Cherish the gifts of gratitude

Cherish the gifts of gratitude

I pulled in the driveway late, the dog was waiting to be walked, my shoulders ached from sitting in front of the computer or in meetings all day, and I had just had a short, clipped conversation with a family member that had further darkened my mood. I trudged through the rest of the evening grumbling under my breath about the whole conversation and just how stressed out I was about life. Each day had ended similarly in the recent weeks and I just felt like there was no end in sight.

As I went to bed that night I thought, “There has to be more than this.” I wasn’t questioning life, I love God and feel comfortable with my faith. I was questioning how I was spending my time. I felt like my life was controlling me rather than the other way around.

It would make a neat story if I could tell you I solved it that night, but that’s not how things happened. However, not long after I had another revelation. We’re going to have far more ‘mundane’ days than ‘banner’ days.  How could I learn to be thankful for even the repetition of daily life?

I decided to start a thankfulness journal

At the end of each day I started writing 3 things I was thankful for that day. Three things soon grew into four or five. Were there tough days? Sure, some days I was thankful for big broad things (my dog, my health, my job) but some days ended up being incredibly specific (kind words someone had shared, a special treat, puppy snuggles).

Little did I know but the rest of 2016 was going to be filled with a lot of challenges and stress and my thankfulness journal kept me grounded in the midst of it all. I enjoyed rereading older pages and just remembering the little mundane things. It affected my mood, too. I can’t tell you I never got frustrated or mad, but I did see a decline in the amount of times that happened.

Even bigger, remember that family member I was grumbling about? Well things came to a head and we ended up talking through our issues. Of course, we both had things that we needed to change, and we did and the relationship has been great ever since. The funny thing is that I don’t think I would have been willing to change had I not reset my priorities to focus on gratitude. I wouldn’t have even gotten past my own ego. So I was thankful for that.

Cherish the unseen gifts of gratitude

A few months after that my beloved dog was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Knowing what lay ahead, I was so thankful that I had taken the time to be consciously appreciative of her and her love and affection throughout the year. It made our final months together special and I said goodbye knowing that I had shown her so much love.

Now, to be honest with you, I fell off the gratitude wagon after Ginger passed, but I just reread my journal not long ago. I found my attitude needed some adjustment again. Life is hard, no doubt about it. We all have days (or weeks or years) when we just want to cry “Uncle!” But we have to keep going. I believe that if we find a way to be thankful for each day we will find ourselves in a much better mindset to handle the trials that will come our way. Whatever you’re facing, I encourage you to find a way to be thankful and watch and see the changes that start happening! Gratitude is a choice…

Embrace Aging and Inspire Acceptance

Embrace Aging and Inspire Acceptance

Diana H. asked, “Hey Karen can you share your thoughts on the terms embrace and inspire?” I said sure. It’s my hope that my brief, but spectacular, piece will inspire people to embrace the inevitable.

Aging with acceptance

I’m the youngest of three girls born to working class parents, from a working class town. I paid my way through college, and graduated debt free. I’ve had interesting work related experiences. I’ve made decent money. I’ve had deep meaningful, intimate relationships with strong men, but have never married. I’ve lived past the half century mark in age, and… I’ve had cancer.

Oh… that scary word: cancer. Actually, that word has been a big part of my life.

My first dance with cancer came at age nineteen, as a sophomore in college. That encounter left me with a nine-inch vertical scar down my abdomen. My second encounter was with my father, who valiantly lived much longer than the professionals predicted. He passed away when I was twenty-six years old. And my third embrace came when I was diagnosed with life threatening, cervical cancer at age forty-four. From that I gained another scar, a seven-inch beauty running horizontally along my lower abdomen.

You may have missed what I wrote, “third embrace with cancer”

I use that term because I never ran from cancer, I embraced it. I never doubted that I wouldn’t live through my encounters. I lost more sleep over my father’s illness than my own.

Why?  I could control my own response to the crisis, I was rock-solid centered, and confident. I asked tough questions and armed myself with the knowledge of my choices in moving forward. I forced my doctors to treat me as a person, not simply as a patient.

And oh! Something else, because I come from a family who uses inappropriate humor to defuse stress, I laughed. I laughed a lot.

Embrace it all

Embrace what comes to you, celebrate the adversity. Let go of the fear of things you cannot control and grab onto those things that you can. And laugh, please laugh.

