Taking the Guilt out of Gratitude

"Gratitude is not only an emotion; it is something we do. It is like tending a garden. It takes planting and watering and weeding. It takes time and attention. It takes learning. It takes routine. But, eventually, the ground yields, shoots come forth, and thanksgiving blooms." - Diana Butler Bass, Grateful

When I read about gratitude, I always feel guilty--like it's something I should do.  Once I bought an orange gratitude journal from Barnes and Noble and set it by my bedside table, planning to write three things I'm thankful for each night--good plan right? 

It is possible that no item in my home has ever made me feel more ungrateful.

I would come to the end of the day, walk up to our bed rubbing my eyes, and think, "Oh, crap, now I need to feel grateful," as I begrudgingly picked up my pen.

So, I'm starting to think about gratitude as less of an obligation and instead as something that's bigger and smaller.

Gratitude Smaller . . . 

  • Instead of a notebook, put a gratitude rock by your bedside, maybe place it on top of your phone.  So when you reach for it in the morning, it's a gentle reminder to start the day with gratitude.
  • Do you make to-do lists at work?  When you're in this writing mode, quickly jot three gratitudes at the top before getting to task.  It only takes about a minute (and who doesn't love to procrastinate?)  
Gratitude Bigger . . .
  • What if gratitude isn't just personal, what if it becomes central in our families, institutions, organizations, and communities?  When I left my Waverly job, each retiree or person leaving received a hand-made pot from the art teacher that contained notes from students.  While presenting it, the librarian read a heartfelt note about the person's unique gifts.  Afterward she said, "Now you've been potted," with a smile.  Something about this meeting moved beyond work into something real, something so needed in our communities.  How could this inspire a similar gratitude ceremony in your family, institution, or community?
  • What if you start a class or a meeting with everyone sharing three gratitudes?  At first everyone will groan (plan on it), but reading them aloud might just be magic.  After the first day I did this with my students in November, they asked for it, and they linger at the cork-board where they are posted.  It changes the tenor of our community--and while it feels simple--I sense the group practice means something bigger.

So while gratitude does have a marketing problem--it's not easy to make sexy or bold or important--it really is free and simple and sometimes it can even feel a little magic.  It's not an obligation as much as it is a way to play in the world and show care.  

So, it's not about guilt.  It's about gratitude.  


Today's gratitude dare is to buy and send inexpensive thank you cards.  So the next time you walk by that display, maybe grab a pack.  You don't have to sign 'em--just use 'em. ;)


Brave and True

Jim and Kelly at their daughter Maggie's wedding.

I am thankful to my friend Kelly for sharing her words today.  She and I met in graduate school at UNL.  More recently I've loved seeing her as a new a grandma as she shares pictures on Facebook.  Not only is she smart and kind, she's one of the bravest and truest women I've met.  Thank you Kelly.


November 28, 2010 is a day that will forever be ingrained in my mind.  I was ironing my clothes for the week, something I always did on a Sunday night.  I heard my husband, Jim, making some rather strange noises, almost like he was having a nightmare, in the family room.  I went to check on him and he kept reassuring me that he was ok.  Within minutes, he was unconscious.  I called 911 and screamed for my daughter Molly. As I was talking to the 911 operator, my husband stopped breathing, so my CPR training kicked in, and I was breathing for him until the EMT’s arrived.  As they were wheeling my husband out to the ambulance, they told me where they were taking him and that it didn’t look good.

Driving to the hospital with my heart in my throat, I was praying every step of the way, “Please God, let him be ok.”  Sitting in the Emergency waiting room, I was surrounded by family and friends, all praying and waiting.  A neurologist came to speak to me and told me my husband was as sick as any human could be.  My brother, an Emergency doctor, told me to prepare myself and my daughters for three possible outcomes: he makes it out of this ok, he would be permanently brain damaged, or he would die.  I would later learn that Jim had about a 7% chance of survival.  Talk about bringing me to my knees!

I was told that Jim had suffered from a ruptured brain aneurysm and he had bleeding on the brain.  When a body experiences that trauma, it usually sends confusing messages to other parts of the body and they begin to shut down.  The most common outcome is death.  Jim was a runner and was in amazing physical condition.  That saved his life.  His body was strong enough to overcome those messages and keep him breathing and his heart beating.  Thank you, God!

Jim spent six weeks in the ICU at the Nebraska Medical Center.  He was surrounded by amazing nurses and outstanding doctors.  My daughters and I were surrounded by family, friends, church family, co-workers, and even my third grade students.  We never wanted for anything and felt support and love from all of them.  Thank you, God!

After his six-week stint in the ICU, Jim was finally moved to the neurology floor for a week before being transferred to Madonna in Lincoln for two weeks.  We truly thought we had dodged a bullet, as Jim could walk, talk, eat, and function as a normal adult.  He came home, and we thought we had put all of this behind us.

