Category Archives: gratitude


The Gratitude Issue

“To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.” -Albert Schweitzer

I thought I would write about gratitude.  Mostly because that’s what’s on my mind right now.  We’re at that annual cusp from old year to new.  That time when so many people make resolutions, often unrealistic and undefined.  And by doing so set themselves up to feel bad about themselves later.  There are a number of studies that show how beneficial a gratitude practice can be, mentally, emotionally, and physically, to support our overall health and wellness.  

The gratitude jar

I believe anytime is a perfect time to think about gratitude.  But I especially love this ritual that I’ve built up over time around creating an abundance of gratitude in my life.

For the past few years I’ve had a jar sitting next to my desk in my office.  When I have a moment of gratitude (and it can be for anything, not specifically for work, personal, others in my life) I write it down on a little scrap of paper and throw it in the jar.  I confess that I try to find colorful scraps of paper because it’s more fun that way.  I don’t go back through the jar throughout the year, I just keep filling it up.

Come New Year’s Eve while I’m waiting for the countdown, I open the jar and empty it out.  I unfold all those pieces of paper and savor reading them one by one.  I do this by myself, but you may choose to do it with friends or family members too.  It can be fun if it’s a group jar or if several people bring their jars and go through them together.

I find I do remember many of them, but what always strikes me is the number of things that I forgot about.  Every. Single. Year.  These are moments I was grateful for when they happened, but in the hustle and bustle of everyday life they slipped into the back of my memory and got buried there.   In opening this jar and going through them, I am grateful for those moments again.  

Some people write all of their gratitudes down in a book that they keep from year to year.  I have another friend who glues down all her little scraps into a composition book of gratitude.  I don’t do any of those things, mine go into the compost bin.  But I truly love this ritual look back over the year.  This ability in spite of any challenges or low moments we may have faced to see so many wonderful things.  So many reasons to be grateful.  

Once the jar is empty it almost seems to sparkle as I set it next to my desk to begin again.  And it brings hope and a cheerful spirit as I anticipate the year ahead.  

Cultivating a habit of gratitude

Being grateful doesn’t always come easy.  For some reason we are surrounded by a culture (and a news media) that brings out the worst in us.  Often we get so overwhelmed that we allow the negative things to strongly influence how we percieve what is happening around us.  Amidst the explosions of stress, worry, and overwhelming circumstance, the little sparks of gratitude can sometimes get lost.  Just as we learn to read and write and do any of the other things we’ve learned to do in life, so too we need to learn to cultivate the habit of gratitude.  

Below are some of my favorite resources and  articles on the topic.  I am not going to lie and tell you that I live in that blissed out place that is continual gratitude.  I don’t.  I sometimes struggle to get there, to get anywhere close to being grateful.  And yet I know I have to very much to be grateful for.

Yes we can get overwhelmed, sometimes we get lost.  But I have come to believe that by remembering that concept of gratitude and by trying to pay attention to it I am happier overall.  And so I’ve collected these resources and I have my ritual of the gratitude jar.  I’m excited and looking forward to what this new year will bring.

As we transition to another year I hope that whatever the year ahead holds for you it also brings happiness, health, contentment, and peace.

Gratitude resources

How To Be Grateful To People We Don’t Like – Learning to look at negative situations and focus on the good things we have can help us achieve a transformational shift. Admittedly this is not always easy to do, but sometimes having a resource we can turn to the guide us toward this can be helpful.

Gratefulness.org – A wonderful website offering videos, audios, articles, a virtual labyrinth, and virtual candles you can light. This is one of my favorite resources.

How Gratitude Can Change Your Life – A good article about gratitude with some information about how studies showing how it can improve your life.

Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy – A few suggestions for ways to add a gratitude practice to your life.

Stumbling Toward Gratitude – The end of this article sums it up well, ” There are no miracles. … There are no long-term quick fixes for happiness, so if you become a more grateful person and you add [these] exercises to your repertoire, you’ll be different six months or a year from now.”

