I believe the answer is yes.  If this is something I take the time to personally recognize, then it seems to follow that I need to more publicly acknowledge it.  However, the previous conversation on privilege draws me into considering then what do I do about those things I am grateful for that are tied to systematic privilege.  Ok, the answer seems obvious: do something.  

Sometimes, it is equally obvious what to do but when it comes to addressing systematic privilege, not so much.  I try to keep it in focus and think about the ways in which it informs how I move through the world, keeping it in check as best I can.  But I also recognize how the system itself pushes me to ignore it, to forget it, to say that no, I am solely a product of my own abilities.  So maybe in that regard, acknowledging privilege continues to remind me that it exists and that I need to check it regularly.  However, I hope that ideas and ways of addressing it beyond my own internal struggle will eventually emerge too.  

These are not necessarily questions that I expect readers to answer for me per se.  Rather, these are the questions that arise from this practice.  I believe they are good questions to ponder and help me think more critically about what I am doing and may even raise some interesting food for thought for my readers to consider.  

Previous notes:

What about you?  What kind of questions or thoughts go through your head as you consider being thankful in your life?  


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Friday, April 15, 2016

March's Gratitude

Each morning when I get up, the first thing I do when I fire up the computer (ok, maybe like the 2nd or 3rd thing once on the computer) is to do my daily gratitude.  It reminds me of Jon Stewart's Daily Moment of Zen--but one that is much more centering and meaningful.  

Each day, it's three acknowledgments.  Some days, I'm moved to do more but at least a minimum of three:
Word cloud of gratitude for March 2016

"I am thankful for..."
"I appreciate..."
"I am grateful for..."

Sometimes, I return to things that I truly cherish: loved ones, basic necessities (shelter, food), and health.  Other times, I reflect on what has occurred in the last 24 hours that seem to resonate with me.  Of course, I also try to capture the small pieces of life to be thankful for and the pieces that are so easy to take for granted.  

In doing this daily ritual, it allows me to think about the myriads of ways that I am privileged.  I know that as much of that privilege stems from being a hard worker and ever-diligent in my pursuit to improve myself but it is also substantially informed by my position in society as a white, perceived-heterosexual male from middle class.  Though I continue to struggle with such privileges, I do believe it is important to acknowledge and give thanks to the luxuries that life has afforded me--knowing well enough that it is a matter of birth and circumstance, and not necessarily skill, that has put me in the position to have so much in my life. 

I also find it necessary to speak to and acknowledge these privileges and luxuries when I am faced with some level (big or small) absence of them in my life.  What I mean is that often when I am sick with a cold, I will be thankful for my health or merely acknowledge that despite being sick, I can receive the care I need.  If I didn't achieve something I wanted to, I am thankful for the opportunity to get to try or the skills and opportunities that allowed me to believe it was a possible pursuit.  Practicing this helps me to see more clearly that there is much to be thankful and grateful for and that it can very easy to take miss opportunities as slights in light of the fact that there are many things that go right.  

The morning gratitude centers me to not feel overwhelmed with the world and the challenges that any day presents.  It tempers the idea that life for me is wildly out of control or somehow stacked against me.  Stepping aside from such potential notions (and our society loves to make it seem like threats lie around every corner for my demographic), I can more warmly and meaningfully think about a world and contribute to constructing a world wherein my luxuries are more possible for everyone--not just people like me.  It is a small and simple action to help me understand my place in the larger world and what way I have and what others don't have.  

If you cannot tell by what I've written thus far, this is just a meditative reflection on what it has meant to sit down each day and acknowledge at least 3 things that I am grateful for.  I believe it is helping me to be more humble and aware of things that I may have overlooked or not as well understood. 

Previous month's gratitude reflections:


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Friday, March 4, 2016

February's Gratitude

I started this year with a goal to actively practice gratitude (My goal with gratitude) and to reflect on it as best I can.  I started my gratitude journal, wherein I acknowledge daily what I am grateful for.  Right now, it's a series of statements (usually three) wherein I acknowledge my gratitude for people, opportunities, and privileges, etc that I have within my life.  


