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!

Advertisements

A Complaint-Free Day

I was taking an online course from a much-loved author, Doreen Virtue.  She suggested to try to go 24 hours without complaining.  I thought it sounded like an interesting and exciting experiment; very doable, easy even.  I started that very moment.  But, why?  What exactly is the point of not complaining?

Complaining is a form of negativity.  Complaints focus on problems rather than solutions; on what we don’t want rather than what we appreciate.  When we complain, the Universe gives us more to complain about.

Our complaints may well be 100% true.  We’re not saying that what we are complaining about is not valid.  But because of our negative focus, we are literally creating more of what we do not want.  If we want love, health, and fun, complaining is simply not the route to the good stuff, regardless of whether the complaint is true or not.

To my surprise, within the hour I had a thought about something I did not want.  I told myself that that was not a complaint; I was just noticing something unwanted.  But really I knew it was just a tiny step away from an outright complaint. As time progressed and I had more “non-complaints”, I found myself justifying how these were not complaints, but simply facts.  For instance, my legs are sore (from excessive yard work) is just a statement of fact.  But, of course, behind that “fact” was a miserable feeling of pain.  In other words, a complaint!

That got me to thinking what exactly is a complaint?  According to dictionary.com, it is, “To express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; find fault; to tell of one’s pains, ailments, etc.”

Oh boy.  I had definitely been complaining.  I would add to that definition that complaining is focusing on the negative, feeling victimized and powerless to change unwanted circumstances.  Important to note is that complaining doesn’t necessarily have to be expressed to someone.  It can be just our own internal thoughts.  We may not complain aloud, and so our ego may trick us into believing we are not complaining.

After accepting that I was indeed complaining, but still trying to defend these “non-complaint” statements to my husband and internally to myself, I asked why do I want to allow these statements?  What is to gain from complaining?

Personally, I felt as if I couldn’t function without them.  I needed them.  Complaining, in the form of venting, can actually be a sort of release of frustration or anger.  But there is an extremely fine line which, nine and a half times out of ten, gets crossed.  It can go from being (somewhat) helpful to toxic in the blink of an eye.

The next day I clearly saw how I used complaining as a sort of common ground or small talk with acquaintances.  She was complaining, so I complained back.  It gave me a feeling of connection to another.  It gave me a sense of security by having something to say to somebody with whom I didn’t have much in common.  At work, I perceived that it was a way to waste time or procrastinate.

I also noticed the more I complained, the more I drew to myself more complainers!  Complainers feed off of each other.  If we find ourselves in the company of complainers – or one person who complains a lot –that serves as a good wake-up call to our own state of complaining.

I also used complaining as a way to justify my rightness by pointing out what’s wrong with others or the government or the world….whomever, so long as “they” were wrong and I was right.

Another so-called benefit from complaining is to get sympathy from others.  Have you noticed it’s often the case when you offer a solution to someone who is complaining, they ignore it.  (Or maybe you are the one ignoring a suggested solution.) Usually complainers are not looking for a solution.  When we do not nurture ourselves we resort to looking for love and caring from external sources.  Complaining can be a way to get that from others.

Clearly the ego reaps different types of benefits from complaining.  But when scrutinized, these were not the type of benefits I wanted anymore.

How to stop complaining?

  • When we do complain (aloud or internally), don’t beat ourselves up. We are human so we are not going to be 100% complaint-free.  The goal of this exercise is to become more aware of how much we actually complain.  Not to point out how bad we are, but to rise above it.
  • Focus on things that make us feel good rather than on things that make us want to complain. For example, if we know a new law gets us riled up, don’t keep reading about it!  If we know someone that irritates us, don’t ask them to lunch!
  • Counter complaints with the positive side. For instance, with my sore legs complaint, I could counter with:  My legs are sore, but I really did a nice job on the yard.
  • Ask ourselves, what benefit are we getting from this particular complaint? Then ask if it is worth all the negative sludge that comes with the benefit? For example, was it worth it for me to feel secure and connected to that acquaintance of mine?  No, because I don’t want a connection based on negativity and I don’t need to talk just for the sake of talking. If the benefit is sympathy, then we know we need to put more focus on nurturing ourselves.
  • Ask ourselves, is there something we can change regarding the subject of this complaint? If yes, then do it.  If not, then say a prayer or affirmation and move on.
  • If we are complaining to vent, find another way to let off steam. Exercise, scream in our car or home alone (this one is sure to make us laugh too!), write it down and then tear or burn it, take deep breaths and ask God/Divine Beings to help us let it go.

There’s always going to be things we don’t like and to complain about.  Even if we get our personal lives to the point of being 99.99% to our satisfaction, there will inevitably be something in the world at large with which we could complain about.  The point isn’t to make the outer world and circumstances perfect.  But rather, to be aware that we have the capability to choose our personal thoughts, words, and actions which will make all the difference in terms of our happiness.  When we are happy, those around us will be happier, or at least, they will have a better chance to be happier.  For sure, nobody will be happier around a complainer, including ourselves.

