The Graciousness of Gratitude

It’s been a difficult week for me.  Some sad events unfolded and a few major challenges popped up.  I recognized early on that I was swimming through stressful waters.  While I was driving, I caught myself reciting a mental list of all my unfortunate circumstances.

“What are you doing?” I asked myself.  I was indulging in a pity party!  And why?  Because I wanted to justify being miserable.  I decided that was pretty stupid.  So a lot of things were less than ideal right now.  That didn’t mean I was living in an absolutely cheerless world.  At the moment, I was in a comfortable car driving on a country road lined with beautiful autumn oaks whose leathery leaves were glistening in the morning sunlight.  I had a choice.  I could indulge in wretchedness or relax and enjoy the beauty.

I decided to be gracious to myself and to trade my list of woes for gratitude for the moment’s goodness.

I like the word “gracious.”  It’s expansive.  It hints of benevolence and luxurious ease. It invites you to sink into the moment and to welcome its gifts.  And never doubt that every moment has its gifts.  Even when tragedy strikes, goodness is present.

One of the most beneficial positivity exercises you can practice is to look for those gifts, to look for the goodness that the moment holds.   And when you find them, be gracious to yourself and let yourself appreciate them, let your heart open to gratitude.  There’s always a reason to give thanks.

Now that the holiday season is upon us with all of its stress and expectations, let me encourage you to adopt graciousness as your guiding light.  Stuff some in your pocket in the morning and carry it with you everywhere you go.  Let it remind you to be generous of heart, to see the breadth and depth of each moment and all the goodness it holds.  Let it remind you that you can trade your mental list of cares for the softness of appreciation, for the openness of acceptance and thanks.


A Commitment to Excellence

commitment to excellence

“Nothing great happens on the O.K. level.”  ~Robert Schuller

I added a new skill to my repertoire this week:  I learned how to operate a chain saw.  It’s a small one, electric, with only a 14” blade.  But still, I’m beaming with pride. Not every 71-year-old woman would tackle such a feat.

I enlisted my 81-year-old neighbor to give me lessons.  He taught me how all the parts worked, how to hold it properly, how to stand securely while using it, and where to place the blade relative to the wood I intended to cut before starting its motor.  Then he held wood while I practiced, pointing out things to watch for, reminding me to let the saw do the work.  I don’t consider myself proficient, and I’m fully aware that the primary piece of the process is to maintain focused attention.  Fortunately, I’m good at that.  By winter’s end, I expect to be darned good at sawing thick branches for my fire.  I’m committed to excellence.

My neighbor gave me a demonstration of that, too.  He built a saw buck for me, a x-shaped cradle made of 2×4 lumber that holds the pieces of wood you want to cut at a comfortable height so you don’t have to bend over while you’re cutting.

I watched as he drew a sketch of it, then watched him picture in his mind were the screws would go that held the cross pieces and the bolts that let you adjust the width of the X to accommodate both the thickness of the wood and its height from the ground.  We bought the lumber and hardware, and I got to see him carefully measure where the screws would go and mark the pieces, “top left, bottom left, top right, bottom right.”  I watched as he selected exactly the right size drill bit and figured out how deep to drill into each piece.  I watched as he made sure everything was perfectly aligned and that the screws would drive in straight.

It was a simple construction, but he wanted it to be perfect, and he took the time to think it through and to carefully execute each step of the process.  When he finished, we were both grinning at the great job he’d done.  The buck will last me a lifetime.

Wanting to do things as well as you possibly can is a hallmark of positive people.  That doesn’t mean being a perfectionist.  But it does mean that you want your work to stand as a testament to the fact that you put your best effort into it.  And it doesn’t matter whether you’re washing dishes, writing a report, kissing your partner, or designing a jet airplane.  The old adage still applies, “Any job worth doing is worth doing well.”

