Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

Cultivating gratitude

Every moment is a chance to experience gratitude, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

I’m still learning this lesson, and I have to keep reminding myself. But in every moment — with every breath — there’s something to be grateful for. If you really can’t think of anything else to appreciate, be thankful for another breath. And another, and another.

I’ve always been a goal-setter. I used to make New Year’s resolutions, but like most people I made myself promises I could barely keep for the first day of the year, alone for 365 of them. Then I started setting yearly goals, and soon wised up and allowed myself the latitude to revisit those goals every quarter, every month — every day, even. It’s not that I don’t stick to my goals. In fact, many of them carry over year after year because they’re worthy goals. But you have to give yourself permission to refine, relax or replace those goals with something that works better.

Lately, the yearly practice I gravitate to the most is keeping a gratitude jar. All it takes is an empty jar, some notepaper and a pen, and the willingness to pause and write down something you’re grateful for. After seeing the idea on a friend’s Facebook page, I filled my first jar in 2015. I’ve been doing it ever since, and just dropped the first note of gratitude into the jar for 2018.

There’s something enormously satisfying about watching a jar fill up with your thankfulness over a year. The beauty of a gratitude jar is that you don’t have to write much. It’s just a scrap of paper. I don’t force myself to write every day, but I scribble something when the urge strikes me. Maybe I feel a surge of gratitude or appreciation. Or maybe something meaningful happens and I take a moment to note it, along with the date, and to feel thankful. There are also days when I feel like there’s nothing to be grateful for, and I make myself find something — anything — to appreciate. It doesn’t ever take me long to come up with something.

The sight of the jar filling up reminds me to feel grateful, and motivates me to find more reasons to make that jar overflow (remember: I’m goal-oriented). Then at the end of each year, I go through all the slips of paper one by one, reliving the year’s moments of gratitude — jumbled and out of order, but almost more meaningful that way because those moments add up to a whole that isn’t bound by time and space. Sure, the notes evolve as my life does, but with hindsight it’s the sum total that really resonates with me. The many little reasons for gratitude really add up.

In talking with others who practice gratitude regularly — or who want to — one central concept is consistent: Taking a moment to experience gratitude cultivates more gratitude. The more grateful you feel, the more reasons you’ll find to be grateful.

I know it’s unlikely that I’ll be consistent enough to drop a note in my gratitude jar every day this year. After all, I have decades worth of journals with only the first few pages filled in before they were abandoned. But maybe this year I’ll try adding one note to the jar each day. Because the days when feeling grateful seems impossible are the days when gratitude is needed the most.

Taking a compliment and passing it on

Some people don’t like compliments. Not me. You’ll never hear me cry, “Don’t say something nice about me!” By the same token, when someone is particularly effusive, my gut instinct is to be equally gushing in my gratitude. That can get kind of icky for everyone, despite my good intentions.

Case in point: My great friend (and even greater writer/editor) Jim McFarlin wrote an unexpected and lovely tribute to me on his Just Kidneying blog. I’ll share it here, partly out of appreciation but also to urge you to follow and read this amazing chronicle of his journey with kidney disease. He always has a sense of humor and possesses one of the most infectious laughs on the planet. Kidney disease won’t get this man down and everything he writes is worth a read.

But beyond my gobsmacked reply to his post, I realized I could do more. I could return the favor of surprising someone with praise they might not expect. So I’m going to compliment my dearest friend, who everyone knows as Pitzi. Except in Italy, where she lives, because it just confuses them.

Taking a compliment and passing it on

I’ve known Pitzi since junior year of high school, where we quickly became partners in crime. I encouraged her to expand her musical horizons beyond James Taylor and soon we were singing “Young Parisians” by Adam & The Ants together at the bus stop.

Whatever I may have taught her, however, is nothing in comparison to what she’s taught me. First, she is the smartest person I’ve ever met. And I’m pretty darned smart and know a lot of really smart people. But she’s brilliant. She moved to Italy more than 20 years ago to be with and marry her true love. But I think Italy appeals to her because living anywhere else just wouldn’t be enough of a challenge for her genius. It’s a really complicated country to live in.

That’s only the beginning. She’s raising three children (two still young enough to be at home) who are bilingual thanks to her. She works crazy hours as a freelance translator. Pitzi also runs the household because, well, no offense to anyone but that’s just the way things are in much of Italy. Her husband is a really good guy who adores her, but she still has to do the cooking and the laundry and myriad other tasks. I was very proud the day she announced she’d hired a cleaning lady.

Even though she has an extended family in Italy and the United States, along with other friends to look after, she always has time to take my phone calls. Even when there’s a screaming child in the background, she’s there for me. (Okay, sometimes she asks me to call back in a few minutes after the “I want!” crisis has passed, but still….)

When my parents were both gravely ill and died within a year of each other, she was among the friends who got me through. After the ordeal was over, she invited me to Italy where she would not let me lift a finger, buy a grocery or do anything but relax, play, eat and drink with her. “You’ve been taking care of everyone else,” Pitzi said. “Now it’s time to let someone take care of you.”

She’s the one person who knows absolutely everything about me. I attribute her uncanny advice-giving skills to this knowledge. Pitzi can also make me laugh harder than anyone in the world, which is sometimes better than any advice. She has never failed to encourage me or celebrate my triumphs large and small. When she says to me, “You rock!” I know she means it. And I believe it about myself, too, because how could you question someone so smart?

Pitzi knows how much I love her. But I don’t always get to say how much I admire her loyalty, her determination, her patience, her diligence, her strength. I don’t always get to tell her how grateful I am for her humor, her friendship and her enormous heart.

Well, now I’ve gone and gotten all sentimental. Pitzi can take a compliment, but I’ve reached the sappiness saturation point so I’ll stop. Except to say that if you have a best friend like Pitzi, I hope you’ll take a moment to tell her or him, “You rock.”