How do you show your gratitude?

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Photo courtesy of Kate Ware (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Kate Ware (Creative Commons)

Gratitude really does make a difference.

Our message at church this week was about gratitude (thank you Pastor Chris!), and it made me start thinking about the two ways to be grateful – being grateful for the blessings that I have, and also extending gratitude to those around me who are making a difference.

I am constantly grateful for simple things like a beautiful sunrise, praise music while I run, and the love of good friends and family. I’m not as good about telling those around me thank you for what they are doing.

I do a lot of volunteer work with an organization called I Run 4 (read more here), which pairs runners with buddies who have special needs and challenges from Down syndrome to autism and everything in between. We run in honor of our buddies and dedicate our miles to them.

My work as connection coordinator involves a lot of emails and communications with both runners and buddies/parents as I coordinate the matches. Sometimes, members of the group will thank me for the time and effort I put into it, and it always gives me pause. I do it because I love seeing the impact on these lives and not for any glory or pats on the back. But it does make me feel good when someone notices and says a simple thank you for the work I put in.

With that in mind, the other day I made a special point to say thank you to one of my team members at work who had been working extra hard and doing a terrific job. I was amazed at the look on his face, and the way he kind of stood up straighter. It really mattered that I had noticed and acknowledged his contributions.

I don’t do that enough. I need to look for opportunities to say thank you – constantly. Not in an insincere way, but by honestly noticing how others make a difference and then saying so.

I also need to be more aware of the many blessings that I have instead of obsessing over how much work I have or how irritated I am that something isn’t going right. Even in the challenges, there are blessings, and sometimes they are more impactful than when things are rolling along smoothly. I need to be grateful for it all.

How do you show your gratitude?

Practicing gratitude

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Photo courtesy of Kate Ware (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Kate Ware (Creative Commons)

Do you thank the people you work with for doing a good job? What about your family?

The busier we get, it seems the less likely we are to acknowledge the hard work of those around us on our team, our spouse or people we volunteer with at church.

What a difference it would make if we paid just a little compliment – a simple, “Thank you for taking care of that,” or “Boy you are working so hard.”

The more specific the appreciation, the better. It’s one thing to say “good job” but to tell them specifically what you have noticed they are doing well lets them know that you really are paying attention to their efforts.

How can you practice gratitude today?

Thanks trump problems

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sunrise

What am I thankful for?

That’s the question I am learning to ask if I find myself sinking into a pit of negativity when things aren’t going my way. It could be issues cropping up at home or work, slow traffic, sickness, something is broken – the list goes on.

Instead of dwelling on the bad things, I try to turn it around and think of something – just one thing – that I am grateful for. A beautiful sunrise. Birds singing. Warmer weather. A dear friend.

Suddenly, that one thing turns into several things, and just like the snap of your fingers – life doesn’t seem so bad.

What are YOU thankful for?

Remembering to be thankful

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Photo courtesy of Beth (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Beth (Creative Commons)

I don’t say thank you enough. Do you?

And when we do say thank you, do we mean it and do we spell out what we are being thankful for?

I often find myself mumbling “thank you” and it’s about as meaningful as the “how are you – fine” interaction most of us have when we meet. Let’s be honest – most of the time we have that exchange, it’s just a formality – we aren’t really asking how that person is, and we certainly don’t expect any kind of accounting of how they are doing – just like we don’t give them any idea how we are that day either.

I think the same thing happens when we say “thank you” much of the time. We mumble it as an automatic response, and it loses any real meaning.  Plus half the time we walk away wondering what we were even being thanked for!

What if we stopped and actually spelled out to the other person what we are saying thank you about? Instead of just a tossed off “thanks” – imagine yourself saying,

“Thank you for (insert specific action here). That has really helped me (insert specific benefit here).”

When I spell out my gratefulness like this, it not only lets the other person know that I am noticing their actions, but it also makes me more aware of how much I truly appreciate what they have done.

A couple of examples might be:

“Thank you for helping me with the verbiage on that proposal. Your feedback made it more powerful and effective.”

“Thank you for going to lunch with me. It was really nice to catch up and enjoy your company. I loved hearing about your new job.”

“Thank you for your consistently great attitude. I don’t tell you enough how much it brightens the office/house/day when you smile.”

It only takes a minute, but what a difference a genuine thank you can make! I think we especially need to express our gratitude to those who are closest to us at home or work because they are the ones we often take for granted.

Who are you thankful for, and have you told them lately?

A massage, the rain, and a puppy parade

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Photo courtesy of Daniela Caride (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Daniela Caride (Creative Commons)

What is your idea of a perfect afternoon? What helps you recoup after a crazy week?

I know for everyone it is different. Yours might be spending time with family, lounging at the pool, or heading to a movie.

