Pass it forward
We are moving into December which is a time for celebrations and thanks and I thought these ideas would be appropriate. I lost my mother when I was in my early 30's and was not able to say thank you to her for her wisdom, courage and hard work that helped shape the person I was and would continue to grow into being. She left a personal diary, which I read many holiday seasons ago, that allowed me a glimpse into the wonderful person she was. It also gave me some insights about the hardships she and my father went through until the mid 50's. So, for those of you lucky enough to have your parents in your lives say thank you. Gratitude works to help your soul, feelings of gratitude enhance well-being and one’s sense of meaning. The ideas expressed here are based on the ideas of Martin Seligman
Seligman suggests that you think of a person in your life who has kind or generous to you but whom you've never properly thanked. You write a detailed "gratitude letter" to that person, examining in concrete terms why you're grateful. Then you visit that person and read the letter aloud. According to Seligman, the ritual is powerful. "Everyone cries when you do a gratitude visit. It's moving for both people."
Pass it forward, or one good deed begets another is an ancient idea and is based on our need to be needed and to say thank you to those who have helped us out over the years. When I was teaching grade 10's I would have them do an autobiography and to help them organise the work, I would have them write about elementary school. In almost every essay I read students talked about the impact a teacher, a friend, an adult made in their lives. I would ask my students this question: “Have you taken the time to say thank you to that person?”. Most students had not, in fact, many of us do not practice this courtesy.
When I was young my mom would tell me, as I told my children (as I suspect many of us Boomers did) "Please and Thank you are magic little words, use them and you may get what you need" As we grew older but not much wiser, many of us forgot the magic little words or forgot how to use them wisely and with meaning. Today on the radio, I heard a lady who had a show about aging gracefully talk about birthdays and how she now celebrates not a birthday but uses the day as a celebration of a major milestone for the year, she said: I have had a European Vacation day, I had a Roman Holiday adventure day". She went on to talk about using your birthday to celebrate major milestones that you did in the year, or hope to do in the following year.
Another variation on moving your birthday from growing older is to create the birthday gratitude list. The birthday gratitude list is simple. On your birthday, make a list of the things for which you grateful-with the number of items equalling the number of years you're turning that day. (So as a 70 year old this year I will be creating a list of 70 things I am grateful for this year). As your list grows by one each year-the theory being that the older you get, more you have to be thankful for and if you keep your list, it gets easier to fill out as you only have to add one item. :-) The tough job is to create the original list
Gratitude should be something we build into our lives and one way to do this is to try this just for one day, then the next day try it for just one day. Keeping resolutions is difficult, but we can all try something just for one day. Build a way to be thankful into your daily routine (try this for just one day). Tomorrow, at a certain time think of one thing for which you're grateful and write it down. I also suggest that you not only think about the one thing you are grateful for but take a few minutes and explore the deeper meaning behind why you are grateful. (try it for just one day and then the next day try it again but only for one day :-)
Doing these little gratitude exercises, I think, can help you restore your sense of balance and your sense that for all the bad things that happen to us, good things do happen to us. Over time and little by little a new sense of seeing the world can grow.