30 Days of Gratitude (or…At Least A Few Days of Gratitude)

The last two posts were about a day without a negative aspect (complaining and judging) These were very enlightening experiments.  But now it’s time to focus more deeply on the positive side.  Previous posts have included the value of gratitude and appreciation, but lately I’ve become more aware of their incredible power.  And, more importantly, I’ve become more aware that I haven’t been doing them regularly!  Yea sure, I’ve been grateful for lots of stuff and I appreciate tons of things.  But honestly, it’s been kind of a hit or miss activity.  I do it when the mood strikes me or when I’m in pre-crisis mode and need it as an emotional emergency pick-me-up!

Noticing that I (still!) tend to focus a little on the what-is-lacking-in-my-life side, I decided to really get on the gratitude-appreciation bandwagon and see what happens.  There is a definite power in writing things down, like helping with focus and motivation.  And it also comes in handy for accountable reasons.  In other words, the ego can’t trick us by saying we already were thankful today, when we really weren’t (After looking on dated list: ‘Oh yea, that was yesterday…’).  So, I’ve got a piece of paper (a journal just sounds too formal and off-putting for now) and I’m writing down about 5 to 10 things every day that I am grateful for.  That’s it.  My aim is to do this for 30 days, but again, that sounds too formal.  I’m going to try it out for a few days (thus, the alternate title) and see how it goes.

Benefits of Gratitude and Appreciation

During the experiment I did some research about its possible benefits.  Studies have actually been done that show the beneficial effects of gratitude and appreciation.  People who consistently practice gratitude report feeling better physically, are less depressed, sleep better, are more understanding of others’ wrongdoings, have more self-worth, mental focus, and resilience.  Gratitude also helps us to stay in the present.  In other words, we spend less time worrying about future events.  When we are more focused on finding the good, we naturally spend less time in the negativity mindset.

Additionally, there is the law of attraction angle on gratitude and appreciate – what we focus on, we get more of.  To get more good stuff, appreciate what we already have.  Simple enough.

The Experiment

Back to the experiment!  After a couple of days, one of my first thoughts upon waking was that I couldn’t wait to write on my gratitude list.  That’s especially significant because, some mornings, I wake up dreading my day.  Having an initial feeling of excitement and joy is a major turn-around!

Shortly thereafter, I didn’t want to wait till the next day to write on it.  So, I wrote on it twice a day, then three times a day.  But under no pressure, only if I felt the urge.  I only “had” to write on it once a day.

Some neat things started to happen.  Nothing noticeable to an outsider, but small things that mattered a lot to me, like, less time with an irritating co-worker, getting well-priced deals, finding $1 and $10 on the ground, a small pay raise, life-changing insights, meaningful dreams, an overall more joyful feeling.

Another neat thing was that I had a dream about something to be grateful for that I hadn’t thought of in waking life.  This showed my waking self that the feeling and energy of gratitude was now in my subconscious, as well.  So even when I’m not actively thinking about gratitude, I’m thinking about gratitude.  This must be a good indicator!

Then, after several days of writing down heaps of material possessions, as well as, relationships and nature-type things –and even though it was certainly nowhere near all-encompassing– a shift in subject matter began to happen.  I shifted from obvious things for which to be grateful, to the people that had a part in assembling those things I was grateful for!  The factory workers that made my appliances, my car, my clothes, my electronic devices…pretty much every material thing I owned, somebody had a part in creating it.  Without their contribution, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy so many of my belongings.

Then there’s the people that came up with the ideas to invent something new or improved and those that started a business.  And gratitude for their courage to follow through with the ideas.  Then it extended to people that were providing a service, like the cleaning guy at work, trash collectors that come to my house every week, the postal carrier that nicely places oversized packages on my porch (extra appreciation since Amazon Prime!).  And then to authors, which I love and have been so inspired by, that had the strength and took the time to write, organize, and complete their books.  And then and then and then…so many people working for me, helping me.  Most of whom I do not even know.