Word cloud of gratitude - february 2016
Word cloud of gratitude - February 2016

I've added to this by also reflecting on the whole of the month by seeing what filters through that journal into a word-cloud, giving light particular themes and ideas.  Here is what I wrote for January's Gratitude.  

Last month, I asked if people had their own ways of being grateful and how they did it.  I got a few recommendations from people.  Thank you to those that took the time to respond--I always appreciate when people engage with me here.  Though they were great, none of them clung to me, but I did end up adapting one into something that fit with me.  Around the third week of February, I had figured out what it is that I wanted to do.  Each week, I write a thank-you note to someone in my life or that has had a positive impact on my life.  I give thanks to people in a meaningful way and to people who might not have realized how they impact others lives.     

The purpose is just to thank them for the meaning they bring to my life and ask nothing in return.  In fact, I start all notes with the following:

"The following is part of a project that I'm embarking on. It is a process of giving thanks and being grateful for the many different people throughout my life. It does not require any response or reciprocation. I'm writing it to you, because you deserve being acknowledged for the meaning you bring to my life."
.
I'm finding it an interesting process.  There's the act of selecting the person each week, which takes time and reflection.  Then, there's the actual writing of the note and trying to say meaningful things without sounding overly repetitive.  

So far, I've sent out two notes.  Right now, because of time and aesthetic restraints (my handwriting is atrocious!), I'm using digital communication, but at some point, I would like to consider writing and sending these as cards.  In the meantime, I'll focus on the content rather than the form.


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Friday, February 12, 2016

January's Gratitude

Word cloud of Gratitude Journal January
Word cloud of my gratitude reflections.
I set out this year to be more grateful.  So how's that going?  Simply put, I feel I'm off to a good start.  I begin my day with a gratitude acknowledgement.  I usually do at least three; more if I so feel moved.  I type out what I am grateful for using terms like, "I am grateful for..."  "I am thankful for..." or "I appreciate that.."  

I find this a wonderfully reflective and rewarding practice.  My January was a bit rough--I had a cold that wouldn't go away and I couldn't run for several weeks.  My running is my go-to for working out stuff, so having it inaccessible was a challenge during a month where lots is going on.  Awaking every morning chockful of phlegm and coughing also proved challenging.  Yet every morning, I was able to find many things to be thankful and grateful for.  This helped me find a center and a place to sit with and acknowledge the many things that I don't always see or pay attention to in my life.  

As I have moved into February, I am thinking about how I can up my game in terms of recognizing and reflecting on my gratitude.  Obviously, one method is to do it more publicly and work to more openly thank people in a variety of methods:  Shoutouts on social media, person to person acknowledgments, written notes or thank you cards, but I'd be curious to hear of other ways of illustrating, reflecting, and engaging in grateful practices.  Please feel free to share your methods, practices and ideas!  


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks and Being Fabulous

I wouldn't say that I'm in the habit of giving thanks on this blog, but I do often try to acknowledge thanks where appropriate.  Last year, around Thanksgiving, I wrote a post on giving thanks and since then, I've written two other public thank you notes.  One was a letter to the editor and the  other was a dedication on this blog of people who have been so helpful in getting me to finish my first marathon.

Those who know me, know that I am generally a positive person with a very sunny disposition.  I am rarely in a bad mood and if I do find myself in a darker mood without an extremely good reason, I can pretty quickly transcend it.  But what does the sunny disposition have to do with being thankful?  The sunny disposition comes from being thankful on a very deep level.

Whenever people ask the obligatory question, "How are you?"  I often answer with a "Fantastic!" or "Fabulous!"  That isn't just the automatic response that we all have to the question that nearly everyone asks but no one actually thinks about or even considers before answering and asking in return.  (How many times have you witnessed this circulate conversation?  Person 1:  "Hi, how are you?"  Person 2: "I'm fine.  How are you?"  Person 1:  "I'm good.  How are you?").  When I say "fabulous," I genuinely feel it and I feel it because I am thankful.

