To be Truly Thankful

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Thankful_BoardsThe post below comes from the Daily OM, is beautifully written, and feels very appropriate this time of year.  Most of us are celebrating the holidays, reflecting on the past, and anticipating the possibilities of a new year.  I wish you peace, joy and true gratitude as you experience the wholeness of life in the coming year.

Our gratitude deepens when we begin to be thankful for being alive during this time and living the life we are living.

Often when we practice being thankful, we go through the process of counting our blessings, acknowledging the wonderful people, things and places that make up our reality. While it is fine to be grateful for the good fortune we have accumulated, true thankfulness stems from a powerful comprehension of the gift of simply being alive, and when we feel it, we feel it regardless of our circumstances. In this deep state of gratitude, we recognize the purity of the experience of being, in and of itself, and our thankfulness is part and parcel of our awareness that we are one with this great mystery that is life.

It is difficult for most of us to access this level of consciousness as we are very caught up in the ups and downs of our individual experiences in the world. The thing to remember about the world, though, is that it ebbs and flows, expands and contracts, gives and takes, and is by its very nature somewhat unreliable. If we only feel gratitude when it serves our desires, this is not true thankfulness. No one is exempt from the twists and turns of fate, which may, at any time, take the possessions, situations, and people we love away from us. Ironically, it is sometimes this kind of loss that awakens us to a thankfulness that goes deeper than just being grateful when things go our way. Illness and near-miss accidents can also serve as wake-up calls to the deeper realization that we are truly lucky to be alive.

We do not have to wait to be shaken to experience this state of being truly thankful for our lives. Tuning in to our breath and making an effort to be fully present for a set period of time each day can do wonders for our ability to connect with true gratitude. We can also awaken ourselves with the intention to be more aware of the unconditional generosity of the life force that flows through us regardless of our circumstances.

by Madisyn Taylor (Daily OM)

Bring on the Cake (and Connections)!

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This month, I’m celebrating my birthday.  And, no, I’m not declaring this in the hopes of garnering attention.  On this day, more than just about any other, I’m reminded of the power and importance of relationships.  I’m reminded of the many wonderful people who make my life meaningful and joyful…who bring a sense of purpose and passion to what I do.  I’m also reminded of the power of gratitude and the importance of being present to that which we wish to cultivate more of in life.

So, on this day, I choose to be present to the many well-wishes for a good day.  At the same time, reflecting on the positive emotions that are generated through simple, often electronic, methods of connecting, I consider the impact we could make (on ourselves and others!) by connecting at a meaningful level with others on a more regular basis.

As a matter of fact, according to Gallup research, “to have a thriving day, we need six hours of social time.  When we get at least six hours of daily social time, it increases our wellbeing and minimizes stress and worry.  Just so you don’t think of that six hours of social time is unattainable in one day, it’s important to note that the six hours includes time at work, at home, on the telephone, talking to friends, sending email, and other communication.  When people have almost no social time in a given day, they have an equal chance of having a good day or bad day.  However, each hour of social time quickly decreases the odds of having a bad day.  Even three hours of social time reduces the chances of having a bad day to 10%.”  (Gallup:  Wellbeing|The Five Essential Elements)

So, on this day, I express gratitude to my family, friends, colleagues and others who have taken time to connect with me.  Know that your simple act contributes to not only my wellbeing but that of your own.

Okay, now bring on the cake and balloons!

On Gratitude

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In the glow of the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve been reflecting a lot on gratitude.  It’s something I talk a lot about in my work and, very recently, have had many “research opportunities” (aka – darn tough personal challenges!) in which I’ve been adding to the science.

More and more research points to the power of gratitude.  I find it comforting and empowering to know that how we engage ourselves in life makes a difference.  Personal reflection—including reminding oneself of personal strengths and values (especially when faced with difficulties), taking time to feel pride in personal accomplishments, pausing to recognize the little things in life one has to be thankful for, etc.—goes a long way in turning a bad or so-so day into a better one.  And of course, expressing sincere appreciation to others—recognizing not just what they do but who they are as unique individuals—creates an ‘upward spiral’ of positive energy that can influence both personal and team dynamics.

As I was driving on Thanksgiving day, I noticed a young girl sitting on the side of the highway.  She was leaning against the guardrail with her head between her knees.  There was no sign of any broken down car…simply, a young girl who looked alone and in despair.  I couldn’t help but wonder who this girl was and what pain she was experiencing.  What if just one person reached out to let her know she was valued, cared for, and loved?  How might her Thanksgiving feel just a little brighter, even in the darkest of circumstances?

Growing research shows that sustained feelings of gratitude have real, tangible benefits, including:

  • Biochemical changes – Favorable changes in the body’s biochemistry include improved hormonal balance and an increase in production of DHEA, the “anti-aging hormone.”
  • Increased positivity – Daily gratitude exercises can bring about a greater level of positive feelings, according to researchers from the University of Miami and the University of California, Davis who studied this process in 157 individuals over 13 days.
  • Boost to the immune system – The IgA antibody, which serves as the first line of defense against pathogens, increases in the body.
  • Emotional “compound interest” – The accumulated effect of sustained appreciation and gratitude is that these feelings, and coherence, are easier to recreate with continued practice. This is because experiencing an emotion reinforces the neural pathways of that particular emotion as it excites the brain, heart and nervous system.

Now who doesn’t want more of that?!  🙂

My wish for you is that you are compassionate with yourself and others and are purposeful in noticing and savoring those things for which you are thankful.  I also hope that you find ways to create your own upward spiral of positive emotion by expressing heartfelt appreciation to others – not just for what they do but for who they are as special beings.  Although I was not in a position to pull off of the highway to help the young girl on the road, I did call to make sure she received the support she needed.  I hope she knows that a stranger cares, values her painful yet human experience (whatever it may be), and wishes her happier days ahead.

Thanks to...

Markers Along the Journey

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Early this morning, I had the chance to walk at a local lake.  It was a chilly fall day and I bundled up in my scarf and gloves.  Trying to practice mindfulness, I notice the stillness of the water, the noise of the geese, and the crunch of the leaves beneath my feet.  A few lone fishermen were sprinkled around the lake…some standing along the shore and others in their boats.  I wonder if they, like me, feel the same sense of spiritual and emotional renewal in this sacred space of nature.

As I continued along the 2.6 mile path, I noticed a fundraiser for the St. Jude Children’s Center was being held.  Volunteers of all ages were preparing for the oncoming walkers.  Young boys were manning a water station.  Several adults were placing signs along the walkway.  Where the pavement split, there were arrows, ensuring event participants stayed on the main path.  There were also signs expressing gratitude and encouragement, and I couldn’t help but smile at the “You Rock” sign.  Further along the path, several teenage girls were bundled in their winter jackets as they stood on the bridge where a patch of ice was lurking.  “Watch out for the ice,” they said as I approached, while pointing to the safe side of the walkway.

Although not a part of the event, I couldn’t help but reflect on how nice it felt to be cared for and how important it is for each of us to establish our own ‘markers’ and support systems in life.  For me, a vision of what gives my life meaning and purpose, along with my core values, are the arrows throughout my journey.  And, yes, I’ve definitely gotten lost and missed those markers many times.  Similarly, I’ve often forgotten about those special individuals I know I can count on to tell me “I Rock” when things get tough.  How is it that we can miss markers along our journey?  As I finish my second lap around the lake, I take comfort in knowing that I can find signs if only I stop long enough to reflect and ‘see’ them.

Stop now and look at your own path.  What markers of direction and support do you see?  What might they be telling you?  Where alongyour path might you need more markers of direction or support?