Taking pride in your work not only produces a feeling of satisfaction, it speaks well of you to others.  It lets them see that you take responsibility for what you do.  It makes you stand out from the mediocre many.  And because it allows others to trust in your commitment to excellence, it paves the way to greater opportunities and success.

Not only that, but you become a silent standard-setter.  Your commitment to excellence inspires those around you to raise their levels of performance, too. Your doing-well becomes the rising sea that lifts all ships.

And just as in operating a chain saw, the key lies in only two things—committing to doing the very best you can and giving the job your unflinching, focused attention.  The first is a decision.  The second is a matter of ongoing practice.

Decide you want to be great.  Set your sites on excellence, and keep on keeping on.


Playing the Happiness Game


What if there was a happiness game you could play, an easy-peasy one, where you’re always the winner?  And what if you played it with friends and they ended up winners along with you?  What if the prizes were things like increased zest and resilience?  What if it helped you to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of difficult real-life obstacles?  Would you want to play?

A friend of mine told me about such a game last week.  And even though I’m not a big game fan, I took a look at it just to see what it was all about.  I turned out that in order to understand it, I had to sign up.  So I did.  And I went through the first group of awfully simple tasks in just a few minutes.  “Is that all there is to it?” I asked myself.  Yes.  It was that quick and simple.

That night I dreamed that I found a bar of Zest soap in my shower and after lathering myself with it, emerged feeling wonderfully fresh and eager to start my day.  Since then, I opened the novel I’ve procrastinated about finishing and have written an entire new chapter.  I approached other tasks, dreaded but necessary ones, with a brand new attitude and actually enjoyed doing them.

It’s called SuperBetter, and here’s how it works.  It presents you with quests to accomplish.  Simple things, like choosing your secret identity.  You get to select which quests you want do.  It presents you with things called Power-Ups, easy things like drinking a glass of water or looking out your window for a minute or going for a walk around the block.  You get to name Bad Guys, the obstacles that stand in your way, and to invite Allies (friends or family members) to join in and support you.  You earn points.  You get cheered on.  Every aspect of it is designed to help you take better care of you.

That’s because it was designed by a gamer who needed a life-line when she was in the darkest period of her life.  She was having such a hard time recovering from a concussion  that she was considering suicide.  She invented the game to help her stay alive.  And not only did it do that, it helped her become better in every way than she was before she was injured.

Since the game has been online (You can play on your phone or tablet, too.), a study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that “using SuperBetter for 30 days significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety; and increased life satisfaction, social support, and the belief in one’s ability to succeed and achieve goals.”

That’s a lot from one quick, simple game!  But my first week of experiencing it was enough to convince me and keep me playing.

With the holidays quickly approaching, I figure we can all use a little extra zest and energy in our lives.  You can begin playing right away here:

Have fun!


PS  Here’s a TedTalk about the game by its creator:  The Game that Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life

Or read the inventor Jane McGonigal’s book about her personal story and the science behind SuperBetter here.



Trick or Treat

Halloween Pumpkin Display

When I stopped at a local shop today, the clerk, a senior-aged woman, was wearing a cute tee-shirt featuring a smiling, broom-flying witch, complete with cat, and the message “Happy Halloween.”   I told the woman I liked her shirt and she flashed a huge smile.  “Thanks!” she said.  “It’s my favorite holiday.  My dad’s birthday was the day after, so we always had a Halloween-Birthday party.”

While I can’t say it’s my favorite holiday, it does bring back a slew of delightful memories for me, too, some of which still make me laugh out loud.  When I was in third grade, for example, my mother made a pumpkin costume for me fashioned out of chicken wire and orange crepe paper with black construction paper eyes, nose, and toothy grin glued on.  She even made a hat from a crepe paper covered paper plate, complete with a tall, green stem.  I hated it.  I wanted to wear a hand-me-down dance costume my cousin had given me.  It had a short, lavender net skirt and a bodice decorated with purple satin grapes.  My mother thought it was too revealing for school, but let me wear it under the pumpkin outfit.

