Learning Gratitude

Is it possible to learn gratitude or does it come naturally?

Maybe, it’s both.

If I asked you, what do you think you’re likely to answer?

More and more I hear about gratitude as a practice, something you incorporate into your life, so when I read a book recently that focused some attention on this, I decided it was time to see what it meant to me.

While in Maine this past summer on vacation I came across an intriguing book. It’s written by Chris Gentry and is titled, The Little Book of Prosperity. It’s divided into twelve chapters, which I discovered were organized in a very thoughtful progression. It starts with goals and dreams, then taking action and growth. These chapters are followed by self-confidence, gratitude, and positive self-talk. The book escalates into a chapter on master mind (groups) and concludes with positivity, decision, perseverance and giving back. I dutifully read and did the encouraged exercises in order with one exception. I waited until the end to complete my dream collage.

I found each chapter provided a great deal of inspiration and support for my earth adventure. When I arrived at the section about gratitude I decided to proceed slowly.

At the end of the chapter, Chris recommended that readers commit to a daily practice of gratitude for ninety days. He suggested that each morning a journal be kept where you would record at least five things you were grateful for. The items could be anything, big or small, quick or long lasting, it didn’t matter as long as they were true for you.

I decided to embrace this practice and see what sort of change(s) it made in my life. I confess it was difficult to do every day because sometimes I got distracted or felt too busy. I had to remind myself of my commitment and that I would never know the worth of this if I didn’t give it my best shot.

So, in late September 2021 I began keeping track. I noticed that the ‘quality’ of the items I chose varied substantially and their range was extremely wide. As a sometimes overachiever I added some items in the evening and occasionally noted more than the suggested five items. Since I was doing this for me and not as an assignment to be handed in, I felt fine with setting up my own rules.

Several times through the first ninety days I lost steam and considered abandoning the challenge. That only lasted a day or two and I ended up sticking with the program and being very grateful that I did.

When the ninety days was up, it wasn’t even a consideration as to whether to continue or not. I found the practice to be so valuable that I incorporated it in my daily routine. When I’m too rushed, I give myself permission to record my five (or more) items when I get to it, as long as it’s the same day. It’s now been 146 days and I can foresee this continuing far into the future.

Why? And what could be in it for you, if you decide to embrace this as one of your practices?

My simple answer is…A LOT.

The most striking impact this had on me is the change it brought about in the way my day began. It helped set an extremely positive tone. It raised my conscious awareness of how many wonderful things I experience in my life. And although this was a morning practice, my attitudinal shift stayed with me throughout the day. I found myself feeling thankful for so many things I’d previously taken for granted, which added remarkably to my positive outlook on life. It also broadened what I considered valuable and worthwhile and helped make me more aware of expressing gratitude to others.

And I discovered that the changes in me were reflected in who and what I encountered during the day, which was a huge bonus.

If you decide to give this a try, I’d love to know what your experience is like. And if you know or ever stumble across Chris Gentry, please be sure to tell him how grateful I am for his contribution to me and the world.

PS- I did try to reach out to him but wasn’t successful.

Baseball Cards and Fireworks

Suppose you own something of value like an antique bureau, silver tea service, vintage automobile, old coins or perhaps, as in my case, a baseball card collection. Would you consider selling or trading it for any reason? If so, what reason would tip the scales so that you would part with it?

I started collecting baseball cards during the 1960’s, initially as much for the gum as for the cards. I’m not alone in this, believe me. It was pretty good tasting gum, at least for the first three minutes, until the flavor evaporated.

Later, when I was more serious about the players and the teams, I’d go to the store with a friend and we’d each buy a pack or two, depending on what was left of our allowances for the week. We’d rush out of the store and rip open the package to see what players we’d gotten. You could tell by our shrieks if we’d scored a great card. If we both had, there would be endless bartering and possibly a trade.

We each had our own personal favorites and tried to get every card in the series. We also had our own personal baseball enemy cards. You might be able to guess, these were the guys who played against our favorite teams and beat us.

We had a special place for those cards. We’d find a way to clip them to the frame of our bikes with clothespins so that when the tires rotated the spokes would bend them in half. It made this awesome noise, which sounded like a machine gun. The best part though was in did a number on the faces of the enemy players.

I know, pretty ruthless, huh? What do you want, I was a kid.

It turns out that my collection was worth a bit of money, not what it would have been in its hay-day, but decent enough. I’d decided early on to set aside my all-time favorites which was everyone on the Yankees team and Roberto Clemente. They were NOT FOR SALE! All the rest, yes, they could go.

For me, I came to that decision because I felt trading my cards for a real-life experience would be worth the price.

Sometimes, I sit back and imagine myself at age 85 or 90. I’m sitting in a chair talking with a reporter, who’s asking me about my life. The reporter wants to know what gave my life value and meaning. My first words would be, my family and friends. I’d follow that with, my life experiences.

I use this image often, to decide my course of direction, so for me, a handsomely printed baseball card just can’t measure up to a real-life experience.

So, here’s what I did. I asked Gale, a dear friend of mine whether she thought her extremely knowledgeable father would help me find a buyer for my cards. She asked him and he said he would.

He and I had several wonderful chats and ultimately, he negotiated a fabulous deal and handed over the cash. He wouldn’t take a nickel for his part in the deal, but did accept a book about famous baseball stadiums, as ‘payment’.

You may be wondering where the fireworks part of this story comes in. Well, it’s right here.

I used the money to book a room in a four-star hotel in Boston for the weekend, so we could watch the fabulous fireworks display over the Charles River on the Fourth of July. It was gorgeous and a spectacular crowd pleaser. It had all of the ones I love the most; the fizzy kind, several multi-colored versions and, my favorites, the loud reverberating bang ones. The end of the show was fantastic and filled the sky with light and color and noise. I can still picture it if I close my eyes.

