The Benefits of Being Grateful
I used to tease my kids when they were grumpy and say, "Don't have a saditude!" or "Turn that frown upside down!" Those silly sayings would make them smile against their will, and that smile would contribute to a slightly better attitude.
We've all heard that even though circumstances are beyond our control, we have the power to choose how we react to them. But the question I've always asked is HOW do I get the strength or even the desire to react positively? Sometimes it just seems easier to stay down and complain about it rather than see the bright side of getting knocked down in the first place.
The more I read self-development books and biographies of successful people, I see common themes in their lives. Many of those are small habits done regularly for long periods of time. Some of those habits sound great, but are really difficult for me to adopt like getting up at 5 a.m., running miles a day, or never eating sugar. There is one habit, though, that I read about time and time again, that seems very doable for just about anyone - practicing gratitude.
As the holidays approach, you've likely been hearing more about gratitude than ever before. The research is abundant about how gratitude affects not only our attitude, but also our relationship with others and our mental, physical and spiritual health.
A Harvard Health Publishing article explains what happens when people begin to acknowledge the good things in their lives. "In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power."
Neuroscientists at USC have studied the impact of gratitude on the brain and have learned that there are actually links between being grateful and our brain structure. They have found that gratitude can prompt the creation of brain chemicals that increase feelings of being connected to others. It is important to note that the changes in the brain, and consequently in our lives, don't happen immediately, but actually accrue over time. This is actually kind of exciting because once you learn to incorporate gratitude into your routine, it becomes an automatic mood booster that is only going to grow as time goes on.
Practicing gratitude doesn't only benefit ourselves, but there is research to suggest that grateful people are more likely to be generous and altruistic. University of Oregon neuroscientist, Christina Karns, researched the connection between gratitude and generosity and learned that they are both controlled by the same area of the brain. Think about the snowball effect this has - the more grateful you are, the more likely you are to be giving, which could provide reason for others to be more grateful and give. This cycle could go on and on!
I think we are all convinced that being grateful is a good thing, but how do we actually learn to recognize what we are grateful for and achieve these benefits? The experts have suggestions including keeping a gratitude journal, writing letters of thanks, and visiting those you haven't properly thanked in the past. I want to share 10 of my favorite ideas with you, and I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!
I'm extremely grateful for all the blessings in my life, and it's a wonderful time of year to stop and recognize them all. I wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving, and pray it is filled with gratitude and giving!
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Harvard Health Publishing. “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” Harvard Health, Healthbeat, 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.
Lindberg, Eric. “Practicing Gratitude Can Have Profound Health Benefits, USC Experts Say.” USC News, University of Southern California, 25 Nov. 2019, news.usc.edu/163123/gratitude-health-research-thanksgiving-usc-experts/.
Wong, Joel, and Joshua Brown. “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” Greater Good Magazine, University of California, Berkeley, 6 June 2017, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain.
Samuel, Sigal. “Giving Thanks May Make Your Brain More Altruistic.” Vox, Vox, 27 Nov. 2019, www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/11/27/20983850/gratitude-altruism-charity-generosity-neuroscience.
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I'm going to be honest — I don't always love my two hour per day commute, but since that's how long it takes me to get to and from my job, I have learned to make the best of it. Those hours in the car are where I really zoned in on my love of productivity, cultivated some important relationships, did a lot of deep thinking, came up with some great ideas (like starting this blog), was entertained, learned new things, and managed my busy schedule.
How do I accomplish all of those things while driving? Very safely, I assure you! There are 5 key ways I have found make a commute more productive.
1. Podcasts and Audio Books
When I first began my long commute, I realized that I'd essentially lost two hours of my day getting to and from work. I wanted to find a way to change those two hours a day from a source of frustration to at least partially productive. I started with an audio book that I only allowed myself to listen to on my commute. What this did was actually make me look forward to the drive so I could find out what happened next! I also used a Bible app and, instead of reading Bible passages daily, I listened to them.
