Thank You Very Much!

 

We have just completed a season of giving and receiving. I hope that meant you were gracious and thankful for what you got, whether you were crazy about it or not.  We do not always get what we want, or need or ever thought in a million years would be given to us.  Often that is the case, not just on special occasions, but in life.  I, like many of you, had it drilled into me at a young age to, no matter what, reply by thanking the giver.  If you’re five-years-old and you receive clothes from your Great Aunt Edna instead of the latest toy, it can be hard to make ‘Thank you’ come out of your mouth!

But what about now that we’re all grown up and see the big picture? Can we really be full of gratitude when life hands us something unexpected, or when we’re not ready, or it’s something close but not really what we asked for? I grapple with this dilemma over and over in my mind.  I would love to feel grateful and full of gratitude for what I have, what I am, and the possibilities before me, but instead I am too often obsessed with what I want and don’t have. Recently, a memory hit me in the head over the holiday’s that snapped me out of it.

In the past, we had an adult family member who was particularly ungrateful.  Each year we would put great effort into finding a present this person would open and be happy with, but no matter the effort, the cost, or the thought, each Christmas present was greeted with comments like, “Why would anyone think I would like this?” or “This color never looks good on me.” or “Maybe I can take it back and get something I really want.”  In the beginning we felt bad, and then it became embarrassing and finally, guess what? We just stopped caring whether they liked our gift or not. If our gifts had been met with a kind thank you, we would have been motivated to give even more and would have had a completely different view of them. That made me think, do I want to be like that? Do I want to find fault with every blessing, every situation, and every opportunity that comes my way just because it isn’t what I thought it would be? No I do not. But I’d have to admit, sometimes I have. So how do we come to a place of gratitude? Begin with these three easy steps.

Start with your toes. In yoga class, in order to relax our muscles, we often mentally relax our bodies by starting with our toes and work our way up. Similarly, when I am at a loss of what to be thankful for I start with my toes. Sometimes I am thankful that my toes are warm, sometimes I am thankful my toes don’t hurt, and sometimes I’m just thankful that I have toes! I know it sounds weird but it works, because it’s not that we don’t have anything to be thankful for, it’s that we don’t know where to start. By the time I reach the rest of my body I’ve moved on to much more meaningful subject matter, but it took the toes to get me going.

Control your mind. Keeping negative thoughts out of your mind and replacing them with grateful ones can turn your life around, one day at a time. Our actions and outcomes follow the way of our thoughts. A grateful mind is focused on the best and will bring the best into reality. This is not easy, but the more you do it the easier it becomes and if you do it for at least a month, it will become a habit.

Develop a gratitude system. Whether it is a gratitude journal, index cards, notations on your calendar, or stating what you are grateful for out loud in your car on the way to work; develop a system that works for you and your lifestyle. There is no right or wrong way, some people like to keep a running tab of gratitude and others need to hear it in their own voice to make it real. Do what works and what you will stick with over the long haul, like the rest of your life.

A grateful mind brings us to a place of faith and trust that connects us to creative energies outside of ourselves. As you become more thankful you will change yourself to expect good, and if you expect good you will bring good to you.  If you don’t believe it, try giving out good thoughts, words, and body language as you go through a busy checkout line. I have seen an exasperated clerk transformed into a pleasant only because I wasn’t demanding and was thankful as I made my purchases.  It works! And I guarantee that if you choose to be grumpy, rude and demanding with others, you will receive it back. Choose gratitude, start today, change your world.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” -Cicero

Attitude Matters

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Do you have a special coffee cup? You know what I mean; it’s the one you reach for even though your cabinet is full of clean coffee cups. If might have a chip, it probably has a few stains, but to you it spells COMFORT. It fits your hand just right, or it has a particular message or design that rings true for you, or it was a gift from someone you care for deeply. As I write this newsletter I’m sipping my morning coffee from my special cup. A cup I bought for someone twenty six years ago, but never gave away.

I met Melinda when we were both students at the University of Missouri.  She was wacky, energetic and a definite risk taker. We hit it off immediately. For the next three years we shared frustrations, dreams, and all the other bizarre things that happen to you in college. We very much had our separate lives and worlds, but we would regularly check in and update to make sure we were on the right course. Melinda was a total original. If I heard rocks hitting my dorm window I knew it was Melinda and she needed to talk. When she was chosen to represent her sorority in a formal beauty contest competition, she whisked me off to The Wardrobe used clothing store to buy a hand-me-down formal so she could make a political statement about priorities.

Over the next twelve years we would graduate. She would marry and move twice.  I would marry and move once. She would divorce. I would separate. She would find herself alone in Minneapolis with breast cancer and move back to Missouri. I would divorce. The fall of 1986 found us sitting together in her hospital room at Ellis Fischel Cancer Hospital in Columbia, Missouri having our own group therapy. She would listen for hours to my woes and regrets. I tried to make her comfortable and smuggle in foods she wasn’t supposed to have. I brought drawing paper, color swatches, and other art supplies so we could brainstorm and create. We were both a mess but we were still having fun.

