My alma mater has a Facebook page. Recently someone asked this question: What life hacks are helping you kill it right now. For me, at this busy stage of life, as a full-time caretaker, I find that a morning and evening routine makes ALL the difference.
I use my morning routine to get myself on track for the day and my evening routine to slow myself down for sleep. Much of the content of these routines is about caring for myself. They are, for the most part, things that fill my soul.
What my morning routine looks like –
• I get up as close to the same time each day as possible. For me, that is between 5:30 and 6:30. The later I get up, the less likely I will be able to do my thing.
• I make the bed (at least my half of it. LOL)
• If there isn’t any activity in my room, I pray. If Don is still in bed or dressing, I head to the bathroom for prayer.
• I dress and get ready for the day in the bathroom. My clothes are already on a hook, ready to put on. No distractions here!
• I read my affirmations/truth statements. I begin every day by reminding myself what a spectacular person I am and what a wonderful life I have! Some days I know I’m really going to need the reminder. LOL
• I read from my spiritual cannon.
That’s it. I take about 30-40 minutes on a good day, and if the day is going south already, it gets fifteen. But it fills my heart and sets me on a positive path for the day.
Here is my night routine –
• I have a set time to STOP. Otherwise, I would work till I fall into bed. It’s my way of being. : ) I STOP at 8:30. 8 pm is better but, again, I do what I can.
• I plan the following day using a simple form I created after a few years of trial and error. It is working for now. : )
• I take a shower. I have been doing this since I was 16, and it isn’t about getting clean. It feels nurturing to me. While showering, I think, I sing, and I get warm enough to sleep.
• If we didn’t have family prayer after dinner, I make sure that happens.
• If I have stopped soon enough, I read. Reading is my favorite pastime.
• Then prayer and bed. My bedtime goal is 9:30 pm, but I don’t always make it. It is a work in progress.
Here is what these routines do for me on the crazy days, and I have plenty of those. When I go to bed, if I have done my morning and evening routine, no matter how many other things are still undone on my list, I feel satisfied that I have done my best.
And that feeling is worth a thousand bucks!!
Who do you know that needs to feel like a thousand bucks? Pass it on!
Recently, my grandson Elliott was super busy in his room. He wanted lots of tape and privacy. I was happy that his mom gave it to him.
He may have been recreating a spider’s web or he may have been taking a stab at an obstacle course like his dad had made during their self-imposed quarantine for Covid a year earlier. It really doesn’t matter because there is great value for kids in being allowed to create even if it uses supplies or creates a mess.
Not everyone agrees with me, but my experience tells me it is true. If we are opposed to a mess, that is about us. If we think materials are wasted unless the end result is some usable item, that is also about us and our story.
My children were creative, so we used lots of paste, glue, rubber bands, construction paper, paper tubes, and egg cartons. We used thousands of crayons, gone through a few dozen pairs of scissors, innumerable pencils, and pens, not to mention compasses, rulers, and other drawing devices. We used rolls of paper and tape and gallons of paint and brushes. We used pounds of flour, butter, and sugar. I can’t even imagine the number of eggs we’ve used. We burned through lots of gas going from place to place to do this and that. In short, we consumed a lot of resources.
Thinking about this makes me happy. Let me share two experiences I’ve had that demonstrate why I’m happy when children use resources and how I know whether they were well used or wasted.
When my youngest daughter was seven, we purchased an item in a large wooden crate. Of course, a large wooden crate is a kid magnet. Kate and her friends were all over that crate.
One day Kate came and asked for paint and brushes. When I questioned what she wanted them for she said it was to paint the boat. So, I gave her lots of poster paint. I never went to see what was happening. I knew they were painting the wooden crate and that now it was a boat. They hadn’t asked for my help, and I was pretty sure they didn’t want it either.
Next, Kate came and asked me for a piece of material to make a sail. I got a sheet for her. She asked if I could help her figure out how to get the sail to stay up. I went out to the boat, gave her directions, and she and her friends went to work. Throughout the day, they came in and asked me for this and that and I got whatever they needed.
I didn’t go out to the boat again until they came to say they had finished and for me to come and see. Wow! It was an amazing boat for a bunch of 7-year-olds to have created. They played with the boat for a long time. I think they loved it because they had made it themselves.
They had used a lot of paint and glue, material, and other items. The boat didn’t last more than a month or so, but I can tell you they played with it daily, and it brought a great deal of pleasure to those seven-year-olds.
A few summers ago, Jack, my then six-year-old grandson, came in and asked me for a couple of empty paper towel tubes and glue. He said he needed real sticky glue. That meant my good tacky glue. I asked Jack what he was making, and he said, “A robot.” I gave him the glue.
Later in the day, I went upstairs and out to the car. As I went out the back door, there was Jack busily working on his robot. It was a square piece of plywood lying flat on the ground. He had used half a jar of my really sticky glue to adhere two round balls on the board and a length of broken necklace. He had used half a roll of tin foil to cover things, robot style. Hmm, what in the heck was that? When I went back downstairs, I told my husband Jack wasn’t making a robot, he was gluing stuff to a piece of board with my expensive, very sticky glue and lots of duct tape.