After a week of incredible stress both physical and emotional, I was really looking forward to an afternoon spent unwinding and recovering. I worked really hard on Saturday, taking care of some of the “must do’s” so that Sunday would be more unscheduled. For me, time to myself is critical in the healing process after a week of anxiety and tension.

Getting a massage is one of the few things I splurge on every month, so thankfully, I had one already booked. What a treat to leave limp and relaxed. It’s really amazing how much better I feel without all those knots in my back and shoulders!

I headed to my porch when I got home for some reading, and was greeted with the delightful rumble of thunder in the distance, the sweet smell of rain in the air, and a building breeze. It was the promise of a perfect “juicy” afternoon, as my mom and I call it. Before long, the air cooled, and I heard the gentle sound of rain falling through the leaves of the tree just outside my apartment, cleaning the air and refreshing everything.

Just before the rain started, I noticed several dogs being walked down below on the sidewalk. I looked over and my cat was enthralled – she loves to watch dogs go by, and for her, this was like a puppy parade!

Now we were both happy!

What an incredible release to have an afternoon so pleasant and so conducive to unhooking after a nightmarish week.

How do you unwind after a super busy week?

The appreciation habit

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Photo courtesy of ma.co. (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of ma.co. (Creative Commons)

I bet when you were growing up, your mom made you write thank you notes to your aunt or grandparents after Christmas and birthday gifts. “Thank you for the great ____. I really like it…”

I used to feel like it was just something else to check off my list after the holidays, especially as I got a little older. Put away decorations. Check. Write thank you notes. Check.

The same after any big gift-giving occasion – the obligatory thank you notes.

But a couple of years ago, I read about “Thank You Thursday” and the “Thank you Revolution” from Matt McWilliams (read more here). I was intrigued with the idea of writing a hand written thank you note to someone “just because.” Not for any particular reason, not as a result of receiving something on my end. Just out of the blue to let them know I appreciate the things that they are doing.

Talk about transformations! Silly me thought maybe the only impact would be on the people on the receiving end of the notes. But I was impacted as well!

I started noticing the things people did more often, and realized just how much they impacted me. I started thinking all week about who might be the recipient of my hand written notes on Thursday. I was more generous and tuned in to people.

It got to be a habit to write at least a couple of thank you notes each Thursday, and I continued that for several months. But I quit being focused on the action, and then things got busy, and before I knew it, weeks had passed without a single thank you note or even thought of appreciation for the things people around me were doing. The longer I went without writing a note, the less important it seemed, and the less impact I remembered it having.

Just recently, the subject came up in conversation, and I shared with a friend how influential those thank you notes had been. And I realized that Thank You Thursday was a habit I needed to reinstate. I had not erased my Thank You Thursday reminder on my calendar – so every Thursday, my phone chimed to remind me – and every Thursday I just disregarded the chime.

In his book, “The Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg shares about what he calls “The Habit Loop.” In essence, there is a cue, a routine, and a reward that makes up each habit. So for me the last few months, the cue was the chime on my phone, the routine was to ignore it, and the reward was one less thing I had to do on Thursday.

But this past week, I paid attention. I stopped and wrote a quick note to a co-worker, just sharing my appreciation of her hard work and noticeably positive attitude.

By changing one piece of that loop, I achieved amazing results. The cue was the same – my phone chimed “Thank You Thursday.” But this time, I changed the routine. I stopped right then and dashed off a quick note. I didn’t even deliver it right away, but I had it written and the envelope sitting on my desk. Then later when I uncovered it, I stopped by her desk to drop it off.

It felt good to have stepped outside myself to do something for someone else, and to have made her stop, smile, and feel good knowing her efforts had been noticed. She emailed me later to share how it made her feel better, and validated that her hard work was paying off. But honestly, it felt good for me to do something totally for someone else without any expectation of reciprocation. The reward was that good feeling.

Thank You Thursday will most definitely be part of my weeks going forward – and maybe even expand to other days of the week. It will take focus to ensure I change that routine part of the habit loop, and not ignore the chime. But after a few weeks, I suspect it will be something I don’t have to think about anymore, and the appreciation will spill over to other days and areas of my life.

What habit loops should you reconsider, and what rewards could you achieve?

Do you remember to say thanks?

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Photo courtesy of Nastassia Davis

Photo courtesy of Nastassia Davis

I bumped into an old friend yesterday, someone I haven’t seen in several years. As we were catching up, he mentioned a severe health scare one of his grandchildren had several years ago, and how it was finally resolved. As we talked, he told me thank you.

When I asked why, he said that he had forgotten to thank God for the fact that they weren’t dealing with that issue anymore, and he was thanking me for reminding him of that.

I walked away wondering how often I forget to thank God.

It’s easy to say thank you for the current blessings, the things that are foremost on our minds. But do we reflect on the many ways He has provided for us through this year? And past years? For the successful surgery, the miracle of children, that satisfying job? That dear friend who is always there or your spouse?

