One month done. January went by so fast didn’t it? It seems like last week I was toasting the new year, and now it’s February! This year I want to take a pause at the end of each month and reflect. What moments stand out? What lessons did I learn? What am I grateful for?
I love poetry. A good poem sums up all you feel in a few short lines. This month I discovered a poet by the name of Maggie Smith. Her poem “Good Bones” is one of the best I’ve read in a long time. It’s so honest. It’s so raw. It’s beautiful.
This month I made a commitment to myself to improve my health by losing weight through Weight Watchers (now known as WW). I’ve given myself a slow, more realistic start. My goal this month has been simply to track what I eat. It’s the first new habit towards a better me. I kickstarted the program by doing the #7DaysForEveryBody challenge. I usually quit these challenges because I find them stupid and unmotivating, but this one was different. This challenge was not about how many squats I could do or how much water I can drink. This challenge forced me to look inside myself and understand my motivation. It made me see my current self in a positive way. Even if I don’t lose a single pound, I have already succeeded with #WW because the #7DaysForEveryBody challenge made me see myself as a hero and has improved my self esteem and my self confidence.
What Are You Grateful For?
I’ve been practicing gratitude this month. That seems like such a strange thing to say. We practice sports. We practice playing an instrument. You can practice law and medicine. You can practice singing. How the hell does one practice gratitude? How did gratitude become an activity?
To answer that question we need to understand what gratitude is. So what is gratitude? Gratitude is being grateful! Gratitude is being thankful! Grateful and thankful for what? Well, let’s back up a minute and look at that definition again. The dictionary defines gratitude as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Okay, so if that’s gratitude then what is the practice of gratitude?
Practicing gratitude is taking time to notice and reflect upon the things you are thankful for. Practicing gratitude is intentionally setting aside time to notice the little things, the small things, the invisible things. When I first started practicing gratitude I would list the things I’m grateful for. My list looked like this
My list looked like a lot of other people’s list. There is nothing wrong with that list. We should be thankful for all those things. They’re a gift. But intentionally practicing gratitude requires us to go a bit deeper. Practicing gratitude is taking time to notice how wonderful the hot water feels on your skin under the shower and feeling grateful and thankful that you have access to clean, safe, near instant hot water to shower with. It’s taking time to notice the chirp of the one bird on your bird feeder every morning and feeling your heart swell with gratitude for the comfort it’s song brings.
Practicing gratitude is good for your health. There is science to back it up. Studies show that practicing gratitude helps you sleep better and gives you a stronger immune system. This is likely due to lowered stress. Practicing gratitude improves our relationships, our emotions, our career, and the best part is that gratitude makes us feel more gratitude. Gratitude triggers positive feedback loops. The more gratitude we feel the more intense the feeling becomes and the longer that feeling lasts. Journaling in a gratitude journal for 5 minutes a day every day can have the same impact as doubling your income, but the positive feelings from money never last. It’s always awesome when we have more money, but we get used to it and then it’s not enough. This is what’s known as the hedonic adaption. But gratitude just breeds more gratitude.
Practicing gratitude is definitely a skill. I have a place in my planner dedicated to gratitude. Every morning, before I get out of bed, I spend 5 minutes reflecting on my day ahead, my surroundings, and the things and people in my life. Some days it’s easy. Some days it’s not. But, the effort has been worth it. My mood is lifted. I’m not as stressed. Gratitude reduces envy and makes our memories happier.
This month I was reminded of the value of friendship. I had a bad day. A no good, rotten, crappy day. I vented on facebook after smashing my finger in a door at work. My friend Cecilia read my post. More importantly, she read through my post. She knew my frustration was more than just a sore finger. So, in an instant she packed up her car, kissed her husband goodbye, and drove two hours to spend the weekend with me. We didn’t do anything fancy. No trips to the museum or sightseeing. No spa day or shopping. We vegged on my sofa and talked. We talked about philosophy, religion, politics, and metaphysics. We laughed. We meditated. And when the weekend was over I felt so much better. I had more energy. I had better energy. I was recharged. Connecting with Cecilia was exactly what I needed, and I am thankful she knew it even if I didn’t.
I also learned that friends come in all shapes, sizes, and in the most unexpected places. My friend Mary shared a picture of a doe that has been sheltering outside the window of her office. There is an overhang on the roof and a row of bushes that provide shelter from the weather. The doe became a frequent visitor and soon became comfortable to Mary’s presence on the the other side of the glass. Mary set up some straw to make the space more comfortable and give more insulation, and the doe has made herself right at home.
Mary is the doe’s friend, and now the doe is Mary’s friend. She is a wonderful companion for Mary while she is working in her office. It was a small act of kindness on Mary’s part to put out the straw for the doe and allow her to stay in this space, and from this small act of kindness Mary was rewarded with a beautiful new friend.
Lastly, I began reconnecting to my Lutheran faith this month. I’m reading books about the Lutheran church and rereading the Catechism. I came across the meme above yesterday and it really resonated with me. We look to scripture to tell us what to do and how to love, but that’s backwards. It’s the opposite of what Jesus would do. We should use love as the lens through which we study scripture. February is the month of love. Valentine’s Day is coming up. I’m going to reflect on love this month. Thank you for reading and following my blog. What are your end of the month reflections? What are you looking forward to this month? Please feel free to share in the comments.