I was recognizing that the Universe was supporting me, not hurting me or trying to make my life miserable.  This is a major shift in perception.

Amidst the gratitude, the ego chimed in and said, ‘That’s their jobs.  They aren’t doing it out of the kindness of their hearts.  They’re getting paid for it’.  Kaboom – my bubble burst.  But I quickly realized, their motives not need affect my gratitude.  And then got back to the experiment.

I started recognizing good things about myself, my appearance, things I was good at, and my strengths.  Then I noticed things I did not necessarily like about myself but was grateful for anyhow.  For instance, I was grateful for my fear of sending a professional email to a stranger regarding an article submission (that I so badly wanted to work out).  I was grateful for my fear because it provided me with an opportunity to feel worthy and courageous by facing a fear.

With this in mind, I then intentionally thought of situations that weren’t so great and then appreciated them, as well.  (I have done this practice before but, again, in a haphazard fashion.)  For instance, I was grateful for a “bad” event because it was an opportunity for personal growth and to learn from mistakes and flaws.  I was even grateful that someone had wronged me because it helped me get better at honoring myself.  Could being grateful be helpful in increasing self-worth?  I don’t fully understand the why of this, but the answer seems to be, yes!

I then had a glimpse of knowing that current things that weren’t so great would be okay eventually.  So I was able to have gratitude for “bad” times before they got better.  This led to gratitude for things that I currently desired but did not yet have.  I was appreciating them ahead of time.  That’s some trust and faith right there!

And after that, I experienced nirvana!  (Yes, let’s be overly dramatic about this!)  It was just a fleeting moment, but for that jiffy, I truly did not care about my desires.  I honestly was happy, satisfied, and content in the moment right then and there as things currently were.  No guilt about my past, no worry about the future, not wanting anything different than how it was in that exact instant.

And then my heavenly state was gone.  But, I could tell what was happening over the course of this experiment – my gratitude was becoming unconditional.  In that, there is total freedom because I don’t need conditions to be a certain way to be grateful for them or…to be happy.  What I have figured out from this gratitude experiment is that gratitude helps us to focus our thoughts, our attention, our lives on finding the good – unconditionally, no matter what.  As the Dalai Lama says in The Art of Happiness, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”.  The power is within ourselves whether to be grateful and happy, or not.  This experiment surely is proof of that.

Disclaimer!!  I don’t want to give a false impression that I am now impeccably blissful and every time a challenge comes up I am grateful for it from the get-go.  I still have my daily issues and concerns.  But, there has been an undeniable shift.  Something is certainly different than before I did the gratitude experiment.  And that’s why I’m going to extend the experiment.  If a mere 30 days had this effect, then what will continuing on do?  I intend to find out!

Don’t take my word for all of this.  Start your own Gratitude List Experiment today and see what happens for you.  No need to feel overwhelmed or intimidated by needing to list the unconditional things.  Just start out with a few material objects you appreciate having in your life.  Your list will expand naturally on its own.  Happy Gratituding!

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Psychology of Joy

I recently stumbled across some psychology terms that made a lot of sense for Keys to Joy.   These are concepts that I have learned through my own trial, error and personal experimentation. I love that the realizations that I pieced together on my own, from my own life, have been scientifically studied and “proven”.  It is nice to have that objective confirmation.  It also motivates me to keep on chugging!

These concepts are in relation to a field of psychology called positive psychology in which Dr. Martin Seligman is a pioneer.  He studied the concepts of Permanence, Pervasiveness, and Personalization in terms of Learned Optimism (which is also the title of his book).  Pessimists and optimists differ in the way they handle these 3 P’s.

If you are interested, check out his work in depth.  But in a nutshell and in my words, I’ve summarized the 3 P’s as such.  When faced with a challenge or unwanted circumstance, to be optimistic -or joyful- we must tell ourselves the following:

Permanence:  This is not permanent.  In other words, this too shall pass.

Pervasiveness:  This need not affect all areas of our lives.  Just because this one thing is not going as we want it, we are still happy in other areas of our lives.