I embrace that my bikini days are over, that I’ve gained thirty pounds since age forty. I embrace that lovers haven’t been turned off by my scars; my inner beauty is celebrated instead. I embrace that what is encountered in life does make you stronger, wiser and better.

It’s my hope that my message will inspire you to:

  • Know, and seriously… LISTEN to your body.
  • Schedule your annual exam. Early detection saved my life; I had no symptoms.
  • Meditate.
  • Spoil yourself with TIME for making memories. Stuff is great, but time is precious.
  • Surround yourself with a few when-the-chips-are-down friends.
  • Scare yourself. Don’t settle for a life of boring routines and safety.
  • Laugh more, a lot more.
  • Have a gay friend. All woman should have at least one. I have seven, that I know of.
  • Drink really good gin.
  • And remember, none of us get out alive, so embrace it and be inspired.

On the walls of my home are numerous art pieces, among my favorites say:

Shit creek survivor.

And the quote from Will Rogers, “Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know “why” I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.”

I have more, but you’ll have to be invited. They’re not printable here, remember – I have that humor thing.

Gratitude & Ice Cream: Tips for Living Vibrantly, Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

Gratitude & Ice Cream: Tips for Living Vibrantly, Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

It’s easy to live an energetic life when everything is going your way. But how do we live a thriving life when things aren’t going the way we planned?

Life is hard.

As “life” wears on us,  we start to get tired: mentally tired, emotionally tired, tired of work, tired of schedules, just plain tired.

Since we’re only human, we get cranky when we’re tired.

And when we get cranky, we start to focus on the negatives in life.

At this point, you have two choices: you can either pull yourself out of whatever funk you’re in and live vibrantly, or you can allow yourself to wallow in that low feeling, where you gain nothing, but you sure do waste a lot of energy and good days.

Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.
—Helen Keller

Instead of focusing on the negative, let’s focus on the positive, and seek to remember one powerful fact: our happiness is a choice.

We have the power to choose to live a vibrant life despite the fact that things don’t always go our way. We may not have everything we want or think that we need, yet we can choose to be happy with what we do have, and live life to the fullest.

When we commit to changing our outlook, a radical shift occurs. The lows feel less low, and the mundane starts to take a turn for the more exciting. We begin to understand that agonizing over the past that we’d like to change or trying to alter the future that we can’t predict gets us nowhere, and instead we start to find joy and appreciation in times when we felt all could be lost.

So what can you do today to start living a life of vibrancy? Here are a few of my own favorite tricks for climbing out of the daily grind:

1. Gratitude

Think about everything in your life that is good.

Start with the basics:

Do you have a roof over your head?

Do you have food to eat every day?

Do you have clothes to wear?

Then move on to things that are more personal:

Maybe you have children who are the light of your life.

Maybe you’re dating or married to someone who treats you like royalty.

Maybe you have the good fortune of a job that you love, or maybe…

…you have your health: mine isn’t perfect, but it sure is a whole heck of a lot better than it was ten years ago – and for that, I am grateful.

2. Spend time with loved ones

Family—and close friends who might as well be family—have a profound effect on boosting your mood. If family time isn’t a fit for you, you can get the same “warm glow” from volunteering, so hook up with an organization whose work is meaningful to you and spend some time helping others instead.

3. Focus on what matters

Ask yourself: “Is this life-changing? Will this have any significant impact on my goals for this life?” If the answer is no, move on. Don’t bother dwelling on things that upset you. Your mind has more important things to do. See tip #5 for an extension on this.

4. Feel the happiness of savoring little things

Here are my top three:

1. A pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Any pint will do.

2. Soaking up the sun, drinking a frosty beer at The Phoenix Brewing Co in the company of my husband and friends.

Bonus: Vitamin D, good for your mood and your energy. (It should be noted here that the Vitamin D comes from the sun, not the beer… drinking beer solely to get vitamins may actually have the opposite effect.)

3. Loving on my dog Juno. I think she likes a long hug as much as I do – I do squeeze her pretty tight, so she may just be stuck in it. It feels good nonetheless.

5. Mindfulness, pure and simple

Catch yourself in those negative moments, and change the subject or change the tone. Learn to become aware of yourself and the thoughts that you’re thinking. You might be surprised at how often you’re weighing yourself down with subconscious negativity.