The next day as I left for work, I stopped dead in my tracks because right there, at the bottom of the back steps, was a perfect robot. Jack had envisioned a robot from a square piece of board and over the course of half a day had assembled all the materials he needed, and he had created it. I was amazed. It had looked like a junky piece of board covered with glue and odds and ends the day before, but Jack knew what he was doing. He had created a perfect robot.
The robot lay at the bottom of the back steps for four days until it rained. Then the pieces were gathered up, and it went to the junkyard in the sky. Jack’s robot couldn’t be played with or hung on the wall. So, the question I ask you is, “Was it a waste of materials for Jack to build the robot?” My answer would be a resounding “No!”
The boat had an obvious use, but the robot seemed useless. However, in both cases, the child had to conceive an idea. They had to determine what materials they needed to bring their idea to fruition. Next, they had to take the initiative to gather the materials and organize them in order to bring their vision to life.
In both cases, since I was somewhat involved and observed the process, those kids had to problem-solve to make things work out. They worked independently, for the most part, trusting they could figure it out and get the job done. At the same time, they had to determine when they needed to ask for help, and exactly what help they needed.
In Jack’s case, he had to figure out how to get the job done with two younger siblings getting in the way. Yelling or hitting wasn’t an option. He had to use diplomacy. In both cases, the child was able to look at the finished product and beam from ear to ear because they knew they had done a spectacular job. They both felt proud for many days. Their belief in themselves was stronger and their ability to do increased.
When I look at the results from the use of the materials in both cases, I think those materials were used perfectly. They accomplished what paint, glue, junk, brushes, rubber bands, scissors, pencils, pens, and all the rest were designed for—to help people problem solve and create. The use of the materials assisted these children in feeling more capable and able than when they began; to feel the pride of having done something that mattered to them.
If I’d been more involved, or if I’d been worried about how the materials were used, we could have saved paint, glue, tape, and so on, and we would have had less mess. But I hope you can see that what the children experienced would have been far different.
The Value of Using Supplies and Making a Mess
As adults, we do have to pay attention to the use of supplies because children need some guidance, but we should worry less about waste. Think instead of what they gain by creating on their own:
• Increased vision
• The ability to bring the vision to life
• The ability to gather what’s needed
• The ability to problem solve
• The ability to work independently
• Learning when to ask for help and what help they need
• Learning to work well with others
• Developing leadership skills and attitudes
• Learning to use diplomacy
If you decide to see your children’s projects differently—how they feel to your child and what the process of creating is teaching them— you can better evaluate the right use of materials. You’ll be able to let it be about them and not you. Couldn’t we use a few more adults who aren’t afraid to turn their dreams into reality because they spent their childhood doing it?
Recently I was at a funeral and an old friend from my high school days was there. We haven’t seen each other for many years, but she reads what I post on Facebook.
We had a delightful time visiting, reminiscing, and then she said, with a sigh, “You are such a good grandma. You do so much with the kids, and you are always so upbeat and cheerful.” Nice, right?
Wrong. I heard what my friend was saying, and I appreciated her words. But I also knew what she was thinking – “You are doing so much better than I am.”
That is the problem with social media. In a digital world, your neighbors multiply, and you can’t see that, yes, they have a messy house too. They sometimes lose their tempers, have their own judgmental and irrational moments, feel down, and go to bed.
I have had to work to become cheerful and optimistic, to be grateful for hard times. It hasn’t come easy. I have taken a ton of classes, read a boatload of books, and practiced my head off. I am beginning to be reasonably good at some of it.
I am just learning some things you may already know and do. On the other hand, I know and do some things you have yet to discover. You can’t get out of childhood and youth without some baggage. It is what it is, no matter how great your family. Our job in life is not to compare ourselves with others. It isn’t to try and reach some standard that society sets. It is to let go of our baggage, heal, become ourselves, and then help others do the same. That is my mission in life – to heal and help others do the same.
I have a painting on my wall made by my third cousin, Celestia Whitehead. It is me flying free as boxes, bags, and trunks fall to earth. It represents my work to shed baggage, heal, learn, and then share that growth and healing with others.
That is why my posts are upbeat, happy, and optimistic. It isn’t because I am better than you, have less bad days, or am perfect in any way. I am just practicing and sharing what I have learned, and I am jettisoning baggage. That can’t be accomplished by complaining and comparing.
If you think I am perfect, please think again.
My sink is filled with dishes. The dog peed on the clean laundry, and Don and I had a spat. Although I am going to be babysitting this afternoon, I do not have a craft prepared. However, I did my daughter’s laundry, and I plan on serving a great dinner.
My writing and posting goals are to highlight each day’s joy, growth, and opportunity, to feel gratitude. I want to share what I am learning because it may help you do the same. You may get a new perspective that will help you let go of some baggage of your own. You may learn something new, that when implemented, can be life-changing. As imperfect as I am, I am working on my life’s mission. : )
I’m not perfect, but I’m growing, and I am sharing that growth with you. Please let someone else in on the secret.