9 Ways To Cultivate Gratitude – Nine suggestions for ways to cultivate gratitude (and avoid focusing on criticism or complaints)

A Serving of Gratitude May Save The Day – This New York Times article has some great suggestions and offers gentle ways to get started

And here’s a video on gratitude that I found moving.  Thanks to my Aunt for sharing it just when I needed it.

How Gratitude Affects the Human Body

From Visually.

Going Walden

I spent the weekend in the woods.  Maybe not really “going walden” but certainly headed in that direction.  It was a holiday of sorts, a get-away from my often hectic and over-scheduled life.  It was amazing, restorative, thought-provoking, and, most importantly, fun.  I disconnected from technology leaving behind my laptop, connectivity tools, news feed, and all social media.  While I did bring my cell phone that was for practicality reasons and I chose not to take or make any calls all weekend.  What did I do?

I laughed more in those 48 hours than I believe I have laughed in the last three months.  We’re not talking polite chuckles or giggling either.  We are talking deep belly laughs, huge guffaws with a group of women all similarly roaring with laughter.  We were the noisiest campsite there and we were not constrained.

I reconnected.  Many of the women on this trip are friends who I adore.  They are fascinating, interesting, vibrant, intelligent, amazing people.  But we are all so busy with the demands of our modern lives that we promise ourselves in passing we will get together for that lunch or tea or whatever.  And yet somehow we don’t manage to find the time.  This weekend we had nothing but time.

I ate very well.  Hats off to Colleen, our organizer and her sous chef, Natalie.  With four gluten-intolerant campers and one vegetarian out of nine women they pulled off a tasty, delicious, satisfying menu for everyone.  They did it without going overboard either.  It was simple, delicious, and unfussy.  While we all know food tastes much better around a campfire, I am a firm believer that it also tastes much better when it comes from whole foods.  Our menu was dinner: taco bar, breakfast: scrambled eggs and fruit, lunch: veggies and dips with fruit and gluten free cookies, dinner: cuban beans and cornbread with gluten free smores (gotta have those), breakfast: leftovers and fruit.  Yes, there were M&M’s and chips and other foods there as well, but the menu was predominately simple, whole foods.

I reconnected with nature.  I had forgotten how restorative this is for the soul.  Yes, I go out in my garden, yes I take my dogs for walks through the woods, yes I look for opportunities to put my feet in the dirt.  But this was in the middle of a gorgeous state park with no distractions, hardly any traffic, and a quietude that just does not exist in my backyard.  There was wildlife all around us (we were fortunate to have Helen with us who is a birder and quite knowledgeable) and we saw deer, turtles, alligators, birds, bunnies, interesting bugs and more.  There was a lot of tree hugging (literally and figuratively) going on; I even had the opportunity for a most delicious, restful nap under a sprawling tree with a light breeze.

I remembered my appreciation for the basics.  Sleeping on a mat on the floor reminded me that I am fortunate enough to have a bed at home (and a quite comfy, large, well decorated one at that).  Having a public restroom available I was appreciative for the running water in the toilets, the sinks and the showers.  I was appreciative for all of the tax dollars and use-contributions that pay to maintain the state park system.  I also appreciated the quiet, the lack of distractions and the ability to slow down, even if just for that moment.

This is part of holistic living.  We need to find that balance; to find those moments in our lives that speak to us.  To be more than a particular aspect of our being — wife, mother, daughter, committee-member, professional, caregiver, insert-your-hat-here.  To let go of some of that, even if just for a short while, and plainly be ourselves.

And how was your weekend?

Garden Update

I woke up this morning to a deliciously cool morning, breezy, sunny, birds singing, perfect garden weather.    So I took myself out into the garden for a little early morning weeding and puttering around in the dirt.  

This has been a horrible year for vegetable gardening for me.  I confess I’m a wimp.  If it’s raining or over 90 degrees I don’t like to be out there.  We didn’t get rain but we certainly had more than our fair share of extraordinarily hot days.  And we had a drought.  The end result of which is that we got peas, beans, tomatoes and hot peppers.  But the zucchini didn’t grow (I had always thought it was impossible to NOT grow zucchini — shows what an expert I am), the broccoli and sweet peppers were stunted and bitter, and many of my herbs grew so poorly that I was unable to harvest anything.  I’m afraid to try to dig the potatoes, I don’t think anything is there.