Personalization:  This is not because we are unworthy or bad.

Awareness of these 3 P’s have saved me many times from falling into a terrible funk.  In retrospect, and possibly more importantly, I now clearly see that the times I did fall into funks were usually a result of believing it was an everlasting situation; letting it infringe upon the other areas of my life that had no relevance to that particular situation; and believing that my unworthiness, being not good enough, somehow was responsible for its occurrence. The 3 P’s definitely led me to the Pits!

An example of Permanence was, well, pretty much every time I got down I never could see the end of the tunnel.  My ego always had me thinking the bad stuff was forever.

An example of Pervasiveness was a time when I had a series of crappy work situations.  I completely lost perspective and I actually remember thinking these exact words:  ‘I can’t enjoy fall this year.’  My work life was so bad (or so I imagined), that I thought I did not have the right to find joy at all.  Even in nature and the weather!

Looking back, I can see how this doesn’t even make sense.  However, when I add the Personalization part, I can understand how this idea came to be.  When I believed the bad work situation was a result of my lack of worth or incompetence, then of course, how could I allow myself to find any joy when I believed I lacked value as a person.

The 3 P’s really work together and feed off of each other.  So, how do we keep the feeding frenzy in check?

First, realize this is the ego at work.  Permanence: The ego is not aware that everything changes and nothing is permanent.  The ego does not know about the soul and how Life goes on.  Pervasiveness: The little ego cannot get perspective to see that one thing does not affect everything. It can only see from its limited view.  Personalization:  The ego thinks everything is about ourselves and how great, or not great, we did.

The next step is pretty simple.  When faced with a negative or challenging situation, remind ourselves the crap isn’t forever.  Even if the situation does not change, the bad feeling will.  We can still enjoy other things in life amidst the unwanted circumstance.  And most importantly, remind ourselves that we are worthy and have value no matter what situation or circumstance confronts us (increasing self-worth posts).

Have the 3 P’s worked against you?  Realizing how can help you to not do it when the next challenge or negative circumstance arises.

Turning Debbie Downer on her Head

I recently have been aware that I say and think many “Debbie Downer” lines. Debbie Downer was a character on Saturday Night Live that always brought up a bad or negative point in a conversation among a group of people.  As I had been noticing my behavior in doing this, I began to look at it in depth.  The first thing I told myself was what I was saying were facts. These negative points are true.  For example, I told someone I had a craving for frozen yogurt.  He said go get some at lunch.  My reply was that it’s too far away.  And that was a fact!  It was too far for the time I had available.

Yes, it is true that Debbie Downer lines are facts. But they are looking at the negative.  My ego had me so tricked by this – had me believing that just because it was a fact, that being negative was inevitable and, sort of, necessary and that being positive was implausible.

It’s true – there are plenty of negative facts.  But there are plenty of positive things to focus on, as well.  It really is a matter of what our point of focus is on.

Debbie Downer lines can be about simple and insignificant subjects or meaningful topics.  They come in response to a comment from somebody or even in response to your own self.  Here’s some examples of what I’m talking about: My husband suggests to send flowers to a family member.  I immediately shoot it down saying that is a dumb idea because flowers just die!  Definitely a fact that flowers die.  Another example is wanting to go to Europe for a vacation.  It’s expensive.  Another fact, indeed.  A third example is that I want to write and publish a book.  Debbie says to that, there are already so many self-help books available.  True, thousands already exist.

The upside is that now that I clearly see this behavior in myself, I can change it.  When I catch myself saying or thinking a Debbie Downer line, I tell myself (my ego), yes that is a fact.  But, what is the positive statement about the topic?  In the fro-yo example, it would be that I can go after work or tomorrow.  So you sort of pivot from the negative fact to put a positive spin on the subject at hand.  This, of course, leaves us feeling good rather than down, which is the ultimate goal. In the sending flowers example, we could say flowers are so beautiful while they are alive; even though it is a short time, it is well worth it. The Europe downer could be if it is something we highly desire we can save up money for it; the experience will merit the money spent.  And about the book publishing, there can never be too many self-help books, all add value, people always want a new book to read.  And so on.  We can always find the positive side to a negative fact.