One day, after church, someone said to me, “I am so inspired.” In my heart, I responded, “Inspired to what end.” It isn’t enough to be inspired. We must be moved to action.
Over the years, I have read many books, articles and attended events that have inspired me. Just as often, I have let that inspiration lay dormant until it died away. I watch this happen to others. It’s sad because we desire to grow, change, and create. That is how we were made, and when inspired, these desires roar to life.
Why do we so often let inspiration to change and grow, die?
Why aren’t we moved to action and then achieve results? I can only speak from my own experience, but it has been extensive on both sides of this coin.
•There are so many things that I am inspired to do or change that I burn out.
I hurry home and begin tearing my life’s fabric apart to insert this system or that program or a new way of managing. Then what happens? In a couple of weeks or a month, maybe two, I’ve quit. I’m back to being and doing what I did before. I’m burnt out.
• I feel that I must do some BIG thing to have any real impact.
• I am inconsistent, and when I don’t see the results I want as quickly as I want, it is easy to quit.
• I let myself get distracted by the many other pressing issues of my daily life. I get up every day determined to put my one step into action, but there are kids to chauffeur, food to cook, dishes to do, and I have a job. It sucks up the time until there is nothing left, and the one-step is on hold.
Those are not all the reasons inspiration dies, but they are right up there at the top of the list. Here is what I have learned to do when I am inspired and want to see results.
Nine Ways to Achieve Results
1. PICK ONE thing that you will work on out of all that has inspired you, just one thing.
The workbook that accompanies Becoming a Present Parent helps readers distill the entire book down to one thing. That is key—only ONE thing. Ask, “What’s the one best thing I should work on first”—what is the one thing you feel you need to do?
2. BREAK what you want into smaller steps.
We need to isolate one small thing that we can implement to move us in the direction we want to go. When we multiply small amounts of time consistently, we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change our part of the world.
Whenever you hear that a person has achieved an extraordinary goal, rarely, if ever, are you told the process they used—that is, the everyday actions they took consistently. You only hear about the outcome. So, begin with one small step.
3. COMMIT to being consistent for as long as it takes.
Some of our family goals will take many years to come to fruition, as will many of our personal goals. “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses – only results.”—Kenneth H. Blanchard
4. REMEMBER being consistent is not the same as being perfect.
James Clear reported in the magazine Entrepreneur that research shows, regardless of the habit you’re working to build or change, the character trait you want to develop, or the family culture you’re working on, missing a single day has no measurable impact on your long-term success. He wrote, “Daily failures are like red lights during a road trip. When you’re driving a car, you’ll come to a red light every now and then. But if you maintain a good average speed, you’ll always make it to your destination despite the stops and delays along the way.” Change takes time. Growth takes time. Perfect is not the goal; progress is!
5. Make space. Create a system for getting your small step done each day. For example, every day, I make my bed immediately upon arising. Sometimes I can only make my half. But I do it every day. It isn’t about the bed. It is one of the steps I take daily to practice consistency and make space. Then while in the bathroom first thing in the morning, I pray. If I leave the bathroom, I may not get to it because life has a way of interfering. Determine how you can fit your one step into your life every day and then keep that commitment. When I was working on controlling my temper many years ago, I had to create space for reflection, make time to get help from others who had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, and find ways to nurture myself as I did the work. Whatever your one-step, make space to do it every day.
6. KEEP your word.
Do what you’ve decided to do. Be as consistent as possible. No matter how long it takes, don’t quit. Keep your word to yourself!
Keeping your word is essential. The more you do it, the more you learn to trust yourself, others begin to trust you, and it builds trust with your children. When your kids see you being consistent for as long as it takes, it tells them, “You can trust me!”
8. FOCUS on today—it’s all you have to work with.
As you focus on one day at a time, you will be able to persevere. Do your best today. If
you don’t do well today, then when tomorrow is today, begin again. Once today is yesterday, let it go! Don’t quit!
9. BELIEVE the result will be exponential growth.
When you make a change, create something new, or adjust your way of being, it has a domino effect in your life and other things that matter to you, that you aren’t focusing on, begin to change. Even though you are only working on one thing at a time, taking one small step at a time, hold in your mind that more than one item will set itself right in your life. I know this is true because I have experienced it.
As you work on the one best thing, as you move forward one small step at a time, and as you commit to making space for this step in your life and then remain consistent, you will be amazed at the marvelous things you can accomplish.
Let those who matter to you know that you can move from inspiration, to commitment, to results.
that I want to share with you, but first, I want to share a portion from the introduction of my book, Becoming a Present Parent, because it will help you appreciate the beauty and value of the gift.
“As a young woman growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, I didn’t contemplate any other occupation than motherhood. It was so much a part of what I expected to do that I didn’t give it much thought. It was what everyone did. I looked forward to it. I expected to sail along, doing what was required in the best way possible because I was made for it. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t know what to do and how to manage.