This morning however I was thrilled to see some things survived and are actually doing well.  Here in East Texas our Fall weather is mild enough that many folks refer to it as a second spring.  We are fortunate enough to have an extended mild season that allows us to grow another set of crops.  Given the hope that follows the soaking rain we had a week ago I’m recharged and ready to get back into the garden.

the cabbage is starting to recover
a baseball sized lemon – the only one on the tree

our eggplants are starting to fruit
the harrdier herbs survived: oregano, sage, chives, pepper basil, a curry plant and yarrow
our fig tree is producing a bumper second crop

Being outside made me realize how much I have been shut inside during the heat of our summer.  Yes, I went for walks and bike rides, but to just spend extended amounts of time outdoors enjoying the yard and my surroundings — didn’t happen.  I’m grateful for the cooler weather, the opportunity to be back outside and the resiliency of mother nature.

Restoration

I’ve just gotten back from a vacation to Laramie, Wyoming.  I was looking forward to the trip as I’ve never been to Wyoming and we were going to visit one of my husband’s friends.  In truth I got far more than I bargained for.  It was a wonderful trip, the effects of which are still resonating in my spirit.

The scenery was absolutely amazing.  Broad swaths of prairie land over what once was the bottom of a prehistoric ocean, bordered on all sides by majestic looking mountains.  The scenery had a wild sort of beauty, desolate and yet attractive at the same time.

The altitude took a little getting used to; we live at 64 feet above sea-level and here we were walking around at a base of 7,200 climbing up at times over 12,000.  It literally took our breath away.

While we were adjusting to the altitude and spaciousness of Wyoming we quickly came to realize that we had virtually no cell service and the internet was very spotty.  After one abortive attempt to check email I gave up.

In retrospect that was one of the biggest gifts of the trip.  Completely disconnecting from personal technology allowed me to focus more on the beauty surrounding me.  Hiking through varied terrain, enjoying the glorious color of the aspen groves, and spotting unusual-to-me animals was a treat beyond words.

The night-time was just as much of a treat as the day.  With virtually no light pollution I had the best view of the night-time skies since we went camping years ago in the California desert.  I could see the Milky Way in all of it’s glory, brilliant diamond-light stars that are invisible from my home in Texas, and the vastness of a sharp, clear, dark sky.

The nights were deliciously cold and we slept with the porch door open to allow the breezes in.  One evening I woke up in the middle of the night to the chorus of coyotes calling across the valley. It was a shivery-delightful moment.

On our next to last day on vacation as we were hiking I realized I felt more relaxed than I had for a long time.  I also realized that for the first time in a long time I was simply doing one thing, enjoying the moment.  I’ve come to realize that I need to work a little harder to hold on to that moment and to seek similar opportunities within my day-to-day life.  Often we become so overwhelmed by the requirements of our modern lives that we forget to slow down, disconnect from technology, and reconnect with our surroundings.  To stop multi-tasking and recharge by finding that quiet spark within each of us that simply is.

I plan to make it a regular part of my day to spend some time sitting quietly and letting go.  Getting rid of the stress and tension that builds up all to quickly when we push ourselves to be uber-productive.  Remembering that feeling of calm that came with disconnecting has gotten me to recommit to at least one day a week when I can repeat the experience.  I think I’ll feel better for it and I’m guessing I’ll be happier too.

Refilling Your Well


Most of us have very busy lives. We frequently find ourselves over-scheduled, constantly feeling like we are behind the eight-ball. The to-do list gets longer and longer and we wind up feeling more and more stressed. In the course of our busy lives many people do not take time for themselves.

My friend Vicki has a business teaching folks about self-care. I believe it is a sign of the times that there is a need for a business like that because so many of us have lost the skill of taking time for ourselves, for downtime. We need to learn to acknowledge and take joy in those small moments, such as 15 quiet minutes to drink a cup of tea. With Vicki’s help I’ve been working on finding and being more mindful of those small recharging moments. She calls it “refilling your well.”