Was the trade worth it to me? Absolutely! I can’t remember even one of the faces on the baseball cards I sold, but I can clearly recall the glow on my wife’s face, as she watched the firework colors paint the Boston sky.

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Trading

My sister and I spent most of our growing up years watching Westerns on TV. Inevitably, the action centered, at least for a while, on the main street of town. They always had a saloon with those cool swinging half doors that looked like such fun to push your way through. We enjoyed seeing when some bad men were thrown out of the same swinging doors after too much “fire-water” or for cheating at the poker table.

Somewhere close by there was always a Trading Post, where folks went to see if they could find something they couldn’t make themselves. Often, they were looking for furs or some kind of tools or farm equipment or goods made in neighboring towns.

Thinking about the Trading Post got me to wondering about the whole idea of ‘trading’ and how common it is in our lives, although we might not think so.

Here’s what I mean.

The concept of exchanging one thing of value for another works not only when applied to others, but to ourselves.

One of the challenges is that we may not agree that the values of what’s being traded are equal. Then what do we do? I guess that’s where bartering or bargaining comes in. There may have to be a haggling process to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.

It seems to me this process happens all the time in the world at large. Whether it’s boundary disputes, influencing important decisions, pursuing social justice or making economic choices…the list is endless.

Viewed from a distance it appears that the outcome takes one of two directions. It is either a mutually satisfactory trade or it is not. When one side gives more than receives, it feels wrong and the giver often becomes wary of the next trade.

When you add in other factors like power, money or influence, the process is often compromised and any satisfactory outcome is placed in jeopardy.

It takes a great deal of commitment to fairness and a sense of justice for a trade to be considered good.

And what about the trades we make with ourselves?

As I thought about what trades I make with myself, the first thing to appear was the idea of ‘time’. What amount of time do I have to give up in order to receive something else of value to me?

This turns out to be a pretty important question for me to answer.

Is it worth it to me to trade hours of my life in a classroom in order to obtain a college degree? Is it worth it to me to trade some of the money I earn in order to be protected against certain events beyond my control (car, home and life insurances)? Is it worth it to me to spend time exercising to improve my physical wellness and health for the future?

There are of course even more important trades to consider.

Is it worth the investment of time to maintain friendships with important people in my life? Is it a fair trade to donate money to folks who are in desperate need so that they have enough to live a better life? Is it worth all of the time I dedicate to enhancing my personal relationship with (god)?

Answering these questions ON PURPOSE has turned out to be quite enlightening for me and completely worth all of the time I’ve spent.

I wonder what your thoughts are about the ‘trades’ you make. If you care to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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One Good Thing and One Bad Thing

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while you may think you know where I’m going with this title. Perhaps you believe I’m going to ask you to embrace the ‘good things’ and release the ‘bad things’ in your life.

Nope, not this time.

Instead, I’d like to make a case for something else.

I’d like to suggest that we find ways to learn from both the good things and bad things in our lives. I believe we’d be best served by looking for the enormous values inherent in each, far beyond what we might imagine exists.

But first, a few thoughts about the usage of the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’. I think they’re problematic, mostly because they depend on the situation.

For example, salt. For some situations it is an absolute necessity, while in others it contributes to high blood pressure, which can in excess, be fatal. And what about water or fire. Both good and bad.

I think the concept extends to other areas as well. Compassion, when given, offers support, hope and love. When compassion turns to enabling it can hurt the giver and receiver and make the situation even worse.

So, maybe it’s best to accept that it is our choice how we interpret good and bad that sets the stage and realize that it is more about what happens next, once we’ve decided which category something falls into.

I’d like to ask you to do something. Grab a piece of paper and pen then sit quietly and allow your mind to drift a little and see what comes to you when you ask yourself to name one good thing and one bad thing from your life. It can be something that just happened or something that stands out from some other time in your life.

I’ll pause while you consider.

Okay, hopefully you’ve decided.

Here’s what comes next.

Write down what you chose for a good thing, skip a few lines and write down what you choose for a bad thing. Then, choose one to focus on first.

Let’s say you picked the bad thing. In the space you left open, write down your reasons for why you chose to view it as a bad thing. Now, look deeper into it and see if any good also came out of it. Then, repeat the process with the good thing.

I’ll share my example to help illustrate.

My car heater fan stopped working one day this week. Here’s why this seemed like a bad thing. It’s January in the northeast US and very cold to drive without heat in your car. Also, it’s inconvenient to get my car to the shop since I still have places I need to go. There’s also the matter of the potential expense.

What I ended up writing down after considering what took place is this; my wife and I were able to fairly easily work around the inconvenience, the heater fan actually began working again (still took it in to have it checked out) and the cost for repairs was only $46.56. Plus, my mechanic was able to thoroughly check out my elderly car and tell me I could keep it for several more years without concern (which is great news for me- I don’t have to buy a new car!)

It turns out that examining the actual outcomes presents a much clearer picture of reality than paying attention only to my initial fears.

For my good thing, here’s what happened.

I received some very positive feedback on my book, talking with (god) which I really enjoyed. After glowing for a while, I realized that I haven’t actively pursued my marketing plan to share the book with the world. This made me sad and a little frustrated with myself.

These bad feelings inspired me to think deeper, to brainstorm directions I could take and eventually to decide that what I really want to do is to donate copies to places where folks really need a sense of love and hope (prisons, half-way houses, domestic abuse centers, shelters, hospitals).

Allowing yourself to look beyond your initial concerns and fears and view each situation from different directions may provide you with wonderful new insights. I hope it does.

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