Raising my family was “the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” These words from the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities describe my parenting experience rather perfectly.
Don and I didn’t talk much about family and parenting before we embarked on this grand adventure. He was the second child of two children, and I was the oldest of nine. He assumed I knew what I was doing, and I thought I knew what I was doing. We never discussed how we would discipline, how we would manage chores, meals, vacations, schooling, the budget, etc. Frankly, it didn’t occur to us we might not agree on everything, that we might not have all the information we needed. After all, we were in love, we shared the same faith, and parenting is what everyone did. It couldn’t be all that complicated.
But it was complicated!
Don and I had seven beautiful and amazing children, four girls and three boys. I recall with great fondness camping, fishing, sewing, cooking, crafts, Christmas, Thanksgiving, dance recitals, band concerts, baseball games, wrestling competitions, and speech contests.
I remember the fun we had: breakfast on the tailgate of our old pickup truck at the park, a block from our home one early Saturday morning; quiet conversations with whichever child’s turn it was to help me weed in the early dawn hours; canning while lots of kids snapped beans and peeled carrots; reading to our children; dinners together, a daily occurrence; bath time; night time cuddles; sitting together at church, filling a whole pew, while tickling backs and squeezing shoulders. These were memorable and satisfyingly ordinary days. These were the best of times.
I also have seared on my mind the struggles we shared as a family of nine—a husband who traveled for a living, drug abuse, premarital sex and a child born out of wedlock, thoughts of suicide, failure in school, smoking, alcoholism, lack of belief in one’s value as a person, quitting school, abandoning the church, a mother who raged and yelled, managing feelings of despair, and coming to terms with same-sex attraction. These were the worst of times.
When it’s all shaken together and poured out, how did we fare? Well, far better than we expected or than you might expect. Don and I had done just enough right, and with a full measure of the grace of God thrown in, we all survived and, strangely enough, thrived. We all live fully functional lives. We’re connected and bonded in unique ways. We look out for one another, and the kids support and lean on each other. We’re still a family!
The story of our family is the story of an imperfect family. You won’t and, frankly, can’t do everything right. Your children will struggle as they grow. You’ll work to do all that’s required in your chosen vocation of ‘parent.’ It’s part of the process of being human, of being in a family.”
This year, I received cards, letters, and a few videos from my children for my Birthday. Each one gave an example of something I had done that made a difference in their lives. I was surprised at some. I hadn’t realized that they were paying so much attention to my efforts to grow, change, and be better. But they were.
I want to share the contents of one gift I received, a video from my oldest daughter, Jodie.
“Mom, I am so happy to celebrate you. This morning, I was thinking about my mothering, the worries and challenges I face, and the potential regrets that I am thinking about already. Then I thought about where we are now, and I felt a deep sense of peacefulness that the story and the arc of family and parenting are long. I feel so grateful that you are our mom and that we get to celebrate you. I’m letting that gratitude steep in my heart today. Happy Birthday, mom.
Can you think of a more generous, more moving gift than words like these? As I have said many times, if we give it all we’ve got, learn a little here and a bit more there, and then implement, if we remain consistent and speak kindly to ourselves as we change and grow, then it will be enough. We will give our children the legacy of watching another human being engage in the process of becoming better. There isn’t much that we can provide them that is more powerful.
Here is something I do not share lightly.
During the years that our family struggled the most, I was despondent one day. As I washed dishes I thought about what a terrible job Don and I had done and were doing. Tears fell from my eyes. I looked heavenward and said out loud, “You should have sent these kids to another home. They would have done better.” Then clearly into my mind came these gentle and peace-giving words, “I knew how you would parent and that it would be enough.”
When you begin berating yourself for how imperfectly you are parenting, STOP—words matter.Your words to yourself matter the most. They will make it easier or harder for you to let go of old baggage, come up with solutions, find the resources you need to garner new information and get better at what you do. So, speak kindly. Be gentle. Give yourself charity, knowing that if you stay the course and keep learning, changing, and growing, it will be enough. It will! I know because in my family it has been enough!
Never quit. Never berate yourself. Keep working on you and loving your children, and it will be enough!
Who do you know that could use the comfort of knowing that it will be enough!
I never knew that because how we were seemed ordinary to me. We weren’t mean to each other. We could be generous and kind, but there was a lot of complaining, and we were critical.
There isn’t enough sun today. The snow is too deep. The car is nice, but I wish it were red. These eggs are okay, but next time could you… Thanks for folding the laundry, but I would like… Hamburger keeps going up in price. I’m so glad you got a C in math, but I know you could do better if you worked harder.
You see what I mean. I mentioned this to a friend one day, and she said, “Well, that’s just normal.” It is normal, but it isn’t helpful if we want our lives to feel more joyful and successful.
I’ve seriously worked on the issue of watching my words and thoughts for close to two decades now. I have used many tools to move into the place where I manage my stories and responses better. I’m making progress.
