Growing Gratitude

Fall at Arboretum copy_edited-1Practicing gratitude is like yoga for the heart; it stretches, lengthens, and expands our capacity to be appreciative, thankful, and ultimately happier.   I think of gratitude as a state of being that arises when we find ourselves appreciating more things then not.  What nudges a smile from you?  Brings you joy? Makes your day feel like it was a good one?

There is significant benefit to consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Being grateful builds up a sort of psychological immune system, and helps us mitigate stress and negative emotions.  Living with an awareness of gratitude in our daily lives has also been shown lower blood pressure, improve the quality of sleep and promote an overall sense of well being.  In the midst of our busy, often over scheduled days how can we increase this sense of gratefulness?

Here are some steps you can take to bring a sense of gratitude into your daily experience:

  1. When you first wake up in the morning, list 3 things you are grateful for in your life. (This really sets the stage for a good day!)
  2. Start a gratitude journal and write down things you are grateful for every day. Review this often!  It can help us move out of negative thinking.
  3. Work at really noticing the good stuff in your life. Next time you go to the grocery store for instance, look at the huge variety of fresh produce you can select.
  4. Focus on what you DO have instead of what you don’t have. Remove your conditions under which you will be happy.  For example “I will be happy when X/Y/Z happens”.
  5. Practice living truly in the present moment. We tend to spend untold hours replaying events of our past or imaging our future and often this is negative.  (i.e.” I should have/would have/could have done things differently” or, we dwell on the “What if’s?” of the future.)
  6. Think bigger than yourself! Get involved with a cause or a community and do some good works. It helps us get perspective and appreciate our own life more when you come face to face with others less fortunate.
  7. Express your appreciation for friends and family in your life. Nothing jolts us out of negative thinking faster than love.

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”  Eckhart Tolle

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”  John F. Kennedy

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more.  If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”  Oprah Winfrey

The quotes above and 37 more are from “40 Inspiring and Motivational Quotes”  posted on

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving and Holiday Season!


Merging Work and Play

I love the sense of playfulness the artist captured in the movement and sheer delight of the two children in this picture.   I took this shot while waiting for my plane in the Greenville-Spartenburg airport in SC.  It is a reminder to have fun, to find time to play in our lives, and to experience light hearted moments.   I am heading there again this week and remembered this photo.  I got to thinking that the average person spends an inordinate amount of time at work and not enough time in play.

The traditional American work ethic is to indulge in leisure pursuits or “play” only when our work is done.  There is a common belief that work requires self discipline, long hours, and sacrifices.  As a career coach I often ask people what the word “work” means to them.  I get answers like; “boring, drudgery, wage slave, too many hours, frustrating, exhausting, routine, hard, meaningless, etc.”   I remember asking my daughter as a new college grad what came to mind when she hears people talking about getting a job and going to work.  She thought for a moment and then said:  “I see a sweaty bald guy in overalls dragging a ball and chain in a warehouse with a concrete floor and small windows and it’s raining outside and the water is dripping on the floor.”  I wonder how many other people have such dour imagery around the concept of work!  (FYI my daughter is an entrepreneur at heart and is enjoying being a freelance writer and social media consultant in Denver as I write this)

We are taught that we must strive for success and be our best, and work hard to get ahead.  Well meaning parents  teachers, and  other authority figures tell us to “keep your nose to the grindstone” and “pay your dues” and “climb the ladder to success.”  This doesn’t sound like much fun to me.  Does this advice motivate you to go out there and get a job?  Surely there is a way to make a living and be happy at the same time, a way to merge work and play.

What if we shift our perspective and start bringing a sense of  playfulness into our jobs?  Wouldn’t our workday be more pleasurable?  Absolutely!  Let’s look at the concept of play.  As in this photo, the children appear to be alive in the moment, are having fun and seem to be exhilarated.  (Considering they are sculptures that’s kudos to the artist.) How can we bring this joy, this sense of fun and being present into our daily work lives?  A good place to start is by looking at your situation with “new eyes”.  Here are some questions to consider:

  • Does your work environment support you or deplete you?  
  • Are you doing work you enjoy and find satisfying?  
  • Do you feel valued and appreciated at work by peers and management?
  • If freedom and flexibility are important values for you does your current work provide these?

Think of play as an activity in which you are fully present, enjoying the moment, feeling free, valued and appreciated by the other players.  Whether you work for somebody else or are self employed there are ways to bring more playfulness into your life.  For starters, if your work environment doesn’t support you, change it.  This is easier to do if you are the boss but even as am employee there are often options to personalize your work situation.  Would you be more comfortable (and potentially more productive) with an ergonomic chair or an office with a window?  How about suggesting flex time or job sharing to balance your work and leisure time? 

