Share the gratitude.

gratitude

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

It’s totally inclusive. Gifts are not obligatory. It’s just about togetherness, gratitude and a shared meal.

Every year on fourth Thursday in November, our family invites a variety of people to join us at our Thanksgiving table. Many of them come from other places and don’t have family nearby. In my experience, something about being far away from loved ones tends to make people even more grateful.

This year, if my Thanksgiving guests are up for it, I’d like to try a little gratitude experiment that I saw on a website called SoulPancake. The experiment goes like this:

So, if you’re making an appearance at my house on Thanksgiving. Stop reading here. Don’t spoil the surprise.

I’ll ask my guests to close their eyes and think about a person who has had an incredible positive impact in their lives. “With your eyes closed, sit back for a bit, thinking on that person and what he or shy did for you and specific times or instances for which you’re grateful,” I’ll say.

Then, I’ll give them each a piece of paper and ask them to write about the person and experiences they just remembered.

The rest of the SoulPancake experiment is based on University of California psychologist Robert Emmons’ research. Emmons has made studying the science of gratitude his life’s work. He has research to prove that gratitude not only makes people happier, it also leads to better health and a stronger connection to others. Emmons believes practicing gratitude has transformative effects on a person’s social and emotional well being.

While focusing on gratitude is good and helps people feel better, sharing that gratitude takes the good vibes to a whole different level. After my guests have written their pieces, we’ll get out a telephone and encourage each of them to call the person he or she has written about and read what they’ve written.

According to Emmons’ research, practicing gratitude is what it’s all about. So we’ll do our best on Thanksgiving Day, but Emmons says applying the same kind of focus to gratitude the other 364 days of the year has its advantages as well.

He recommends keeping a gratitude journal. He says any practice that helps us develop more grateful thinking also counteracts boredom and apathy — and living from a grateful place is just a better way to experience life.

According to Emmons’ anecdotal research, another idea to launch on Thanksgiving, especially for families with younger children, is what I’m calling Jar of Bounty.  Families express their gratitude and in doing so, place a coin or two in a labeled gratitude jar. When the jar is full, they count the money and give it to a specific cause. Feeling grateful is one thing. Sharing gratitude and giving to others is a whole different thing.

In fact, Mother Theresa spoke of the gratitude she felt toward the people she served for allowing her the opportunity to serve others.

If you’re a data geek, you’ll appreciate knowing that in the Soul Pancake experiment, those who took the time to write something down, but chose not to share it by phone, saw happiness increase from 2 to 4 percent. Those who wrote the piece, picked up the phone and shared their gratitude saw happiness increase between 4 and 19 percent. The person who experienced the biggest jump in happiness was the least happy person who walked in the door.

And the moral of this story is, when you’re feeling a little low or if you just want to feel better, find reasons to be grateful — and share that gratitude.

LSS: Celebrating 20 years together and figuring out pieces of what makes it work

Twenty years ago this morning, I was feeling kind of crazy wondering if I was, in fact, kind of crazy. Later that day, I married my husband. Twenty years down the road, I’m grateful for going through with my decision. Despite ourselves, our shortcomings, the massive amount we had to learn, our marriage has been crazy beautiful.

In honor of all the folks out there who are working their way through marriage — and could probably teach us a lot, here are 20 observations that I believe have improved the quality of our relationship:

  1. We both let a lot go. We’ve figured out that there’s little need to get in a tizzy over most things. Life works better that way.
  2. I still laugh at most of his jokes.
  3. A sleep study and prescribed subsequent actions have the potential to do wonders for a relationship.
  4. Sitting down at the dinner table together makes us smile and just makes life work better.
  5. Developing appreciation for and understanding of the different ways we grew up doing things has helped us form our own blend and approach to family life.
  6. I understand that he just doesn’t have it in him to listen to everything I have to say! But he does a good job when it matters.
  7. Consistently doing little things — like pouring him a glass of lemonade — goes a long way.
  8. He gives me thoughtful and wonderful gifts including a new board game every Christmas, which (call me shallow) matters to me.
  9. There’s real beauty in going to church together as a family.

10. He is good to and has come to love and appreciate my relatives. I feel the same way about his. We’ve done our best to embrace our mutual families’ stories.

11. He sends me flowers.

12. We’ve realized that sometimes we both overlook the many little ways the other gives to our relationship — and so when we get frustrated, we try to remind ourselves of all those little, unnamed things that really add up.

13. Even though I know he’s always on my team and has my back, I still need the friendship and support of others — and he’s cool with that.

14. He makes great breakfast burritos.

15. We’ve learned to play to each other’s strengths as much as possible.

16. Close calls and major disappointments have happened, and we’ve lived to tell the tale. Time strengthens and heals.

17. He’s done a better job than I have of figuring out which battles to fight. I am grateful and hope to learn from his example.

18. I love to entertain. He’s very meh about it. We entertain less than I’d like, but he supports it when we do. If he doesn’t want to sit and visit, he cleans the kitchen. Everybody wins.

19. He’s paid enough attention to figure out things I’d like in categories he’s not even interested in — like books, movies, pasta. I love it when he recommends something he thinks I might like, and he’s usually right. I try to do the same for him. Just little ways to say, “Hey, I get you, and I’m thinking about you. You’re important enough to me that I want to share things with you that will make you smile.”

20. We both understand what the elderly lady on Passe Partout was talking about regarding her longtime marriage when she said, “When he gets mad, he sits in the swing and rocks till he gets glad — and I do the same.”

 

LSS: Best (or worst) proposal video ever?