Recently I was able to treat myself to the luxury of an entire day spent with my good friend, Doris. Talk about refilling my well, this was an amazing treat, I felt almost giddy at the end of the day because we had so much fun. Doris and I tend to have very full schedules; between family obligations, household responsibilities, volunteer commitments, and work it’s not that easy to find time to get together. To have an entire day together was an amazing treat.

We are both avid foodies. Living in the Houston area there is certainly no lack of places to go and things to do that involve food. We started off with a visit to the Chantal Outlet’s once-a-year warehouse sale. I was able to get some really adorable ramekins; I’m working on a new custard recipe that I promise to share as soon as it’s ready. I also managed to pick up a few holiday presents while we were there.

Our next stop was Penzey’s Spices which is an indulgence. It’s fascinating to see and smell all the different spices from around the world, talk to the friendly folks who work there to learn about different uses for everything. I love using good quality herbs and spices in food. These are booster foods that add scent, flavor, and micronutrients. They help make a meal so much more satisfying. It’s always hard to resist the lure of their wares, I did, however, manage to restrain myself to only what I really needed to replenish.

After Penzey’s we went to Canino’s Farmers Market, a great semi-outdoor market with an enormous amount of produce and fruit as well as nuts, including fresh Texas pecans. Walking up and down the aisles trading recipe ideas back and forth we were thrilled by the variety of fresh food available. Finally we finished with a stop at Pizza Fusion a new and amazing pizza place. I definitely plan to go back and sample other wares on their menu.

When you look at it we basically did our food shopping together and then stopped for lunch. While we might have spent a little more time on these errands than if we raced around by ourselves, checking off a list of chores, this no longer felt like a chore. I believe that food shopping, or any activity really, becomes more enjoyable when you are able to do it with someone else, you have time to talk and you share ideas. We both went home at the end of the day feeling like we had accomplished something, reconnected and recharged.

Look for opportunities to recharge your life. They don’t need to be big ones, just mindful ones.

Be well.

photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

’tis The Season

Here in Texas ’tis the season…for wildflowers.  Driving around town, seeing the beautiful flowers that were sown last fall, bluebonnets (the Texas state flower), Indian paintbrush, squaw weed, anemone’s, wine cup and more, their pretty delicate flowers and bright colors along the roadside bring a smile to my face.  They are a symbol that winter is pretty much over, that the heat and humidity of summer is almost upon us.  

I’m enjoying this season, trying to stay in the now.  To focus on the beauty that is blooming to life around us, the soft gentle breezes that will disappear too quickly, the joy of being able to throw open the windows and enjoy the fresh air.  

I often find that we are rushed from one season to another without the ability to enjoy what is right in front of us.  Usually this is focused on merchandizing for the holidays (did anyone but me notice that St. Patrick’s Day stuff was out before Valentine’s Day was over?) and exhorting us to buy things instead of enjoying the moment.  I have come to find that I have all of the “things” and “decorations” that I need  or want.  Actually we gave away most of them when we downsized to our smaller house and I’m much happier being able to avoid the stores and/or ignore those displays around me. 

When I work with a client and we are looking at issues that cause stress we frequently find that it is from this feeling that we are being hurried along.  You can’t enjoy one season or one holiday because the next one is hard on it’s heels and quick, quick you have to get ready.  By taking the time to fully enjoy what is around us we create less stress for ourselves, a calmer environment for our families and a healthier life.  

There is a great book called The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle and he has just come out with a companion book Practicing the Power of Now: Essential Teachings, Meditations, and Exercises from The Power of Now.  When we are caught up in the hurry and flurry of media/marketing driven life sometimes we need some guidance and more than a little practice to get back to what truly has meaning for us.  I am still working on this for myself; I think it’s a lifelong practice.

Take a moment, where you are to go outside and enjoy the beauty of your surroundings.  If there are no flowers where you are today, just gaze out your window and enjoy the season.

Be well.

picture courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Quadell

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?
– Robert Burns

Auld lang syne, times gone by.  As the New Year fast approaches many of us think back on the year that has been and, of course, eagerly await the year to be.