Then one day, it all changed when I searched "productivity" on the Podcast app on my iPhone. I discovered The Productive Woman podcast, and I was hooked! I devoured all the back episodes and learned about other productivity and organization podcasts that I could enjoy like Organize 365, The Productivityist, and Beyond the To Do List. Soon I was branching out to other podcasts about parenthood (The Longest Shortest Time), happiness (Happier with Gretchen Rubin) and eventually even true crime (Serial, Crime Junkie) and fictional stories (Limetown). There are so many more great podcasts out there on every topic. You can be entertained, educated or inspired every day on your way to work!
2. Recording Yourself
I'm not ashamed to say that I talk to myself. I need to talk things through to help me process them, and sometimes I don't really want or need anyone else's input. For me, saying things out loud helps me to make sense of them, but I've discovered that recording myself and listening back takes it to the next level! I use the voice memo app on my iPhone which can be launched with Siri. After recording myself explaining an idea or hashing out something that's been weighing on my mind, I listen back to myself. Something amazing happens when I listen to myself talking — I forget it's me, and I am able to objectively process what I've said. It's almost as if you're hearing someone else's voice talk about something familiar which allows you to gain insights and spark new ideas.
3. Voice Commands
Between my job and my personal life, there are always emails and text messages to return. I rely on my iPhone and Siri to help me get some of those taken care of on the road. "Hey Siri" helps me listen to emails or text messages and send replies. I typically only send voice to text messages to people I know can overlook typos, though!
I also use voice commands to create reminders on my Reminders app. This is likely the most helpful of all these tips. When I think of something I need to do at home that evening, I just say, "Hey Siri remind me at 8 p.m. to ..." I can also create appointments on my calendar just as easily.
Hands free phone calls are a great use of time in the car. I talk to my mom almost everyday on my way to work. It's a routine that we've developed, and it makes the time on the road go quicker and be meaningful. I also try to catch up with other friends and family on the way home in the evenings.
I use the app, Voxer, to leave voice messages for friends that aren't available at the same time I'm available to talk because of time zones or different schedules. The ability to talk and listen when I have time has allowed me to be more connected and develop stronger relationships. Even though we aren't talking in real time, we are talking. I look forward to having messages to listen to, and it's great to be able to talk to someone when I need to talk — even if they aren't available. I also use group Voxer messages when I want to tell two or more people the same thing at the same time, but they aren't both available.
In addition to having meaningful conversations, I also use this time for making mundane phone calls like making appointments — especially ones where you may have to be on hold for a while. After making an appointment, I just use voice to text to add it to my calendar, and viola! I've marked a task off my to do list!
"In our noisy, busy lives, there isn't a lot of time spent in silence, and a commute is a great opportunity to take advantage of some quiet time."
The radio in my vehicle only works about a third of the time, the CD player hasn't worked for years, and I can't plug in my phone to my car. (Sidenote: it's about time for a new vehicle!) This means I rarely listen to music in my car, and when I do, it's really special. At first, I missed the radio, but soon, I learned to love the silence. It gave me to opportunity to think, talk to myself (see above) and pray (with my eyes open!)
In our busy, noisy lives, there isn't a lot of time spent in silence, and a commute is a great opportunity to take advantage of some quiet time. If you drive like I do, you can't exactly meditate, but it is still therapeutic to be alone and quiet. If you take a train or other public transportation, some noise cancelling headphones would do wonders for you even if you didn't listen to anything but the silence!
When you spend so many hours in the car, you start to develop habits or hacks to make it more tolerable. Here are just a few more of my tips.
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Memento Organization: Part 1
As my boys grow out of the little kid stage, I have become more and more aware of how fleeting childhood is. I have to admit it makes me kind of sad to think about my little boys growing into young men. The things that use to seem annoying — silly cartoons, endless games of pretend, so many Legos®, little socks without mates, countless drawings covering the refrigerator, or lots of toys lining the side of the bathtub — now, I long for more!