We first want to go from saying the Downer lines aloud to just having them in our thoughts.  Of course we don’t want them there either.  This is a process.  First we catch ourselves before we say them aloud.  We pivot in our minds and say only the positive.  We want to get to where we no longer put the negative facts out there for others to receive.  Eventually with some practice (and it will be quicker than you think!), we get to where we no longer even think the negative fact.  (But we don’t criticize ourselves when we do have them.  We are always kind to ourselves.) Simply pivoting with the positive spin will become a habit.

Another way to pivot would be to affirm the topic and then remind ourselves that anything is possible.  For instance, let’s use the Debbie Downer line of going to Europe is too expensive. Then we would pivot and say, But it certainly is possible that I could find a cheap airfare, or I could receive unexpected additional income, etc.  Then really feel the feeling of that being plausible.  Ending with the line, Anything is possible with God/Divine/Source (don’t get caught up on the label!), will certainly put Debbie in her place.

This is simply another way to deliberately be joyful.  As the Dalai Lama says in The Art of Happiness, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”.  In other words, we aren’t just automatically happy.  Our happiness is in our own hands.  Therefore, we must intentionally focus our minds and behaviors on joy.

Let’s be open to seeing where or when we might be a Debbie Downer.  Then turn Debbie upside down and put a positive spin on the negative fact.  We realize Debbie is just our ego, not our true selves.  And remember to laugh at the ridiculousness of Debbie!

Learning from Joy and Fun

A lot of the focus of this blog, in a nutshell, is on getting out of the bad (e.g., unworthiness) and into the good (e.g., worthiness).  Very important stuff, indeed.  It also is about learning and growing from negative or challenging situations.  Also important.  But, it recently dawned on me that we can – and should – learn and grow from joyful and fun situations, as well.

Upon reflection, I realize that I learn and grow from challenges out of a sense of desperation and much needed relief.  I reframe the “bad” event or situation to what I learned or what good came of it to get something out of it rather than just feeling bad because of it.  (Check out this previous post.)  So its’ occurrence wasn’t just in vain.  This is absolutely necessary to be joyful and I will continue doing this.  But, this is also the reason why I haven’t been learning and growing from good, happy, fun events and circumstances – there was no need.  I was happy so that was the end of that story.  I had fun, the end.

But I wonder, why not milk the good times for all they are worth?  Not only reminiscing and reliving those good feelings but making a deliberate point to see how they helped me.  If you believe in the law of attraction (and I do), then it would follow that putting more time and focus on the good, fun events and times will create more of them.

So, how do we learn and grow from fun and joy?  I have to admit, when I first had this idea, I had no clue!  I asked for divine guidance and intuitively received some answers.

First the basics – we must sincerely appreciate the joyful, fun event or situation.  Acknowledge it. Feel the goodness and revel in that good feeling.

Next, to the “work”.  We look at how we got to this fun, happy situation.  How were we acting, thinking, and feeling beforehand?  Did we deliberately bring about this fun, happy situation (perhaps from our Joy To-Do List)?  Or did it seem to come about on its own?

After that, then ask, what specifically about the fun, joyful time did we like?  Was it the people involved?  The topic?  Our own behavior?

Because self-worth is such a major subject for me, I then ask, how did self-worth play a role?

Answering these questions will help us to find not only valuable insights and lessons, but also tools we can use to bring about more enjoyable times and events.  The insights, lessons and tools are there.  It’s up to us if we choose to see them.