For some reason the celebration of New Year’s is tied to an expectation of promises for the year ahead.  I will….lose weight, start to exercise, get more organized, anything that we think needs to be fixed.  The problem, as I see it, is that many people try to do this in an absolute fashion.  It’s all or nothing for the diet, the gym, the insert-your-choice-here.  My trainer at the gym laughingly tells me that although the gym is starting to get very crowded these days I should be patient because in another 30 days it will empty out again.  People will start the New Year with good intentions and lots of motivation.  But it is hard work and, if they’ve done no mental preparation other than making a vague promise to themselves, overwhelming.  It doesn’t last long.

When I work with clients I encourage them to not work in absolutes.  If you slowly and mindfully make changes, just one or two at a time, they are more likely to stick.  As an example, I have one client who is trying to break a fast food habit.  Instead of never ever ever going to a fast-food restaurant again, we started by having her give up the soda (that was her choice).   Then we began to cut down on the number of times she went out for fast food.  Next it was to downsize the meal (get a Jr. burger and a small fries).  Eventually it will not even be a temptation.  In the past because she would say, “That’s it, I’m never eating fast food again” she would not have much success and usually within 30 days found herself standing in line to order and feeling really bad about it.  Feeling bad about it may be modestly motivating in the short term, but I believe it just helps build up that “I don’t care” callus and gets in the way of making positive changes.

I don’t make grand sweeping resolutions anymore.  I personally see no need to tie all my motivations and changes to one day.  Instead I try to live mindfully; to make thoughtful, achievable choices.  Don’t make a huge, possibly overwhelming, promise to yourself later tonight.  Consider a modest goal that, when you reach it, will make you feel good about yourself and encourage you to keep going.  

Some suggestions might be
*adding a gratitude practice to your day – writing down five things a day that you are grateful for
*choosing to leave five minutes early for appointments to reduce stress
*planning to turn off or not answer the phone the first 15 minutes after you arrive home from work to give yourself some decompression time
*deciding that at least one day a week you will set a beautiful table for yourself and your family to eat dinner at
*choosing to eat one more piece of fruit or vegetable a day than you normally do
*drinking one (or one more) glass of water every day if you, like most people, don’t drink enough

Think about what you want to achieve, why you want to accomplish that goal and a small step as part of the process to get you there.  With this kind of mental preparation and reasonable expectations you will achieve your goals.

Have a happy, healthy New Year and be well.

photo courtesy of freefoto.com

Thankfulness

Some hae meat and canna eat, and some wad eat that want it; but we hae meat, and we can eat, sae let the Lord be thankit.  ~ Robert Burns


Thanksgiving is an occasion for us to sit down together with loved ones, eat a good meal and be thankful.  Even when some of those things are not present in our lives the practice of gratitude is one that I believe helps us to lead a happier and healthier life.  This year I’m thankful for many things: being surrounded by my husband and children, friends, the abundance on our table and so much more.  

Today is a day for feasting; our menu includes turkey, chix nuggets (for the vegetarians), green bean and celery salad, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry chutney, braised carrots, wild rice and apple stuffing, olives, peaches, pumpkin pie, cherry pie and chocolates.  This doesn’t even begin to address the snacks for pre-dinner munching.  On this day, more than most, there is the temptation to indulge in overeating.  In order to avoid that groaning stomach and dyspeptic feeling the day after I plan to eat mindfully; enjoying the abundance of the table but not over indulging.  Saving room for pie, because, after all, who doesn’t love pie, and remembering that leftovers practically taste better than the meal itself.   In it’s own way mindful eating is a form of gratitude, one that causes us to reflect on the bounty before us, to savor the aroma and taste of good food lovingly prepared.

As we cook, slice, dice and saute for our feast later today I am struck once again by how fortunate we are; grateful to be baking pies with Steve, basting the turkey with Sasha, all cooking together.  While I try to practice gratitude every day, on this day it is more evident because of the nature of the holiday.  I plan to use today as an opportunity to renew my practice of gratitude for all the blessings in my life, both large and small.   And I send a wish that wherever you, whoever you are with, whatever your circumstances there are blessings in your life;  here’s to a happy and healthy Thanksgiving Day and every day.

picture courtesy of freefoto.com