What is your most recent gift to yourself? How long ago was it? A day, a week, a month, a year? Our lives are so hectic, constantly running from one obligation or activity to the next. What would it be like to give yourself five minutes of time each day?
We’ve all heard “you must take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else.” Each time we travel in an airplane, we hear the safety speech. “in the event of a loss in cabin pressure or oxygen, face masks will descend. Carefully strap the mask onto your face before helping those around you.” Putting your mask on first will take care of your body’s oxygen needs so that you can put a mask on someone else without passing out. If you neglect to put your own mask on first, you run the risk of passing out before placing the mask on another person. This is a dire, but effective illustration of the importance of taking care of yourself so you can take care of someone else.
Giving yourself five minutes can increase your emotional resilience, making it easier to deal with the recalcitrant teenager, the thoughtless coworker, or the demanding customer. Take just five minutes away from the telephone, the commute, the television, the social media. During that five minutes, I invite you to savor.
to give flavor to: season
to have experience of: taste
to taste or smell with pleasure: relish
to delight in: enjoy
savoring the moment
credit: Merriam Webster
Take those five minutes and indulge yourself. If you like chocolate, savor a piece. If you like walks, savor a five-minute stroll. If you like sunshine, savor the rays on your face. Whatever your indulgence, stop everything else and simply savor the experience. Stop the noise, the internal chatter. Don’t worry about the dishes or the laundry, just appreciate that five minutes. Take time to really appreciate your savory five minutes. At the end of five minutes say, “Thank you” and move back into your busy day, fueled by five minutes of savoring. What will you savor today?
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Sometimes gratitude is hard to do. Life hands us challenges. Loss of health, job, or a loved one can make every day routines difficult to bear, making thanks a monumental task. Adapting to change can be a painful struggle.
Gratitude can be developed just like a muscle. Regular workouts provide resilience for muscles, allowing them to bounce back from setbacks. Going to the gym, getting in a workout trains muscles. Hence the popularity of ‘couch to 5k’ programs. The running program trains your muscles to run consistently for over three miles. Regular adherence to the program can have most healthy adults running three miles in 6-9 weeks. It takes time and dedication to reach the 5k goal. The key is getting started.
A good start for a gratitude practice is to write down three things you are grateful for each night before bed. If you are struggling to find items for your list, here’s a thought. One friend has a job that can be emotionally difficult. During those times when his job is stressful, he turns to his crazy sock collection. He has socks with clowns, fireworks, and balloons – even toe socks! He is a snappy dresser and looks quite professional but those socks always keep him smiling, even under pressure. He shows his socks to his friends so they can smile too. At the end of the day, he is grateful for those smiles.
A client gave me permission to share her gratitude journey. She is a hard-working young lady, driven to achieve results in her life. After discussing options with her boyfriend and family she applied to a competitive MBA program and was accepted. Two months into the program, her boyfriend of two years broke off their relationship, citing the reason that she didn’t have time to go out weekday evenings since beginning the program. She had discussed her plans with him, including study time, and thought they agreed. At first, she was quite sad for the loss of the relationship, but could still express gratitude for the two years of companionship. As time passed she realized that they each had different life goals. She had learned from this experience how important her life goals were to her, how important it is for her to have the space within a relationship to follow her dreams and to allow the other person the same space. She is grateful for this learning. Looking back, she is grateful for the two years of fun they had together and the self-awareness she gained through the experience.
Sometimes when life is difficult, the best you can hope for is learning/self-awareness from the experience and be grateful for that. Consider the famous quote adapted from an ancient Persian poem: “I cried because I have no shoes until I met a man who has no feet.” Looking at what you do not have creates discontent. Appreciating what you do have is gratitude.
Personally, I once found gratitude during a funeral. The person giving the eulogy spoke so honestly and eloquently about the kind nature of the deceased that I found myself offering thanks for having known her. Gratitude during loss can be quite profound.
It is difficult to find gratitude in a dark place. If life is offering you challenges, try some of the suggestions in this blog article to begin a gratitude practice: look for a reason to smile, look for what you have learned, look for a way to grow as a person, look at what you do have instead of what you lack, look for a way to offer thanks. When life challenges you, what are you grateful for?
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At age eighteen I was a young whippersnapper. A college man with a bright future, no one could tell me a thing. Always wore snappy clothes, went to the right parties, planned to become a lawyer, and live the good life. Then things started to go wrong.
First, the family business went under. Mom and Dad couldn’t pay my college bills and support my fancy lifestyle any longer. I had to get a job but didn’t have any marketable skills. The first job I could find was bussing tables in a diner. Nasty work, cleaning tables where other people had eaten, picking up their dirty dishes, and many days my mood was snarly because I had to do ‘manual labor’. Looking back, that job paid my bills and kept me fed, plus I got to meet a lot of people. One of those people was Gert. Gert came in every day for a cup of coffee. Just a cup of coffee because that was all he could afford. I thought Gert was a crazy old fellow. He was delusional – always happy when he had nothing to be happy about. He was old, walked with a cane, didn’t own a car, and was too broke to afford a meal in a diner. He would greet everyone he met with, “Happy Wednesday or Happy Thursday” like every day was a celebration or something. I was young, educated, and knew better, so I just smirked and left him to his insanity.
Then the blackest day of my young life rolled around. It was a Monday. I failed my final exams, my girlfriend broke up with me – she wanted a boyfriend with money, and the diner had to let me go because business had fallen off. I sat on a bench and went over all my misfortunes. Bad grades, no girl, no job, no money, no life. Who should sit next to me on the bench but crazy Gert? “Happy Monday!”, he said.
I was in no mood for his senility. “Get real old man. You are old. You walk with a cane. You have no money, no job, and no girlfriend.”
Gert looked at me, smiled, and said,” The sun is shining. I am grateful for that. What are you grateful for?
At first, I could only keep going over what I didn’t have, no job, no money, no girlfriend. It didn’t help that Henry drove past in his shiny new Ford. I was jealous of Henry, cruising the boulevard while I sat on a bench with crazy Gert, who found such pleasure in simple things like sunshine.
Gert continued, “I didn’t ask for the sun to shine today. It just did. The best gifts are given without you asking for them and that sunshine is a welcome gift.”
I started looking for the gifts in my life instead of what I didn’t have. I had the sunshine, I had enough money to cover bills until the end of the month, and I had a great smile. I felt better after thinking what I was grateful for and decided to think about my gratitude every day. At first negatives would creep in, but I stuck with it and before long I started finding more things to be grateful for. My attitude changed. People liked being around me and I connected with a wonderful study group. My grades improved and I completed my college degree. After graduation, I was offered a job as a law clerk. I continued to find at least five things every day I could be grateful for. Then I met Martha on a Tuesday.
Martha was a clerk at the five and dime store. She told every customer to “Have a Terrific Tuesday!” I smirked because it was cheesy, but I noticed that every customer left that store with a smile. I went back to the five and dime on Wednesday and there was Martha, wishing customers “a wonderful Wednesday”. I asked if she would like a soda after her shift.
Martha has been my wife for fifty years. Gert has been gone a long time, but I think of him often and I am grateful for the way he changed my life one sunny Monday. Sometimes over the years, it was tough to go to work on a Monday morning after the weekend. But before I left the house I would always tell Martha “Happy Monday” and she would tell me “Have a marvelous Monday.” And it was a marvelous day because I could always find five things to be grateful for.