An example of mine comes from watching an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  First, I acknowledged and appreciated my laughter and the fun I was having.  Then I saw that I got to this fun place by honoring myself.  I had deliberately taken a few minutes from my busy day to do something enjoyable and special for myself.  What I specifically liked about this fun time was not just the comedy, but the fact that they were talking about how people should lighten up and laugh at themselves and their situations, even “bad” situations.  I learned from this that I have ideas and beliefs in common with other people.  I’m not the oddball I sometimes feel that I am.  Self-worth played a role because I felt worthy enough to honor my desire to do something purely for the benefit of feeling good.  If I hadn’t felt worthy, I wouldn’t have taken a break from what I “should” have been doing and then wouldn’t have laughed.  This reminds me that we could go all our lives and not laugh or enjoy ourselves if we do what we “should” and don’t deliberately take time to do what gives us pleasure. That’s quite a lot of valuable insights from an 18 minute laugh session.

What fun thing are you going to learn and grow from today?  🙂

Positive Lists About “Bad” Situations

As discussed in the last post, it can be greatly beneficial to deliberately adjust our bad feeling about someone or something. This time we will focus on the something. First off, let’s point out a not so obvious reason why this can be beneficial.

There is indeed a silver lining to the dark cloud of being stuck in a situation we don’t like. When we know what we don’t want, we know what we do want because we know we want the opposite of what we don’t want! Did you get that? (Ha!) As always, we are mindful of making the best of whatever circumstances we may have gotten ourselves into. But, some things and events we just simply do not want. And that is perfectly okay; we all have preferences – that’s part of being human. So rather than fear, whine about, feel depressed or sulk around when things aren’t going as we may like, we can look at what the opposite of the unwanted situation is and realize and declare to the Universe, I now know very clearly what it is that I do want! This is a huge benefit of a “bad” situation or circumstance. Remember, to get what we want, we have to know what it is. That seems obvious, but a lot of the time we just focus on what we don’t like and don’t want and so that is what keeps getting replayed in our reality.

A personal example of mine was a particularly bad workday. I did not want to be doing that type of work anymore. I felt depressed and didn’t know where to turn next. After I felt bad for a few hours, I wised up and remembered it is okay to feel bad about this (briefly, let’s not get stuck in the bad feeling) because this is helping me to identify what it is that I really do want in a job. So I thought about what in particular I was struggling with at my job – too detail-oriented and not a meaningful objective. So, that meant I want to be working in something that is more big picture-oriented and meaningful to me.

With this shift in attention, our attitudes change from doom and gloom to hope and aspiration. From here, we can move on to making a Positive List about the bad situation. Just as we listed the positive things about another person in the last post, we do the same with the situation. But the positive aspects here ought to also include big-picture types of things, such as: an opportunity for personal growth, what we became aware of from the “bad” situation, what we learned from mistakes or flaws (ours or other people’s), (I love these quotes from Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” “Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.”)

Consciously finding the positive in a “bad” situation or circumstance helps us to transcend the anguish, dread, anxiety, victimhood, fear and anger associated with it and frees us from the mental burdens that stuck with us.

What “bad” situation are you mentally turning around today?

Making Positive Lists

Let’s remind ourselves why deliberate positive thoughts are necessary. If our minds are left untended to, the ego creeps in and takes over with worry, fear and negativity. This is just human nature. So it is vital to our joy to consciously place good, positive thoughts in our awareness lest our egos will take charge.

Okay, so another way to use our thoughts to increase our joy is in finding positive aspects. We can find the positive in ourselves (which we’ve touched on in increasing our self-worth), in others, in circumstances, and even in challenging situations.

Positive Lists are similar to the appreciation exercise, but Positive Lists are aimed at a specific topic or person. For instance, we could make a list of positive traits of our spouse/partner, parent, friend, co-worker or ourselves. It could also be about our job, a vacation, or our home. It can even be about a (seemingly) “bad” situation or someone we don’t like.

The idea behind these lists is to shift our perception from negative to positive, to get us on the wavelength of a high vibration. Simply put, to make us feel good! Sometimes it is fun just to list a bunch of good things about someone or thing. Other times, it is greatly beneficial to deliberately adjust our bad feeling about someone or thing.