I'm realizing now that what matters most to me is time together, shared experiences, and memories made. The memories are in my head and heart, but having tangible things to see and touch, help me remember more vividly. It is very easy to get into a state of mind (like I am as I write this) that you want to hold onto your children or your life as it is now and never forget it — and to do that, we feel like we should save everything! It's funny how something very small or seemingly insignificant can jog your memory and bring back emotions you felt at the time you first had the experience. A little note in scribbled handwriting, a self portrait drawn in Kindergarten, a story written by an imaginative elementary student, a photo, a ticket stub, a program from a school concert, or a spelling test with a big red A+ all will transport you back in time, if only for a moment, to re-experience the event you were commemorating by saving the item. Hanging onto all of our kids' stuff can quickly become a dangerous practice unless you can afford to add on a wing to your house for mementos!
I've found that time is the best way to determine if something is really worth saving. Once you throw something away, it's gone, so I have made the decision that if I have a slight feeling of attachment to an item, I will save it — at least for a while. Way back when I started My Life In Order, I wrote about paper organization and shared a workflow that helped me stay on top of all the paper that comes into our home. A big part of that process is about how I handle items that I consider mementos. Today, I'm going to share with you my current system for memento organization, and in a later post I will explain how my system is evolving as my children get older.
Step 1: Keep or Trash?
Commit to making quick decisions about everything that comes into your home. There are really only two options with mementos — keep or trash. Just because you choose to keep an item in this first step, doesn't mean you have to keep it forever, so don't spend much time worrying about the quantity of items you save in this step.
I used to save too little in this step, and my little guy would often rescue his beloved artwork or a worksheet he was particularly proud of from the recycling bin. I've finally found a happy medium between saving everything and trashing the majority, and the key has been asking my kids about what they would like to save. Sometimes I'm surprised what they want to save but also at what they DON'T want to save.
I have an inbox in my kitchen specific for mementos. This is the perfect spot for me, because all paper flows through my kitchen! But before I put items in that inbox, I review them for things I obviously don't need to keep.
Step 2: Separate and Store
Once your inbox is full or at a specific, regular interval, take the contents of your inbox and separate mementos into types and store somewhere accessible. We all have different types of mementos, so it's important to separate them in this step and determine specific storage spaces for each type. I have four main types with their own short term storage solution:
"Don't overwhelm today with all the stuff of yesterday"
Step 3: Review and Prune
Every once in a while, you will need to review and prune your mementos so you don't run out of space. The added benefit of this review is that you can experience the memories that go along with these items again. In reality, the only mementos I do this with regularly are the kids'. The natural time to review is between school years. It's kind of fun to spread everything from that drawer where we put items throughout the year all over the floor and go through them together. If there's an item that neither of us can remember what it is or why we saved it, that's a sure sign that it should be trashed! At the end of a school year, I also have more clarity about if I saved WAY too many spelling tests or drawings, and then with the help of each child, I can choose the best of the best to save long term.
Each year I purchase a small container, and only allow myself to save the amount of paper that will fit in that bin. This finite amount of space helps to keep the mementos to a respectable amount. I realize that with two kids and one container per school year, this will add up fairly quickly. Currently I have the back of one closet dedicated to these items, but I know that as more time passes, I'll be able to repeat the review and prune process a few more times to get the kids' mementos down to an even more manageable amount. The more time that passes, the easier it is to determine what is worth saving. Don't forget to go through this process with the over-sized items from Step 1 that you may have stored elsewhere.
Much of Step 3 depends on the amount of space you have. Don't overwhelm today with all the stuff of yesterday. You will need to determine how much space you are willing to dedicate to mementos and be sure that they don't interfere with living your daily life to the fullest.
I'm planning to pare down my kids'mementos even more as time goes on. The truly important mementos will automatically show themselves — you'll remember what they mean while you may forget why in the world you saved some of the other things! My oldest is turning 13 in just a few weeks, so I'm using this milestone to motivate me to create a system for him that will allow us to continue to save important mementos in a way that will be easily accessible when it's time to make a high school graduation party display and small enough for him to take to his own home someday. I'll be working on this over Christmas break, so stay tuned for Memento Organization: Part 2!
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