Then last fall, I put a rubber band on my wrist
after reading a little book called A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen.The challenge was to go 21 days without being critical or complaining. Sigh. I have yet to hit day six. I have had many five-day streaks, but when you mess up, you start over. It has been almost six months. I would be discouraged, except I know that there is no timeline for change. It takes commitment and consistency for as long as it takes!
However, now and then, you get a perk that keeps you going. I got one on my birthday from Ben, who is almost nine. He said, “Dear Grandma, you are so caring and optimistic.” WHAT!!!!! Is that the coolest thing you have ever heard? NO ONE has ever called me optimistic.
This little compliment is going into my “I am enough bin” in my brain. From now on, I know that I am an optimistic person. I am so happy because I am making progress in a decade’s long pursuit.
This is the process of change and growth – line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. We must be careful not to shut down and quit when a goal for growth takes more time and effort than we want it to take.
Parenting is a big job.
We don’t enter it with all the knowledge we need, and we bring baggage from our own growing up. As we parent, it will take years to get the experience we need and to jettison the baggage. Yes, our kids will suffer, but our children will be compensated as they observe our quest to be better, do better, and understand more. They will be blessed as they watch us remain consistent and immovable in our desire to grow and improve.
How do I know this? Well, I am 71. I carried a ton of baggage into my family, as did my husband. We were undoubtedly ignorant about how to do what we had taken on. Our seven kids occasionally suffered because we didn’t do things the best way. It was a long road with some significant bumps and a cliff or two.
But now our kids are adults; one turns fifty this year. And do you know what? I get cards, letters, texts, and videos telling me about this or that thing they observed me doing that has blessed their lives? WHAT? Yes, even when we are imperfect, if our goal is to learn, grow, and do better, it will bless our children when they are adults.
Next week I am going to share an absolutely exquisite gift from one of my children to their imperfect parent! You can, in time, be rewarded in the same way if you stay the course, do the best you can, keep learning and growing, and be an example of change.
Let someone else know that their efforts Will Be Enough!
Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a friend and mentee. We were talking about some concepts found in my book, Becoming a Present Parent. She said, “The problem with your book is it’s so simple. I loved it when I read it, and it was all so doable. Then two months later, in an overwhelmed moment, I asked myself, ‘Can it really be this simple.'”
I laughed. I have asked myself the same thing over the years. It’s natural to feel that we have to do some great, fantastic, out of the ordinary thing to fix whatever is causing us overwhelm or pain in our families.
Just this week, I read an article on how to better manage irritations in marriage. The writer gave a simple and straightforward example of how we can get into trouble when someone falls short of our expectations. It was laughable when I considered the angst the couple was feeling and the simple solution the writer proposed. But there it was. I knew that if the couple followed the proffered advice, they would manage better.
The author didn’t suggest learning to communicate better, going on weekly dates, getting away without the kids, etc. No, he suggested they forgive one another their failings. I have been married fifty years, and that counsel rang true to me because I have experienced its truth.
Here is the rub – simple does not always equate to easy.
Forgiving someone for not being perfect or not meeting our expectations isn’t easy, but it certainly is simple. Far simpler than figuring out how to get away for a few days without the kids. More doable, long term, than going on a date every week. And frankly, more effective than talking, no matter how good we are at communicating.
That is what my friend was really saying – “I know it is simple, but it isn’t always easy. I have to bend a bit. I am required to think differently. I must change.”
That is what my book is all about– making subtle changes in how we see what we already do every day—making use of those moments when we would typically have contention and instead create a connection. When we approach chores, bedtimes, homework, and meals together with a better story, we get a better result. We do. It is that simple.
But it isn’t always easy because rather than blaming the kids or our spouse, we have to come face to face with ourselves. We need to do something different. We must change. Irritating, isn’t it. We would rather have someone else change. But the truth is, we only have control over one person, ourselves.
I first learned this concept when I was sixteen and reading Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. He said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves…Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I didn’t understand it then, and it took me decades to understand, but I never forgot.
Here is something else I have learned from my own experience. When we are willing to change how we think, see, or behave, the results are successful and worth the effort. It is always worth it!
If you want to understand what I am talking about when I say you must come face to face with yourself and then make a small shift in how you think, read Chapter fourof my book.It’s FREE, and it is one of the best and most enlightening chapters in the book. I did that on purpose because if that is all you ever read and implement; it will be life-changing!
Why not share this FREE chapter with a friend who could use a lift, a reason to change, and simple information on how to do it. : )
Gratitude is a choice not based on what is happening to us, what we have or don’t have, but on how we choose to see what is happening to us. Regardless of our circumstances, we all have much to be grateful for if we pause and contemplate our blessings.
We can lift ourselves and others, as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude is one of the grave sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest virtues. The Roman philosopher, Cicero, said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”
Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and one of the leading scholars in the scientific study of gratitude, said the following: “It is possible that psychology has ignored gratitude because it appears, on the surface, to be a very obvious emotion, lacking in interesting complications: we receive a gift—from friends, from family, from God—and then we feel pleasurably grateful. But while the emotion seemed simplistic even to me as I began my research, I soon discovered that gratitude is a deeper, more complex phenomenon that plays a critical role in human happiness. Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.”