What are you passionate about?  Can you create a livelihood doing things you are passionate about?  (See The $100 Startup for guidance on this.) Is there a way to bring passion into your work?  If you work with a team, do you mutually appreciate and value the other “players”?  What might you do to contribute to the well being of co-workers?   What needs to happen in order for you to have more fun at work, to feel energized and yes, playful?  Sometimes it is as simple as shifting your perspective and changing your attitude.

“Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.”  Mark Twain






Foster an Attitude of Gratitude

The day after Thanksgiving is commonly referred to as “Black Friday”.  I propose we think of it as “Light Friday” instead and bask in the glow of Thanksgiving.  It is a perfect time to reflect on all we are grateful for in our lives.   We have a family tradition of holding hands around the table and going to each person who then shares their appreciations and blessings.  Often this includes sending out loving intention to absent relatives. 

We are fortunate in our family to have two living grandmothers and one of the appreciations shared this year was just that.  Both my mother and mother –in- law are hale and still quite hearty in their mid 80’s.  As they both live in the Carolinas and no longer enjoy flying, we don’t see them often.  My daughter Nicole suggested we organize a “grandmother’s getaway” so that she could spend some time with them.  Last month the four of us had five glorious days together and enjoyed the beauty of Myrtle Beach, SC. 

I took this picture from our hotel balcony on our last morning.  There is something purely magical about witnessing the sun rising seemingly from the ocean.  I love the dawn, the light of a new day.  Each morning is a new start, a fresh slate.  You can set the tone of your day simply by appreciating it.  Every time I see this photo I will remember the great time we four had together.  My daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with the octogenarians, playing bridge and hearing about yesteryear when the world was simpler.  They find smart phones, GPS, and digital cameras to be “mind boggling” (to quote my mother-in-law).

Nicole and I listened to her grandmothers share their stories and their practical wisdom.  She and I both realized how fortunate we were to be there with them, to still have them in our lives.  As we move through this holiday season, I hope we can hold that sense of gratitude not just for our family and friends but for the larger community of mankind. 

I encourage you to foster an attitude of gratitude and spread it around.  Here are some tips to develop it:

Keep a gratitude journal.  Every day or two write down things you appreciate.  As a regular exercise, I ask my coaching clients to list 3 things they are grateful for each week.  It helps to remember that there are good things happening in our lives despite whatever challenges (like job searching), we may be going through.

Take a walk in natural surroundings.  Take time to breathe in the fragrances of flowers, the earthiness of fallen leaves or the tang of winter air.   It is very soul satisfying to just be very present to the magnificence of the natural world around us.

Write a note or letter of appreciation.  Tell people who have helped you or touched your life how much you appreciate them. Give them a recommendation, write a testimonial, or send them a card.  If you receive some of these, save them and review them when you are having a “black” day or an “off” week.  

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation”.  -Brian Tracy

Wishing you all a warm and wonderful holiday season!   -Dee 

Work: Labor or Love?

Labor or Love?

Work, is it a labor of love?

Today is Labor Day in America.  It became a national holiday in 1894 when President Grover Cleveland reconciled with the labor movement following the deaths of workers during the Pullman Strike.  Fearing further conflict, the bill was rushed through Congress a mere 6 days after the strike.  Much has changed in the workplace since then.  Now we largely look at Labor Day as the last weekend of summer and the kickoff of the football season, a day off for fun and relaxation. 

If we view this occasion as it was originally conceived, it is a day to appreciate those in the workforce and celebrate employment. I ask you; do you feel celebratory at work?  Are you fully engaged and joyfully expressing your talents and skills?  Do you really like your job? Are you appreciated and rewarded for your contributions?  Do you feel energized by the work you do?  Sadly, I don’t think the majority of workers would answer yes to these questions. 

When my daughter graduated college, she had a hard time being motivated to get that first job.  I asked her what came to mind when I said the word:  work.  She thought a minute and then said; “I get a picture of a sweaty bald guy in a warehouse pulling a huge chain.”  My internal response was “yikes, she views work as drudgery!”  Sadly, I think many people view work from this perspective. (Happily, my daughter now loves her work as a blogger, freelance writer and social media consultant in Denver).

For many people, a job is tied to the idea of being in servitude to get a paycheck.  I’ve had coaching clients tell me they are miserable in their jobs but are locked into the “golden handcuffs”.  They feel they cannot leave their jobs for fear of losing health insurance and other benefits.  I ask them, “If you really can’t leave your work, can you find a way to be more satisfied with it?”

What would happen if you shifted your perception and viewed work as a creative expression of yourself?  How might you bring your natural talents and skills into your work life?  Can you see how your work could then become a “labor of love”?  I believe that each and every one of us can find or create work that is inherently fulfilling.  If you are currently in a job, consider how you can experience it with more joy.  Ask yourself:   

  • What is one thing I can do this week to find more pleasure and satisfaction at work?
  • How can I make the best contribution to my workplace, my co-workers, or my employer?
  • What can I change in my daily routine to make my job more interesting?   