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?  🙂

Last Man on Earth

I was recently watching an episode of a new TV show, Last Man on Earth.  The basic premise is everyone died from a virus except for this guy, hence he’s the last man on Earth.  I can’t say that I really enjoy the show or will keep watching (this is definitely not an endorsement for the show!).  But, it did get me thinking as I watched a segment of him doing whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted.  I thought, wow that is freedom!  There’s nobody’s opinions to consider.  No approval or admiration to gain.  No negative judgments to worry about.  Nobody to feel superior or inferior to.  All this ego stuff suddenly becomes non-existent.  I instantly become my true self because I’m no longer considering the opinions of other people.

As I momentarily reveled in this idea, I quickly realized how sad and meaningless everything would become. OK great, so I could do and say whatever I wanted, however I wanted to do it; wear whatever I wanted; go wherever I wanted; “buy” (the whole concept of money is unnecessary) anything I wanted.  But without other people permanently, everything would soon become meaningless.  There’s no one to share ideas with.  No one to laugh with.  No one to help out.  No one to love or be loved by.  And no one to read what I write!

This silly example helped me to see two things more clearly.  One is that being my true self – not worrying about others’ opinions – is absolutely a key to joy.  And second, that having a connection to people is also a key to joy. When we are not concerned with their opinions, don’t fear them, nor need various other things from them, we can truly enjoy people’s company, be inspired by them, help them, love them, and simply have fun with them.

What would you do differently if you knew nobody would ever be around to see or know?  Let’s not wait to be the last person on Earth to give it a try!

I look forward to the next posts where we’ll get more into the joy in serving others and connecting with them.

The List of Already Manifested Things

I have noticed, in the past, that when I didn’t get things that I wanted, there was a part of me that felt it was because I didn’t deserve them.  My somewhat subconscious thinking often went along the lines of, I didn’t get x, so I must not have deserved it.  On the other hand, when I did get things I wanted, I felt that I got them because I did deserve them.  Of course, this is all hogwash and I have wised up from this type of worthy vs. unworthy thinking.  But it did get me thinking.  Could there be some value in recalling things that we wanted and have already manifested?

Often after we get something we wanted, we take it for granted – at least we take for granted how badly we wanted it and how difficult it may have been to get it.  We get it and then we almost directly move on to the next wanted thing, probably already feeling dismal about not having it and becoming discouraged, antsy or even angered about not receiving it.  Rather than keep repeating this energy-draining cycle over and over by focusing on the next thing and the next thing, we can turn it around by putting our attention on what we have wanted and have already received.

This is another way to use our thoughts to increase our joy.  In doing this, it focuses our minds positively, rather than lamenting about what we want and have not yet received.  Remember, if our minds are left untended to, the ego will think negative, unworthy, incapable thoughts.

When we focus on and ponder a list of already manifested things (material, mental, emotional and spiritual things) we not only appreciate what we received, but we also feel the empowerment of our thoughts and actions.  In reminding ourselves that we did indeed get things we wanted, we are uplifted and empowered.  Just as we increased our self-worth by thinking good, kind thoughts about ourselves (click here for a review), this is another way to affirm our worth.  It is a way for us to see our strengths, capabilities and talents in action!

Then we can take and apply this hopefulness and empowerment to what we currently want.  We tell ourselves, ‘I did/received this, this, this, and this, surely I can do/receive this new thing, as well.’  We remind ourselves that we sometimes (or maybe every time) felt daunted or discouraged, at the start, when we wanted something. But it did not prevent the manifestation (although it may have held it up a bit!).  And so this time, rather than feeling overwhelmed or disheartened, we optimistically and enthusiastically anticipate the manifestation, remembering and being grateful for what we have already wanted and received.  Most importantly we remember and revel in our capabilities and worthiness along the way.

What have you wanted and already manifested?   Feel and know your power and worthiness as you recall everything on that list.  What new things do you want?  Remember your power and worth during the process as they make their way to you!

Self-Worth and Forgiving Others

What does forgiving others have to do with self-worth?  Sometimes we may blame ourselves or think we deserved bad things that happened to us.  No!  We must be aware that we are worthy despite what we experienced and never, not one of us, ever deserve anything bad.

But another, not so obvious, connection that forgiveness has to do with self-worth is that in forgiving others we realize nobody and nothing outside of ourselves ultimately is responsible for how we feel today.  Forgiveness is not about approving of the past behavior.  But when we forgive others we stop blaming others and stop being victims. Blaming and playing the victim is looking for pity and external validation today for what happened in the past.  As we now know, when we love ourselves and know our worth, there is no need for outside acknowledgement, and so, no need to place blame, nor feel victimized.  And so, no need to withhold forgiveness.

When we find ourselves not wanting to forgive, we ask ourselves, What am I feeling unworthy about within myself?  To re-emphasize, this does not mean we deserved anything bad or that we should blame ourselves.  It simply means that by holding onto un-forgiveness we are seeking validation from outside ourselves. We are holding onto the wrongness of another so we can feel right or better than.  When we find ourselves not wanting to forgive, it is helpful to go back to the basics of increasing self-worth.  Click here for a refresher. 

Let’s think of who we are not forgiving and what our egos are getting out of withholding this forgiveness.  We consider how this makes us feel as though we are better than others; How we  compare ourselves to others in order to feel more worthy; How our egos are using the past to feel more valuable in the present.

More on the actual act of forgiving next time!