Thanksgiving of that year my mom and I made our usual marathon-shopping trip to Kansas City. I found a Christmas gift for Melinda, a coffee mug. The entire outside circumference was filled with graphic renderings of artist’s brushes, a paint palette, tubes of paint and colorful paint pots done in primary colors; the perfect gift. Two days later her mother called to tell me she had died.

I don’t share this story to bring you down, but rather as a reminder. It’s not what happens to us that’s important, it’s how we handle what is happening. Melinda was fun and hopeful through tragedy and pain. In my ‘Attitude Matters’ presentation I share my top ways to improve your attitude with #7 being ‘Encouraging Others’. Melinda and I each had a lot on our plate, but by encouraging each other we not only got through it all, we were able to enjoy life. Our attitudes made the difference and it was a choice.

I left the mug wrapped up for a long time, but finally decided Melinda would have wanted me to use it, and that’s what I do. I have other mementos of Melinda in my home, but this one reminds me everyday to get outside of myself, encourage others, make the choice. Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad attitude days, we all do. But having the tools to deal with them makes all the difference.

As an experiment, try encouraging family members, co-workers, siblings, friends, the mailman, neighbors and basically anyone you encounter for one week. Make it a point to notice the positives about someone’s work, appearance or behavior and tell them about it; you will be amazed that something so simple can make a difference.

 

 

 

At Your Service

As part of my Attitude Matters presentation I stress being of service and how each of us should consider ourselves in the service industry no matter what our job title.  It is easy to be of service to others from November through December, when the media and local causes focus on helping others, but I challenged a recent audience of college students to come up with ideas that make a difference to others year round.  After giving them a few suggestions, I asked for their ideas of what can be done, no matter what our income level, to be of service to others each day.

Their response was amazing and included:

-Smile at someone today, it costs nothing but makes a big difference.

-Give anonymous gifts throughout the year that help others as you see need.

-Have a positive attitude when dealing with others improves their day too.

-Donate clothing and items throughout the year to shelters/clothes closets.

-Participate in service projects through organizations they belong to.

-Give of your time not just money; everyone has time even if they are broke.

-Send someone an encouraging note or thank you card.

I was impressed with their answers for two reasons; they understood that the little things we do each day can make a big difference and that income level has nothing to do with the difference you can make in another person’s life.

I have expanded on their train of thought with my ‘Little Things Mean aLot” list. Look through this list and pick several to incorporate into your daily life and watch the world change.

Little Things Mean a Lot

1. Smile at everyone you meet today.

2. Send someone an encouraging note or thank you card each week.

3. Ask someone how they are and wait to listen without interrupting or telling your woes.

4. Open a door for someone who needs help.

5. Let the person with fewer items get in front of you in the checkout line.

6. When you take a coffee break, offer to fill up someone else’s cup.

7. On your daily walk or run, move someone’s morning paper from the street to the front door.

8. When you buy groceries or supplies, buy at least one item extra each time and donate to someone or a cause such as homeless or women’s shelters, local food pantry, etc.

9. Find out what your local schools are in need of and donate something each month. This could be as simple as boxes of Kleenex, paper, pencils or office equipment when you upgrade.

10. Contact a local nursing home and see if your talents or time could be of use.

11. Save your change for a month and donate to a local cause of your choice.

12. Make it a point to ask a family member or colleague, “What can I do to help you?”  It might throw them off at first but they will be pleased!

13. Clean out a closet, a storage box, your basement or attic and find places to donate items you no longer need.

14. When you are out for a walk or just walking across a parking lot, pick up trash you see along the way and dispose of it. I carry extra plastic bags in my car just in case there is no waste container in sight.

15. Call someone you haven’t talked to for a long time and listen more than you talk.

This is only a beginning.  How can you help? Send your ideas of “Little Things” to darla@darlaarni.com and I’ll create a master list to share.  Maybe it’s not that we don’t have the time or money, maybe it’s that we just don’t an idea of what to do.

 

Control the Comparisons

When people gather it is easy to fall into the comparison trap. Unfortunately that can even occur during the holidays. I love this Self Care tip from my friend Karen Rowinsky and wanted to share it with you as you head straight on into the holiday week. Thank you for joining me in 2011 and I look forward to more sharing and growing together in 2012.

 Control the Comparisons                                            
by Karen Rowinsky                                            

Studies on happiness reveal that happier people do not spend much time comparing themselves to others. Of course that is easier said than done. Most of us compare ourselves, our kids, and our economic status to our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. We make assumptions that other people are happier, more in love, more cared about than we are.

The problem with comparing ourselves to others is that some of our assumptions may not be true. People usually put up a good front. Many people show us what they want us to see. They don’t show us their pain about their relationships, the problems with their kids, or their unhappiness or depression.

If you find yourself comparing yourself to others, take a moment to question whether you are basing your comparison on reality. Sure they might have a nicer house than yours but they might be struggling to make payments. Their kids might seem to be excelling in sports but how much pressure are they under? They may have a smile on their face but what is it hiding? You will most likely never know if what you assume is accurate, so why bother comparing?

Self care is controlling the comparisons. When you find yourself comparing, substitute a few minutes of being thankful for what you have instead.

Karen Rowinsky, LMSW, is a licensed master social worker. She has a private counseling practice in Overland Park, Kansas.

Contact her at: 913-663-3511 or http://www.overlandparkcounseling.com/