Yes, life is hard. But there’s good news, too: we are in control of our own selves and the way that we view the world. We soldier on through the tough times, and learn to embrace the good in this world. When we do that, taking nothing for granted, we are able to live our most vibrant lives.

When “The Jerry Seinfeld Show” Meets “Gratitude”

When “The Jerry Seinfeld Show” Meets “Gratitude”

What a compelling title!(?) Aren’t you wondering where this might be going? Remember the Seinfeld show? It was a “show about nothing.” In reality, however, it was a show about common things in our everyday lives that we tend to take for granted. For example, they were able to build entire shows around topics like breakfast cereal, flat hair, clothes warmed from a dryer, etc.

And somewhat like Seinfeld, the task at hand is to take the simple, commonly-used word “gratitude” and share something thought-provoking (hopefully) about that little word which I admit to using quite casually. Seemed easy at the time I accepted the invitation to write this.

Help!

As I often do when faced with a challenge, I reached out to some family members and friends to gain a broader perspective. That is, I asked them what the word “gratitude” means to them and how a feeling of gratitude impacts their lives. Reflecting on their thoughts individually and collectively was enlightening. Most mentioned gratitude to family and friends during times of crisis when they had faced seemingly insurmountable circumstances usually not of their making.  Also, support at special events was cited along with opportunities presented in everyday life. Often gratitude to God was specifically stated. And some expressed particular gratitude for support from unexpected sources.

It all made me wonder if it’s possible to simply feel gratitude without feeling “gratitude to __ for __.” I concluded it isn’t; there is always someone to whom I am grateful. However, I would be interested in your thoughts.

There were heartfelt comments about gratitude for the influence others have on our lives. I’m reminded of a favorite quote, which is framed and hanging in the guest room of some great friends:

Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and leave footprints and we are never ever the same. (Author Unknown)

Reflecting on that quote, creating a listing of the latter is fairly easy in spite of the fact that it’s a longer list than I might have expected when I started. Who’s on your list?

[Note: of all the people I asked, only one mentioned gratitude for “stuff” including free Wi-Fi. She’s ten years old and quickly added, “just kidding.”  I was impressed with her discernment!]

And while there are certainly degrees of intensity in feeling gratitude, e.g. “I am grateful for the delicious apple” vs. “I am grateful that you saved my child’s life,” having an attitude of thankfulness (or gratitude) is unchanging. It is a choice. As one friend said, it is “a way of life” we all can choose regardless of our circumstances.

So, where do we go from here?

How we respond to those feelings of gratitude clearly makes a difference to ourselves and to others. It is both uplifting and somewhat humbling to go beyond feeling grateful to actually expressing gratitude to others for their actions or simply for life itself. It’s uplifting because it’s the right thing to do since it encourages others. It is humbling because it’s an acknowledgement that we can’t do everything by ourselves.

But what do we do when it’s too late? As was pondered by a family member, “What happens when the person to whom I feel most grateful is gone and I didn’t adequately let them know how much I appreciated having him/her in my life?” Perhaps God is willing to intercede on our behalf, if asked. Perhaps we can learn something from the pain of regret. Perhaps we can be a little better at being forthright enough to express our gratitude going forward.

At the moment, I am feeling intense gratitude for the gift of time granted to me. And just like you, I hope to be given twenty-four hours this day…and maybe tomorrow, too. How will I respond to that gift? How will I choose to use it?

Two parting thoughts

Since Annamarie and I talked about my blogging on this subject, I have thought about it often but have done nothing about it until the last week or so. But now that I have started writing, I can see the personal benefit of thinking deeply about “gratitude” and what it means in my life. It has been a revealing experience to try to articulate those thoughts.

Maybe I will choose some other key words and do the same for my own personal growth. Words like compassion? Respect? Service? Humor? The list is endless. Maybe you will do the same. For more inspiration to do so, you might read John Maxwell’s book Thinking for a Change.” It’s a good one!

As I sit here awaiting the morning light, I have a feeling of gratitude for this simple moment… gratitude for the freedom to essentially live as I choose. And, perhaps most importantly, I realize the feeling of gratitude is a choice I can make each moment of the day, regardless of what comes my way.

Wishing you peace this day.

 

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