For instance, once when I was particularly feeling irritated by my husband’s actions (by the way, this is a normal part of close relationships!), I wrote a positive list about him. Not only did it make me feel better to focus on his good things, but I no longer felt irritated. Not only did I not feel irritated, but he no longer was doing those things in my presence! One time he began complaining about something that happened at work. Rather than try to ignore him (which I had tried in the past and found out does not work) I focused on my positive list about him. At the end of his rant, he ended by saying he was going to talk to another co-worker about it and not think about it anymore in that particular moment. Mind you, I had not even said a word to him. Within a month he proclaimed he wanted to be less cynical and more positive about things.

It is important to note that circumstances changed after I felt good. And that I did not set out to change anyone or thing, except for how I was feeling. I truly was focusing on and deeply feeling his positive attributes. It was not for pretend. The whole list was and is real. But, it did not matter if he saw his own good or not. It was all about how I was feeling about him. This is a good exercise in overcoming the ego rather than going down the usual ego path of pointing out how wrong or bad they are so we can feel better about ourselves. We are not trying to feel better by making another person wrong or inferior or by comparing ourselves to others. We truly are just acknowledging the positive in the other person, in a completely egoless way. We are deliberately making ourselves feel better and if circumstances happen to also change for the better, then that’s terrific as well.

Who or what are you going to make a Positive List about today? Try it! It will make you feel good!
Next time, we’ll focus on a Positive List about a “bad” situation.

Appreciation and Joy

We’ve spent a lot of time going over self-worth issues and activities.  Hopefully, we are all getting on board the Self-Worth Train!  There are other specific keys to joy and we will delve into those.  But it is significant to note, there needs to be a strong foundation of self-worth and ego awareness before doing other specific joyful exercises.  I have found that if I do things, such as, affirmations, positive thinking, or deliberate enjoyable activities without a good sense of self-worth and with ego in charge, these exercises don’t make a lasting difference.  We can think a thousand positive thoughts and do things we are truly interested in, but if we don’t think we are worthy, then those thoughts and activities will only bring fleeting joy, at best.

Keeping that in mind, let’s dig into some of the other keys to joy now.  An important premise behind these keys is that our thoughts affect our joy.  Thoughts affect our joy because thoughts have the power to create.  Everything that was created was a thought first – whether conscious or subconscious.  We have the ability to create joy because it’s not our situations that influence our joy, but our thoughts about our situations that influence our joy. (For more in-depth information on the creative power of our thoughts, read up on Abraham-Hicks, Louise Hay, or Marianne Williamson).

One of the best ways to utilize our thoughts to grow our joy is through appreciation.  This is not only what we are thankful for, but also, to appreciate means to be fully conscious of.  We are thankful, but we also are noticing and becoming aware of all the good around us.  So we might be thankful for a nice gift from a friend.  But this list would also include how we notice and appreciate a sunset, flower, or the fact that the friend was generous and considerate to give us a gift in the first place.  The list is virtually endless.  It can be anything from money and material possessions to family and friends to having ears to hear great music.  Nothing is off limits.  It can be anything that we value or that makes us feel good when we see or even just think about.

This list is especially good for when we are feeling down, stressed, or the like.  When we are feeling negative, it is difficult to get started, but once we do, the list takes off.  We deliberately take our focus off the stressor by redirecting our focus on what we’re grateful for and what we appreciate.  This makes us feel empowered because we see how we can deliberately make ourselves feel better.  We see how no “bad” situation can take away our freedom and ability to make ourselves feel better.  We control our joy.

Just as we want to make self-worth into a new habit, we want to do the same with appreciation.  So, making our lists – whether physically written down or just in our heads – is something we aim to do daily.  And then throughout the day, we read or think about items on our list and savor each thing or pick a few that really stand out and  milk them for all their worth!

The good feeling that gratitude and appreciation generate is reward in and of itself.  But when we are grateful and show our appreciation, the Universe gives us more to be grateful for and to appreciate.  It is an awesome process.  Try it out!