The other day after a church meeting, someone said to me, “I am so inspired.” In my heart, I responded, “Inspired to what end.” It isn’t enough to be inspired. We must be moved to action. I want to help you decide to move to a more significant place of gratitude. I recognize that we are all in different places in our lives, and so I have created a varied list of ten possible action steps that you can use to cultivate more gratitude and, as a result, greater happiness.
Your job is to be open to the action step that will work best for you right now. Don’t pick the one that you think sounds the most righteous or what you think other people will decide. Listen to your inner voice, which one will make the most difference right now, for you.
Ten Gratitude Exercises
1. Come up with some Happiness commandments – After I read Gretchen Rubin’s, The Happiness Project – I asked myself what makes me the most unhappy, and then I came up with three commandments for myself. I post them where I can see them and am reminded of what kind of thinking leads me to happiness.
• Be a Pollyanna
• Clean the ditch (remove garbage thinking)
• Let go of suffering (yes, suffering is a choice)
2. A Gratitude Journal – Dr. Emmons and his colleagues found scientific proof that people who practice gratitude through activities such as keeping a gratitude journal are more loving, forgiving, and optimistic about the future.
They exercise more frequently, report fewer illnesses, and generally feel better about their lives. In subsequent studies, Dr. Emmons also noted that people who regularly kept a gratitude journal and were in the habit of recognizing and expressing gratitude for their blessings reported feeling closer and more connected to people, had better relationships, were more likely to help others, felt less lonely, felt less depressed, slept better, and were more pleasant to be around.
In her book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote, “The practice of gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness, and greed.”
3. Journaling – This is like the gratitude journal, but in this case, detail in writing, one positive experience each day. Journaling will help you find meaning in the activities of the day, rather than just noticing the task itself.
4. Dedicate a few prayers a week to only Gratitude – Ask for nothing; be grateful for what you already have.
• If you can’t walk – do you have a wheelchair
• If you can’t see – can you hear
• If you feel you are too old – you are yet alive and can serve
• If you don’t feel accepted – you have the opportunity to reach out to others
• If you are single and alone, thank God for the family and friends you have
• If you’re having trouble with your spouse, thank God for the opportunity to develop more Christ-like traits through forgiveness and taking personal responsibility
• Thank God for His goodness to you
• Express thanks for Jesus’s example, for His teachings, for His outreaching hand to lift and help, for His
• Thank God for leaders and teachers
• Thank God for your family and children
5. Control negative thinking – Ray L. Huntington, a professor at BYU, said, “Studies have shown that focusing on the negative in times of adversity—using derogatory or critical words as we talk to ourselves or others—can darken our mood and, much like a virus, infect the moods of those we interact with. Consciously choosing to fill our minds with thoughts of our blessings and feeling appreciation for those blessings can change the way we feel and brighten our spirits during difficult times.”
6. Add More Thank-Yous to Your Vocabulary – Saying “thank you” to someone brightens your day by affirming your positive feelings. It also lifts the spirits of those who are deserving of your thankfulness. Use people’s names who check you out at the grocery store, people who help you on the phone, and anywhere else you happen to be and see a name tag. Tell them, ‘thank you.’ Thank your spouse and children for what they do, no matter how small.
7. Take Time to Write Thank-You Notes and Letters of Appreciation – John Kralik, an attorney with a struggling law practice and personal family problems, determined to reverse the cycle of negative thinking through writing and sending one thank-you note each day of the year—365 thank-you notes in total. His note-writing endeavor taught him a valuable lesson: blessings can be easily overlooked unless we are consciously thinking about them each day. To that end, note writing helps us identify, remember, and express our blessings.
8. Live in the Present Moment and Give Thanks for Small Blessings – I call it Being Present – It is easy to get caught up in tomorrow: what needs to be cleaned, shopping to do, the upcoming holidays. And while it’s healthy to plan and prepare for future events, if you are too consumed with tomorrow, there is a chance that you will miss something small and wonderful that is happening to you in the present moment.
9. Random Acts of Kindness – Return the shopping cart to the stall, smile at people, pick up something someone has dropped, tell someone how nice they look, even perfect strangers, move over, and let someone sit down by you.
10. Philanthropy – Learn to give no matter how much you have. Give a dollar or two. If you have more, give more. Do it outside of your tithing and church contributions. The act of being able to give helps you feel well off and increases feelings of gratitude.
For a time, I felt that I should have cards with a small amount of money in my car. I was impressed to write, “No matter what has brought you to where you are, I care about you, and so does God.” When I saw someone on the street and felt that I should, I would give them a card. I put $50 in a savings account every month so that I could provide these cards. Remember that these were directions to me, and if you ask, you will receive your own guidance on how to serve financially, and it will probably be different from mine.
Take a few minutes right now and think about these ten tools to increase gratitude. Which one speaks to your heart? Choose one.
Now that you have chosen something that you will do this coming year to increase your gratitude, and ultimately your happiness, let me share two quotes.