The end of the year is always a time to look back on the year, but what if we made being thankful a part of our everyday, all year long? How would that change how we view the people and events in our lives?

What have you forgotten to be thankful for?

 

Thankful for contrasts

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Artwork courtesy of kylesteed (Creative Commons)

Artwork courtesy of kylesteed (Creative Commons)

Winter has definitely come to Middle Tennessee this week, and as I was running into a biting wind, I realized that while I hesitate to say that I am “thankful” for the cold weather, it does make me appreciate the more temperate weather that we have much of the time.

And as we come to Thanksgiving Day and a time of reflection and thankfulness, I recognize that the contrast allows me to savor the sweetness of more pleasant things.

A hilly run makes a flat one seem simple. Being separated from a loved one heightens the delight when you are together. Silence is welcomed after time in a crowd, or conversely, time spent with a group may be a pleasant change if one is too much alone.

While I certainly do not wish for difficult things to happen to me or to others, I am learning to embrace and appreciate both the good and the bad on my journey, to experience all with an open mind and heart, and to be sure to count each of my blessings along the way.

May your journey be filled with blessings.

Gratitude

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Photo courtesy of live w msc (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of live w msc (Creative Commons)

Do you say thank you enough?

I had an experience this week that made me rethink and pay more attention to the people around me and what they do. And being more intentional about telling them thank you.

I work at a nonprofit that helps people with basic needs, like food, rent or utilities when they are in crisis. Many of the families we’ve seen lately have never needed help, which makes the requests more poignant.

This particular family fell fast. The husband had been in a car accident, and was badly injured and out of work. The wife worked but did not make enough to cover the bills, mortgage and new medical bills and prescriptions.

They quickly went through savings and became desperate.

We were able to help with utility bills and food. And in order to protect their home, we tapped some special funds in order to cover an overdue mortgage payment. This was more assistance than was typically granted but it was a dire situation.

That was over a month ago.

We got a call this week that the check had not gotten to the mortgage company and the wife had been served foreclosure papers at her work. What trauma!

She had scrounged up this month’s payment but the bank was demanding the full amount in order to stop the proceedings. We reissued the check and she picked it up to go to the bank. Then we get another call that the check was not made out correctly and they wouldn’t accept it. Trauma upon trauma!

We got the correct information and issued yet another check. The bank was on my way home, so I took the check to her and met her in the parking lot. I was floored.

She started apologizing to me that I had to bring the check! Are you kidding me? I kept telling her how sorry we were that this had happened and she was just shaking her head telling me how grateful they were for the help and that I had come by. Amazing.

In the midst of her panic and worry about saving her home, she was more worried that she had caused trouble to me. It was on my way home and not even out of my way.

I learned a new lesson in gratitude this week.

Blessed beyond words

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I Run 4 logoOne of the most rewarding activities in which I have ever participated involves a group called I Run 4. Here’s the website if you want to check us out. Basically, we match runners with those who cannot run, and we run in their honor.

Founder Tim Boyle began the program by running in honor of Michael Wasserman, who is confined to a wheelchair.  That was in January – and now at the end of September,  we have over 6500 members in the closed Facebook group and nearly 1850 matches.

My responsibility with this group is to facilitate the matches. I have spreadsheets and pair up the people requesting a runner and the runners requesting a buddy. We say that I match, but basically God makes the matches and I just facilitate the spreadsheets.

You cannot imagine the excitement that a match post will generate – the runners have been waiting 6-8 weeks to be paired with a buddy, and the buddies and their parents are so excited to have someone who is willing to dedicate their runs to them, pray for them, and support them so they don’t feel so alone.

I see comments about people bursting into tears when they get matched – and there are lots of exclamation points in the comment feed. One runner noted that she had not understood that people cried when they got their match – until she got her match!

I know from my own personal experience, running for Bennett has been truly inspiring. He turned 2 last summer, and faces the challenges of having Down syndrome. His family calls me his “running mom” and I dedicate every run to him –pray for him, worry about him when he’s not feeling well, and rejoice when he reaches some new milestone. His picture is on my lock screen on my phone, I wear a dog tag necklace with his name on it, and my messenger bag has “I Run 4” and his picture on it.

The relationships that are developing through this program are immense. I’ve written before about the different ways people connect – the buddy/runner connection, of course, but also the runner network. We have folks at all levels of fitness, so it’s a great resource when you have a question or need advice.

While the program is for adults and children challenged with mobility issues, many of our buddies are special needs children. Parents talk about how isolated they felt before, and how incredible it is to have the bond of someone running for your child as well as the support from other parents going through the same things you are.

I feel richly blessed to have the privilege of working with and being inspired by such an incredible group. It’s a lot of hard work and long hours, but the results are so worth it.

What have you done lately that brings both satisfaction and inspiration?