Thankful For Everything

Image:  Thank you.  Image Source: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/2/2086641_23234fb0f8_o.jpg
So what am I so thankful about that I can so easily and so often answer the question with such exuberance?  The basic answer is EVERYTHING.  But clearly, that needs some unpacking.  If we look at the world, it is an extremely random and chaotic place.  Never mind, that over 7 billion individual human agents are interacting among one another with exponential random results.  There are myriads more germs and other micro-organisms also travelling from human to human, animal to human, etc.  That is coupled with living on giant (and no so giant) land masses that float on plates that regularly knock into one another.  And I won't even mention weather and climate (except that I just did).  Then we throw into the mix all the ways in which modern society has created further hazards for humankind such as war, environmental degradation, and unexpected negative byproducts of "human progress" (e.g. the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and Great Pacific garbage patch).  None of this even touches upon the fact that we're essentially on a giant spaceship with a limited shield hurtling itself through space in a giant circle around a massive heating station always subject to whatever objects are hurtling through space in our direction.  All of this is to say, existence is extremely unstable.

Now, that seems to paint an awfully dark picture.  One would think amidst all this chaos, there is little to be so thankful for, but I would argue that this is a misapplication of the frame.  People view the myopic picture above and say, how can there be anything to be fabulous about?  I would flip that question and say, despite the reality of the things mentioned above, we are still a world full of people wherein the vast majority do the right thing more often than not. That is to say that things go right far more often than they go wrong.

The challenge is in recognizing all of the things that go right.

Here's a good example.  You are reading this post right now and if you've made it this far in the post, that probably means you're somewhat interested and are being provided with something that's engaging.  But can you name the millions of things that had to go right in order for this asynchronous exchange to happen?  Let's look at just 3 elements within this communication: me, you, and the blog.

In order for me to write this singular blog post, here is just a sample of the things that needed to go right:
  1. To be taught to read and write at a high school level or higher.
  2. To have access to enough food to keep me alive these past 34 years.
  3. To have access to enough shelter to not only keep me alive but to protect my body and mind.
  4. To have developed the self-awareness to be thankful in the ways that I am in order to write this post.
  5. To have access to electricity.
  6. To have access to a "computer" (in quotations because with mobile devices, the definition of this is changing).
  7. To have access to the Internet.
  8. To have access to a publishing web tool (Blogger).
  9. To have access to social media or other avenues for readers to find this blog.
In order for you to read this singular post, here is a just a sample of things that needed to go right for you:
  1. To be taught to read at a level of high school level or higher.
  2. To have access to enough food to keep you alive long enough to read this post.
  3. To have access to enough shelter to not only keep you alive but to keep your mind functioning well enough to read this.
  4. To have access to electricity.
  5. To have access to a "computer" (in quotations because with mobile devices, the definition of this is changing).
  6. To have access to the Internet.
  7. To have access to a publishing web tool (Blogger).
  8. To have access to social media or other avenues for readers to find this blog.
In order for both of us to be here on this blog (at different moments), here is just a sample of things that needed to go right:
  1. Written communication had to be created.
  2. Telecommunications had to be created.
  3. The internet had to be created.
  4. The Internet infrastructure had to be vastly developed which includes many many mainframes and connections.
  5. Computers had increase in productivity while decreasing significantly in cost.
  6. More interactive tools (Web 2.0) had to make interacting on the Internet more feasible (to the point of almost free).
  7. Blogger had to be created.
  8. Blogger had to be bought by Google.
  9. Google had to keep Blogger alive.
  10. Blogger had to maintain and hold onto all of the blog posts of all of its customers.  
That may not seem that much, but again, each item listed could be further broken down to highlight all of the things that had to go right.  For instance, consider all the things that could have interfered with either of us becoming literate?  That was rooted in millions of direct actions (our family, friends, and surrounding people affecting us from the womb to the present) and indirect actions (cultural decisions such as public education, what to do with children, etc).  When you try to tally it all up, you will come up with an almost infinite list of things that went right in order for just you and me to interact on this blog.