First, from Melody Beattie, author of The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency, ” Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. . .Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
And from David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who penned these beautiful words: “The root of joy is gratefulness. It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
If these words have inspired you, I would ask, “To what end have you been inspired?” Commit to yourself that you will practice Gratitude and make it your way of being.
Some years ago, I decided to find out what I could do to improve my life the most.
I wasn’t happy with what I discovered – stop complaining. I am still working on this one thing! It has been a challenge.
Then, after a few years, I looked to see if I could find a way to make more progress. I wasn’t sure how I felt about what I found – gratitude. I began a gratitude journal. When I wrote a few things each day, I felt better, happier, more charitable to others. But I wasn’t consistent.
In the spring of 2019, I got serious. I bought a notebook and hastily wrote Gratitude Journal and the date I began on the front. I was consistent until the fall holiday season. Then it dropped off. Despite this lapse, I had that notebook with me in Seattle at the beginning of 2020, just before Covid closed the airports. It helped me remain optimistic, and I made it home.
I began writing my gratitude statements in earnest, and as the year progressed, I felt the need to express my gratitude increase. Focusing on what I was grateful for made a big difference in my ability to stay mentally on top of an extraordinarily negative and sometimes frightening year. For Christmas this year, a friend of mine sent me an actual Gratitude Journal. A pretty one. I have enjoyed writing in it. It is keeping my spirits up.
Did you know that joy and happiness are born of gratitude? This is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way, over time, because raising a home full of children can be challenging!! Over the years, I said, “How can I be so grateful and ungrateful at the same time?” I said it so often that I was afraid my children would have it carved on my headstone. I was grateful for my home but….it needed a new carpet. I was thankful for my kids, but…I wished they wouldn’t fight. I loved my husband dearly, but …. why couldn’t he pick up his socks.
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you find yourself terribly grateful and ungrateful at the same time? This habit, and it is a habit, diminishes our joy and happiness. The truth is you cannot be grateful and ungrateful at the same time. If you are complaining, you are not grateful. I know, it hurts to hear!
Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude, said, “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend . . . when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us —the wasteland of illusion falls away, and we experience heaven on earth.”
How are gratitude and happiness connected? Why does it matter whether we see the glass half-full or half-empty?
Let me refer to two stories found in the Christian Bible that are beautiful examples of a broader view of gratitude than just having a good feeling when things are going our way.
In the book of Luke, chapter 17, we read the story of Christ passing through Samaria and Galilee. In a village, he met ten lepers who cried out to him, “Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus sent them to the priest, and as they went, they were healed. One turned back and, with a loud voice, thanked Jesus. Jesus asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”
Jesus didn’t need their thanks, but he knew that gratitude is an uplifting and exulting attitude. We cannot be bitter, resentful, or mean-spirited when we are grateful. We choose to serve when we are grateful. Being grateful would help those nine healed men to live more joyously and generously. He wanted them to have that experience, and they, through their lack of gratitude, missed out.
In the book of Matthew, we have another account of gratitude, this time as an expression from Jesus. Jesus had traveled in the wilderness for three days, and more than 4,000 people followed Him. He took compassion on them and wanted to feed them. His disciples, however, questioned, “Whence, should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?” Like many of us, the disciples saw only what was lacking.
“And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And said, Seven, and a few little fishes.
“And commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.
“And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.”
Notice that the Savior gave thanks for what they had—and a miracle followed: “And they did all eat and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.”
We have all experienced times when our focus is on what we lack rather than on our blessings. These are the times when we find ourselves complaining either by word, action, inaction or in our hearts.
It isn’t always easy to be grateful. But if we commit to being grateful more often, seek the help we need to make it a practice, and then persevere for as long as it takes, it can become our way of being, not just a feeling. That path is what Jesus wanted for the nine healed men. He knew that if they practiced gratitude, they would be happier down the road when things got tough again. He also knew that the grateful energy we send out can create miracles in our lives.
Ten Gratitude Tools
If you feel overwhelmed, resentful of your spouse or children, blame others regularly, feel like a victim, or feel you are missing essential blessings, I encourage you to consider working seriously on your state of gratitude. Next week I will share ten GRATITUDE tools that can help anyone become more grateful. Choose just one and start.
If you feel that you are already grateful, I hope you will accept the challenge to practice one of the ten tools anyway. You may be as surprised as I was when I took the challenge to stop complaining and become more grateful. I wasn’t as appreciative as I thought, and I complained far more than I knew. See you next week.
Today I want to tell you about my brother Boe Dean, his life, struggles, and the hard lesson I learned on the day he died, January 22, 2021.
My brother was an alcoholic. He was able to hold it together for a long time. He was a master finish carpenter. He was fabulous with people and ran teams of workers. They liked him.
He and I shared a love of words. He read the dictionary and encyclopedia. He wasn’t into tech. I shared books with him, and he shared them with me. We both loved the book A Man Called Ove. We joked about our ‘Ove moments.’ I will miss that terribly!
