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 

5 Questions to Ask Yourself in the New Year

fireworksThe new year is brimming with possibilities to explore, good work to be done, and great things to be accomplished!  Without some sort of a plan that includes realistically achievable goals, it is challenging to live up to our good intentions.

Although I’m not a fan of resolution making, I do see the merit in setting goals to help me make changes in my life. Here are some questions I find helpful to get the process going:

1.      What am I grateful for? As you review 2010, consider the good things in your life that you are truly thankful for.  What brought you joy or warmed your heart this last year?  What do you most value that you have in your life right now?  Is it your significant other, a loving pet, a fabulous climate, a nice house, friends, good health?

2.     What did I accomplish this last year? Often people make resolutions about what they failed to accomplish without giving themselves credit for their achievements.  Accomplishments don’t have to come in the form of awards or promotions either. Did you learn a new skill? Clean out a closet that had needed it for years? Get better at being on time?

3.     What did I intend to accomplish but didn’t in 2010? Instead of beating yourself up over missed opportunities, failed resolutions or missed goals, consider their relative importance.  So you didn’t lose the weight, get your dream job, visit the Grand Canyon, get a raise, exercise more, etc.  So what?  How important were those goals?  Are they still important to you?

4.     What do I want to accomplish in 2011? Are there unfinished projects or goals from last year that you want to focus on going forward?  (see #3)  Are there new things you want to bring into your life or accomplish this year?

5.     What can I let go of that isn’t supporting me? We often put up with people, possessions, problems, and situations that aren’t serving us in a positive way.  What have you been tolerating that you can eliminate from your life?

Whether you set intentions, write out goals, or list resolutions, consider the following:

  • Who will benefit if you accomplish x/y/z?
  • Are you making a goal or resolution out of a want or a need?
  • What is the personal payoff to you if you achieve your goals?
  • How will it impact your life if you don’t achieve your goals?
  • Are you making this resolution/goal to please yourself or to please another?

May you do great things in this New Year!

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!

Dee


Life Appreciation Through Comics

Every 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