If you are looking at career options, consider these questions:   

  • What am I passionate about?  How might I express my passion through my work?
  • Is my work an expression of me?  Is the work I do in alignment with my value system? 
  • What kind of work would energize me?
  • Who could utilize my natural talents, skills, education, etc.?  Where is there a need I can fill?   

If you can’t find a way to “love the work you’re with” it’s time to look elsewhere. You might consider creative self employment, starting a small business or a combination in income producing endeavors.  Remember you don’t have to do a particular kind or work, you have choice!

“Follow the path of your potential and live the work you love”  –Dee


Finding Peace

Holiday TreeMost of us are familiar with the phrase “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” How many of us consciously practice it in our everyday lives and what does it mean exactly?  From my perspective, peace and goodwill begin with me.  It is that internal sense of absolute quiet and calm glimpsed in those moments or gaps between the zillions of thoughts that zip through our minds on a daily basis.  Our brains are like huge computers running a multitude of programs simultaneously with frequent pop-up boxes that distract us from clear thinking.  If we can focus on the gaps between the bits of streaming information, we can realize moments of lucidity and calm.  When we are centered and connected to that inner quiet, we exude a sense of peace and, not incidentally, goodwill.

Typically in the U.S. we get wrapped up in a flurry of seasonal preparations and holiday activities; purchasing presents, decorating our homes and workspace, and engaging in social and religious activities. The holidays can be very stressful, particularly if you get caught up in trying to get everything accomplished in time. We put stress on ourselves to get all these holiday tasks and obligations completed and still manage our already busy daily lives.

Here’s a suggestion for alleviating the stress: when you notice yourself getting caught up just take a big breath in, let it out slowly and completely.  Repeat until you’ve restored a little inner quiet.  It is amazing how this simple act performed consciously can be so self-calming.  When you are at peace, it impacts everyone and everything around you.  Perhaps the greatest gift we can give to others is to be at PEACE ourselves.

When you are out and about this holiday season, look at the people around you, share eye contact, smile, acknowledge them, start a conversation.  You have an opportunity to shift the atmosphere around you. We can share an implicit appreciation of one another, or GOODWILL.   In eastern traditions this moment might be described as Namaste, which may be translated as “the goodness in me recognizes the goodness in you.”  See how many of those moments you can experience in the coming days and notice how you will be promoting, “peace on earth and goodwill to men.”

Wishing you the peace and joy of the season!


Life Appreciation Through Comics

bowing-budsEvery morning I start the day with an herbal tea or an occasional cup of coffee, and the comics in the paper.  Monday morning I came across the following from “Pooch Cafe“, in which two dogs were watching a third chase a butterfly in the park:

“Why is that dog so happy?”

“He’s not happy, he is appreciating.  He’s at the end of the world’s largest retractable leash, and the handle slipped out of his master’s hand and is hurtling toward him.  He’s now appreciating all the little things in life he took for granted.  It’s actually a valuable lesson.  In a way, we’re all at the end of  retractable leashes that have slipped out of our masters’ hand.”

This is a striking metaphor, and particularly pertinent to me as over the weekend, my only aunt, “Sis,” was pulled back home by the “master’s leash.”  Sis was my father’s sister, hence the nickname.  Anne, as she was known to everyone else, was an artist who lived in Greenwich Village in NYC during the heyday of the early 60’s.  In addition to being a masterful painter of modern art, she was a fabulous photographer.  Her work can be found in the pages of old Book of Knowledge encyclopedias; she is listed as the Art Editor on the cover pages of most volumes.

In the last five years of her life, Sis found great peace and serenity while living in a spiritual community with like-minded others.  She thrived there in the natural landscape of rural North Carolina, where all of the community members worked together to tend the grounds, prepare organic meals with the locally grown produce, and share in the stillness of daily meditations.  Although her health and peace of mind improved dramatically in her time there, she could not reverse congestive heart failure, and she passed away lovingly surrounded by members of her community.

I celebrate her life and will cherish the memories I hold of times we shared.  Her passing and the subtly profound comic strip remind me that we are only here until the leash retracts, and none of us knows how long it is.  Just like the dog in the strip and my aunt in her later years, we should remember to appreciate our lives.

A meditation on appreciation:

Stop whatever you are doing in this moment, close you eyes and take a breath.  Appreciate that breath, the way it feels  and the life it brings into your body.  Appreciate the health that you have.  Open your eyes and look at your surroundings.  Be grateful for what you can see and appreciate where you are.  Think of your family and friends and appreciate them for who they are and what they bring into your life.   Now come back to your breath, and appreciate who you are, and the expression of life that you bring into the world.

–in appreciation of my daughter Nicole Relyea (@nicolerelyea) for her ongoing support of my work and her wonderful editing of my writings.  – Dee