Boe Dean was genuinely grateful for anything you did for him. My sister, Evette, lived in Logan and helped him get around town for food and other needs the last three years of his life. She checked on him weekly and always wondered how she would manage when she found him dead. We thought we knew how it would end.
Recently, as Evette was leaving, he said, “Thank you.” Evette replied, “You’re welcome.” Then Boe said, “No, really. Thank you for everything you do.” The last few years of his life were hard, lonely, filled with illness, and I think, sorrow. But there was no bitterness in him, no rancor towards anyone. He remained cheerful and serving.
He had taught himself how to carve, and I have a beautiful face of an old man on my wall. He knew how to work wood and made beautiful chess sets. He was excellent at chess. One day he described an invention to me. It was extraordinary. He was brilliant in the way his mind worked. He and I shared a love of painting. We weren’t gifted in any way, but we talked about our paintings. I have one he made for me.
Boe Dean was generous and had no greed in his soul. One day, someone taking him for a homeless man, which was understandable, gave him ten dollars. He told them he didn’t need it, but they wouldn’t take it back. He walked down the street until he found someone who did need it and gave it to them.
But despite all his gifts and talents, because of alcohol, he lost his family and his dreams.
Over the years, I have prayed a lot about my brother. I have received many impressions on ways to support him. For many years I have mailed him a letter every Sunday. I have driven to Logan with gifts that I felt I should take – an old red blanket that he loved, a homemade coloring book he cherished and mentioned repeatedly, things that spoke of family traditions on special holidays.
After mom came to live with us and Boe was alone, I would take her back to see him. It was tricky because we had to find a time when he was himself and could talk to her. Covid brought a halt to some of these efforts. But mom and I saw him in December. There was no way to know it would be the last time.
Here is my message for you today.
On our Zoom call, one of my sisters said, “I just saw Boe as a drunk and wanted him to change.” I must admit that it was hard for me to see anything else at times. I had had the thought to put his photo on my bedroom wall and envision him healthy, well, and giving back to the world. I hung the photo and thought I knew what that meant. It meant to pray that he would change. It meant to encourage him to give up drinking and get it together. It meant to remind him of all he could bring to the world.
It’s interesting to me that the night before my brother’s passing, I read an article to my husband and mom that contained this story – “A few years ago my older sister passed away. She had a challenging life. She Her husband abandoned their marriage and left her with four young children to raise. On the evening of her passing…I gave her a blessing to peacefully return home.
‘At that moment, I realized I had too often defined my sister’s life in terms of her trials and As I , I received a severe rebuke from the Spirit. I was made acutely aware of her goodness and allowed to see her as God saw her—not as someone who struggled with and life but as someone who had to deal with difficult issues I did not have.
‘During that final evening with my sister, I believe God was asking me, “Can’t you see that everyone around you is a sacred being?”
As I read those words, Boe came clearly into my mind. When I went into my room that night, I looked at his picture with different eyes. But complete understanding didn’t come until the morning after his death.
As much as I loved my brother, I thought of him as an alcoholic. God wasn’t as blind as I. He had spoken to my mind and was saying, “See him as I see him. He is more than you can see with your eyes.’
Again from the article – “…John 4:4 reads, ‘And he must needs go through Samaria.’
…Jesus did not need to go to Samaria. The Jews of His day despised the Samaritans and traveled a road around Samaria. But Jesus chose to go there to declare before all the world for the first time that He was the promised Messiah. For this message, He chose not only an outcast group but also a woman—and not just any woman but a woman living in sin—someone considered at that time to be the least of the least. I believe Jesus did this so that each of us may always understand that His love is greater than our fears, our wounds, our addictions, our doubts, our temptations, our sins, our broken families, our depression and anxieties, our chronic illness, our poverty, our abuse, our despair, and our loneliness. He wants all to know there is nothing and no one He is unable to heal and deliver to enduring joy.
His grace is sufficient. He alone descended below all things. The message of the woman at the well is that He knows our life situations.”
I was supposed to look on my brother’s face every day and ‘see him’, not his alcoholism but him, my brother, a man who was good.
Since his passing, it has amazed me how many people knew Boe Dean and liked him and have come forward to tell us. His neighbors commented on how nice he was and what a wonderful smile he had and his long white beard. : ) Although he kept to himself, they said he was always ready to lend a helping hand if anyone needed it.
The gas man who checked the lines after the fire said that he and everyone in the small town of Benson, where Boe lived with our parents as a boy, were grieved because they loved our family.
We have received calls from his school friends and others who would meet him on the street. They cared about him. They loved his stories and great jokes. They remembered all how he had reached out over the years just as his neighbors had experienced.
No one knew about his struggles or the demons in his soul. They only knew his smile and generous Spirit.
I have spent the last ten years talking to parents about the gift of being able to ‘see’ their children and not just their mistakes, messes, and misbehaviors. It was time for me to have a new level of understanding of this critical principle.
Matthew 13:16: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.”
May we all hear and see those around us with greater charity, less judgment, and deeper love.
The article sited – Taking upon Ourselves the Name of Jesus Christ By Elder Robert C. Gay October 2018
Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017