And that's the piece that many of us don't see.  We are more aware of bad things happening because of their rarity in our lives.  The fact is, that if you are waking up in a bed, are fairly certain where your next meals are coming from, and capable of reading this blog, you are far ahead of the game.  Your life in totality is good.  That's not to say that bad things won't happen and that real serious bad things shouldn't be acknowledged.  But to only acknowledge the bad and never take time to recognize all of the things that went right, is to wrongly stack the deck.

Something as simply as arriving to work carries with it a range of things to be thankful for.  First is that you arrived safely.  Consider all the things that could have gone wrong from slipping on ice on the walkway to your car malfunctioning to being hit by other drives to being mugged or suffering an illness on the way to work.  But no--you arrived safely and soundly.  There is the fact that you are employed and have a means of income.  That someone values you enough to pay you to do something.  (I recognize this is a harder nut to swallow but given competition for jobs and resources--there are after all amply people qualified to do any job that you are doing--regardless of whether you dislike your job or believe you are underpaid, you are being trusted and paid for services you are providing; not everyone is so lucky).

I do my best to stack the deck rightly so and acknowledge as much of the good in my life as possible but also recognizing that I'm probably only seeing a fraction of it all.  In that, I mean I recognize that for everyone 1 thing I can tangible recognize as going well for me, there are probably at least 5 things that went well that I didn't know about directly.  In truth, it is impossible for us to be fully aware of all the things that go right in a given moment, hour, day, etc.  There are just too many different things to account for.  Look at driving:  Each car is composed of hundreds of moving and interacting parts that allow you to drive.  Multiply this by the amount of cars on the road.  Throw in the road infrastructure (roads, signage, lights, guard rails, etc) and random pedestrians, cyclists, animals, etc.  It's nearly impossible to comprehend all the things going right and that's just driving.  What about when we sit in our homes or work-spaces?  But all of it goes well 99.999% of the time.  Yes, that's a statistic that I just made up but I wonder if it's not far off the mark when we consider all the factors surrounding us that could do us harm.

Which brings me back to why I feel fabulous so often.  There's much to be feel fabulous about.  So many things in our lives, goes extremely right and for me to be anything less than fabulous undervalues all those things that goes right and I don't want to do that.  Because in valuing all those things that go right--in being thankful to those myriad positives, it makes the negatives much less potent.

However, in the last few months, I been trying to take that thankfulness to a new level.  First, my partner and I introduced a new idea into our relationship.  Before bedtime each night, we share about what we're grateful about.   It's big and small things.  Sometimes, there are clearly important things to be grateful for.  Yet other things regularly make the nightly list (my kitties and partner being regularly acknowledgments). People who say their prayers at night are not new to this idea but one does not need to be religious to be thankful for the many good and great things that we have to be thankful.

But again, I find myself wanting to take this idea of thankfulness one step further.  In August, I had the pleasure of hearing Carrie Stack, from the Say Yes Institute speak at an event at North Shore Community College.  One thing she emphasized that has stuck with me is to reach out and to say thanks to people for the things they do and be willing to go the extra step to make that thanks public.  That is, make you publicly acknowledge when someone has done you a good service and especially, if it relates to someone else's work--be sure to not only let that person know but their employers.  As Stack emphasized in her presentation, giving such public thanks goes far for you, for the person you are thanking and equally important, for others who may be present.  We have plenty of examples of people griping and complaining, but maybe what we need is more examples of people saying thank you to people.

So what are you thankful for?

ADDENDUM

About 2 hours after finishing the post, this TED Talk showed up on my newsfeed and I feel in many ways, it sums up my experience.






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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.