To my humiliation, my mom had to squeeze in the sides of the pumpkin getup in order for me to fit through the school bus door.  As soon as I got to my classroom, I ditched the pumpkin in the coat room and happily spent the day dressed as a grape.  That was my Halloween trick that year.

My mom had a great sense of fun and loved Halloween.  She spent the last decade of her life in a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop her fun.  She had my dad pin a white sheet around her that covered her electric-powered chair, painted her face with zinc oxide so it was pure white, painted big dark circles around her eyes, and donned a white, frizzy old wig.  When the treat-seeking neighbor kids came to the door, she would zoom over, her sheet billowing around her as she made ghostly moans before laughing, “Trick or Treat!”

While Halloween is celebrated in more solemn ways in other countries (You can read about customs around the world here.), costumes are a big part of the fun here in the States.   But what if you’re a kid whose days are spent in a wheelchair?

One father whose son was wheelchair bound built a costume for his son that was so spectacular the photo of it went viral online.  Now the dad has a nonprofit business that makes costumes for wheelchair bound kids.

And a group of college kids built a foam barn to encase a wheelchair-bound  girl who loves farm animals.  All of her friends dressed as barnyard critters for her Halloween party that year.

These last two stories come from a wonderful site called Good News Network.  You can subscribe and get a bit of good news in your mailbox each day if you like.  It’s a fine way to counter all the yucky news the media feeds us.  And the link is my Halloween Treat for you today.


Finding Meaning in a Meaningless World

Finding Meaning

I was watching videos on YouTube this week when one of the “recommended for you” videos that the site suggests was titled “My Life Has No Meaning.  Help!”  I didn’t watch it. The mere title saddened me, and because I don’t leave comments on YouTube there was nothing I could do to help.  But it made me think about how hard it is for many of us to find meaning in life.

We’re fed a constant diet of disaster, contention and chaos, after all.  And even though the items on the news may not touch us personally, they act like a dark gloom cloud perpetually hanging over our heads.  Add to that the normal stress of everyday life and the monotony of its routines and it’s easy to see how life can lose its flavor.

So how do you find meaning in life?  I decided to browse through some quotes on the topic to see what clues I could find.  The first thing I noticed is an almost universal agreement that life doesn’t have a built-in meaning of its own.  Here’s how Joseph Campbell put it:  “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”  In other words, meaning is something each of us gets to create or discover for ourselves.

I picked a few of the quotes about life’s meaning that I liked best to share with you, and to give you some clues on where you can look to find or to make your own meaning.  I hope you’ll find them as insightful and inspiring as I do.

This one made me laugh.  It’s from Edgar Allen Poe, of all people.  “The best things in life make you sweaty.”  It’s true!  Fill your day with exertion and tasks accomplished and you’ll feel like you’ve lived.

Terry Pratchett says, “You know full well that the meaning of life is to find your gift.  To find your gift is happiness.”  And how do you find your gift?  It’s what you truly enjoy doing, what comes easily to you, and what you’re naturally good at doing.  Check out my articles on strengths to get some clues.

Since one of my own top strengths is an appreciation for beauty and excellence, I especially like these two:  Johann Gottfried Herder says “To think what is true, to sense what is beautiful and to want what is good, hereby the spirit finds purpose of a life in reason.”  And this delightful one from Welwyn Wilton Katz:  “Life is a fairy tale.  Live it with wonder and amazement.”

These final three tell of something deeper, and, I believe, hold the essence of building meaning into our lives.  First, Richelle E. Goodrich, says, “I’m starting to think this world is just a place for us to learn that we need each other more than we want to admit.”  And next, from Roy T. Bennett, come this advice:  “Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.”  And last, but not in least in any way, is this from C. JoyBell C.: “Always remember that the most valuable thing that you can do in this world, is to live a life of love.”

Work hard.  Play hard.  Use your talents.  Find life’s delights.  And above all, shine your light and give your love.