Screen Shot 2013-11-10 at 9.41.40 PM

Anyone who knows much about youtube videos knows that few people would watch anything 27 minutes long unless it was exceptional. When a friend referred the latest hot wedding proposal video my way this week, she said, “It’s 27 minutes long, but you’ll like it. Watch it.”

So, I did.

The 27 minutes entailed the prospective groom convincing a restaurant that doesn’t usually open on a Saturday night to open on a Saturday night. Then he rigged the scene with enough hidden cameras to tape the impending action from nearly every angle. He then convinced his prospective fiancée to meet him there, even though “he was running late.”

When she arrives to a candle lit empty restaurant, she is seated at a table and a large screen television is rolled out and begins to play in front of her. In dual screen action, the video plays, with a thumbnail screen of the girl watching it. The video first features the soon-to-be-groom going on a syndicated radio program to ask her to marry him. That effort results in a choreographed fail as the equipment malfunctions. Then he dresses in a series of various costumes with backup dancers (also in full costumes) through four lip-syncing performance of four different songs — all deemed to be “not quite right.” Then, he orchestrates a large-scale flash mob that does an intricate routine to “I think I want to marry you.” Also not right.

A car chase scene (in a Porsche) follows the flash mob and, finally, he appears at said restaurant in person and parades all of his and her family members in (with a short break for a video clip of him at the girl’s father’s grave as he asked her dad for permission to marry her). Finally, he asks her to marry him.

The production quality of the video is superb — like the movie it was designed to be, fun to watch and over-the top, but it was pure once-in-a-lifetime craziness.

Let it be known that I am all for guys going all out to make the most of a memorable occasion, but I also believe we need to cut normal guys with normal means some slack and set realistic expectations for the unmarried among us by saying, “Life isn’t like the movies often. There may be a perfect, choreographed moment every now and then, but guys don’t have Porsche car chase scenes to meet you at restaurants they coaxed open based on their charm alone so they can present your favorite flower and promise to whisk you away for a lifetime of perfectness.”

While I wish a lifetime of happiness for that couple and the rest of the budding romances out there, they need to know that very little of real life is like that — and that’s not a bad thing.

Much of life consists of getting up when the alarm goes off, finding clean, unwrinkled clothes, going to work, having a few laughs with friends and loved ones, finding something for dinner and realizing that it’s been a while since you gave the sink a good scrub. Granted, there are some spectacular moments mixed in, but life isn’t choreographed — and as much as you love a guy or a guy loves you, it’s not going to be like the movies often.

Chances are, as long as you’re looking for complete moral and emotional support from a single person, you’ll wind up disappointed and frustrated. Know that going into a relationship and things just work better. No matter how much you love someone, you still need to build and nurture solid relationships with others — and that includes the girl whose fiancé made a 27-minute proposal video!

Love me some words

words-1Sitting at the window where I write, I’ve spent the morning eating a bowl of oatmeal, just like my grandmother used to make (with salt, butter, sugar and milk), remembering old friends, trying to count the leaves as they fall and thinking of poems that I love.

Some might question my productivity, but it’s early still. And at any rate, I’d welcome their questions. An inquiry regarding my morning would give us a chance to discuss the definition of productivity — and poetry too.

So many of us are programmed to go so fast and so far in a day that we mistake the calm and quiet that comes with thinking for indolence. That’s where we’re wrong.

Sitting there and watching falling leaves was good for my brain. Reading poetry was good for my heart.

I fell in love with poetry when I was in the sixth grade. Remember the excitement Scholastic book orders used to bring to rural towns with no other means to buy books? I do. I wasn’t able to order books every time, but in the sixth grade, I started babysitting every now and then. When book ordering time came around, I was flush. I saw a book called, “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle” in the book ordering promotional piece.

Even at 11, I loved words. I couldn’t imagine why someone would have named a book such a crazy title. I had to know and was quirky enough that I didn’t mind pairing my well-earned babysitting cashola with my love for words. So I ordered the book, which turned out to be a collection of poems. On one of the shelves somewhere in my house, I still have the paperback book, its pages crackly and yellowed. Books come easy these days. But when I first got my hands on that book, owning my very own book of poetry lifted my heart and mind.

The book was named after a poem called, “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity,” by John Tobias. My 11-year-old self  read that poem over and over again, trying to figure out its mystery. I looked up words I didn’t understand, starting with Felicity in the title. When I learned, felicity meant happiness, I felt like a detective. Suddenly, the poem leapfrogged in meaning and significance, and I got it. It was a poem written by an adult who was remembering his childhood. Here’s an excerpt:

During that summer—

Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was–
Watermelons ruled.

I ordered that book right about the time the Cincinnati Reds were playing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Something about that book and the magic of that World Series reinforced something big I was figuring out. Somehow, that poem led me to savor those moments I recognized as childhood — or at least something fleeting. Not all the time, but there were definite moments that loving poetry at a young age made me appreciate the magic as it was happening more. Maybe I remember more of my own magical years when watermelons ruled because of poetry.

So I believe in sharing that gift with others — particularly kids in rural places that don’t have many opportunities to get up close and personal with poetry. That’s why I’ll spend a significant amount of time volunteering at Festival of Words in St. Landry Parish between Nov. 6 and Nov. 9. Join the fun. Festival of Words does it best to make poetry accessible for more people. They host a variety of events, including our own homegrown hero, former Louisiana Poet Laureate, the great Darrell Bourque. This year the organization is bringing in a variety of poets from all-over, including one of my personal favorites, Naomi Shihab Nye, to do workshops, readings and performances.

If you’d like to join the fun, check out the schedule at www.festivalofwords.org.