Simply Say Thank You: Gratitude Journals

With the cold and gray days of winter lingering, it is easy to fall into a bit of a funk. Winter seems so long sometimes, and everything takes more effort, more energy, and definitely more clothing! It is gray outside and at this time of the year, I often feel gray inside, too. One way to feel hopeful again, and to stay on the brighter side of the remaining weeks of winter is to keep a gratitude journal.

I know, I know, you’ve heard this all before and it seems either too cheesy, too time-consuming or unlikely to be something you stick with for any length of time, so why start? And did I mention it sounds a little cheesy?

But if you can keep it simple, a gratitude journal can be a five minute practice at the end of each day that will change the way you approach your life.

A couple of years ago, I moved into my current home. I had never lived on my own before, and while I was excited and really happy about my choice in a new home, I was also feeling very overwhelmed with the ‘what-ifs’. What if the roof leaked or I had an electrical problem? What if my basement flooded or someone broke in? Was I safe here (and of course that meant physically, mentally, emotionally)? It was easy for my mind to spin out of control as I imagined the infinite number of scenarios in which something bad could or would happen.

I knew that this way of thinking was harmful and that this negativity was keeping me from enjoying my new life. And besides, I was OK. Everything negative was in my mind. It stood to reason that if I replaced those thoughts with more positive ones, my approach to this new life would change, too.

I began a simple habit that I still use almost daily to make sure I stay focused on what matters. I keep a small pocket sized notebook in my nightstand, and each night before I go to sleep, I list five things for which I am grateful. On good days, I can think of specific events to list, good and serendipitous things that have happened. On the rest of the days, I can list the basics: my daughters whom I love so much, my special friends who care so well for me, my health, my job that pays the bills, my warm bed, and if nothing else, the fact that I can go to sleep in a few minutes and forget the day ever happened!

Five things… simple. If I spend a minute thinking about each one, that is enough to remind me of my good fortune, and to make every day, no matter how gray and wintry, one to be thankful for!

What Do You Need to Be Creative?

Years ago, I taught an Educational Psychology course for people who wanted to be elementary or high school teachers. One of my favorite activities was centered on creativity, and how to foster it in young learners. I put the students into small groups, and gave each group a large envelope filled with odds and ends from around my home and office – cotton balls, paper clips, magnets, straws, napkins, remnants of cloth, wire, etc., whatever I could find and could fit in the envelope.

Their directions? To create something functional, something that could solve a problem or do a job of some sort. They had the full class time to work and then to present what they had created. It was always great fun, with lots of silliness, ideas coming in fits and starts and then the hum of concentration as the groups settled on their projects and the creations began to take form.

The next day I asked them about the creative process. How did their groups manage to create their inventions? How did the creativity flow (or not) for them? What did they find they needed to be successful?

The answers were simple but insightful. The groups agreed that whether you are a child in a classroom, an artist in a studio, a writer at a desk, or a corporate employee in a cubicle, we all need the same things to be creative in our work:

1) Time – Creativity can’t really be rushed. In fact, a 2002 Harvard study of 177 employees at 7 different companies showed that time pressure negatively affects creative thinking. If you want to tap into your innate creativity, you have to allow yourself the time to do it!

2) Persistence – Those who wait until they ‘feel’ creative before working rarely are prolific. Rather than waiting for the muse to show up, it is us who need to show up and start, knowing that just the act of being there will eventually kick-start the creative process.

3) Space – In this case, this does not necessarily mean physical space, though that’s nice to have, too. But what we really need to be creative is the mental space to make mistakes, to create something less than perfect, or in fact, something really bad — and still feel supported enough to keep trying. After the groups worked through all their ‘dumb’ ideas, they said, that’s when they came to the idea that would work for their projects!

My point in sharing this is that we all deserve these three gifts, too. All of us are creative by nature, and if we are having trouble accessing that piece of ourselves, we probably just need to give ourselves the time, persistence, and space we need to be our best creative selves.

Characteristics of a Beautiful Friend

To have a friend is a beautiful thing. To be a friend is as beautiful, if not more so, as it makes the rest of life, no matter how difficult, pretty beautiful, too.

Years ago when I taught second grade, we spent the month of February celebrating friendship. One of my favorite books to read with the class was Judith Viorst’s Rosie and Michael, the story of two friends who take turns narrating what makes their friendship so special.

What they describe are the characteristics of any beautiful relationship, whether it is between two friends, two loves, a parent and a child, or siblings. Here, illustrated by the words of Rosie and Michael, are the characteristics of any beautiful relationship:

* Friends accept each other as they are. “She likes me when I’m dopey and not just when I’m smart.” “I worry a lot about werewolves, and he understands.”

* They rely on each other in times of trouble. “When my parakeet died, I called Rosie.” “When my bike got swiped, I called Michael.”

* Friends are loyal to one another. “It wouldn’t matter if two billion people said she robbed a bank, if Rosie told me she didn’t, I’d believe her.”

* They are trustworthy, too. “If Michael told me a secret and people clonked me and bopped me, I wouldn’t tell what Michael’s secret was.”

* And if necessary, friends are forgiving. “And then if people said ‘Speak up or we’ll throw you in this quicksand,’ Rosie would forgive me for telling her secret.”

* Even if they disagree, friends can still stay friends. “Just because I call him a banana head, doesn’t mean that Michael’s not my friend.”

* Friends support each other, too. “Sometimes I get on the diving board and deicde that I’ve changed my mind. but Rosie wouldn’t laugh. She’s my friend.”

* Friends are honest with each other. “Michael is my friend. When he honest and truly wanted to know if his feet were smelling stinky, I honestly told him.”

* And they always have your back. “She’d hunt for me if kidnappers stole me away. And if I was never found again, she could have my Instamatic. She is my friend.”

* Special friends are the ones we think of first, last and all the times in between. “I’d never move to China without Michael.” ” I’d give her my last piece of chalk.”

To have a friend, to be a friend is one of the best gifts life has to offer. Now is a wonderful time to celebrate and thank those special friends that make our lives beautiful. Thank you…you know who you are.