We later found out that the blood from Jim’s brain had traveled down his spine and was causing scar tissue to form. The blood also pooled in his left eye socket, scar tissue was forming there, too.  He had a surgery to remove the scar tissue in his eye, but it was too severe, so he lost vision in his eye.  As the scar tissue continued to pull on his spinal cord, his walking began to worsen.  Jim endured three different back surgeries trying to remove the scar tissue in his spine, but to no avail.  He now walks with the use of an AFO, a cane, and sometimes a walker.  The spine has also affected other areas of Jim’s body and has made it difficult for him to travel and do some of the day-to-day things we all take for granted.

This November will mark the 8-year anniversary of almost losing my amazing husband.  So first and foremost, I am so grateful that I have had the past 8 years with him, and for the 33 ½ years being married to him.  I am grateful he got to see Molly graduate from High School and college.  I am grateful he was around to see Maggie graduate from college. I am grateful that my husband encouraged me to pursue my doctorate and supported me at the age of 49 to switch careers and move to teaching higher education. I am so very grateful Jim was able to walk Maggie and Molly down the aisle on their wedding days. I am grateful he was around to see both of his daughters become gainfully employed educators. I am grateful he was here to celebrate the birth of our first grandchild this past May.  I am grateful that I still have my very best friend to spend my time with.  He is a living, breathing example of God’s miracles on Earth. Thank you, God!


to Notice

I was scooting down the school hallway, copies in hand, shuffling my keys to unlock my classroom when I saw her, she was standing still and looking at posters.

"Good morning," I said quickly.

"Aren't these neat," she said, gesturing so that I would stop and really look.  "They really are saying something."

I have walked past these posters what feels like one million times and never taken the time to read one.  As I stood there with her, reading one after the other, I felt my shoulders softening, my to-do list somehow feeling more manageable.

Yes, we teachers move fast to get things done, but this woman also had things to get done--and one of the things on her list is to notice, to notice the good stuff around us.

This small interaction changed my pace for the rest of the morning.

I was moving slower, but yet getting more done.

I noticed more, saw more things that were actually pretty cool if I took the little time to notice.

It was as if the noticing--with gratitude--had re-set my whole day to a better metronome beat.

And I'm not saying I've got this all figured out, far from it, but it's something I'm working on.

So today's challenge is to notice.  Notice that pretty tree on the way home from work.  Notice something about someone you live with that you haven't taken the time to really see for awhile.  Notice that picture you hung on your own wall.  Why was it there again?  Maybe use your camera, or just use your five senses to notice today. . . and say thanks.


Thank You Veterans

Thank You Veterans.  Your service is our gratitude. 

I saw something this weekend that I want to share.  Any time the word "gratitude" pops up in a video going viral, I'm paying attention.

Pete Davidson apologized to Lt. Com. Dan Crenshaw on Saturday Night Live.  Pete had made a joke in poor taste, and--whether NBC put him up to it or not--the resulting TV clip is worth a watch.  It is especially worth watching at the 3:15 mark when the conversation turns to gratitude.  #neverforget.  Here is the link (it's under five minutes).

Thinking of you today Veterans, especially you Sarah. If you haven't read her writing from last week, it's a good read for today.


To the Mom Whose Kid Asks Hard Questions

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." - Gilbert K. Chesterton

His little feet skip into the room.  I grin.  This kid is happy all the time.

Except when he isn’t.

Except when he asks the tough questions.

“Was Grandma cancelled?” he will say so plainly.

“What is cancer, mama?”

“What happens when we die?’

In this time of missing Grandma Peggy (her birthday is today), in and through our grief, I’ve spent many mommy/son moments not always knowing how to be with these questions.

A friend suggested recently that maybe my little guy’s questions are things that God is asking me, that maybe it’s a time of reckoning.

“Or maybe," she said later in the conversation, “Maybe you could turn the questions around, ask him, ‘What do you think?’”

Each time I’ve done this.  Each time I’ve made the swap from answering first to asking first, I find myself right alongside him in my own hurt and love and missing her.  And I am often taken aback by the thoughts in his little four-year-old heart—thoughts I would have missed, had I been focused on answering right away instead of asking.

And every time, I am reminded that we are not alone in our grief, that answers help, but maybe not as much as the love in a hug, or the love that sits With us in our wanting to know it all, in the trusting and in the hoping all at once.

Gratitude Dare:  Do a random act of kindness.  Get creative!  You know that person who could really use it. . . maybe instead of knowing what they need, take time to ask what might help.


Finding Gratitude When it's Chilly

"Nebraska, it's not for everyone."

If you haven't heard yet, our state has a new tourism slogan.  It's been met with mixed reviews.  When I read social media notes from people who are angry about it, I giggle, remembering it's the tourism slogan.  You have to admit that our state is not a tourist destination of choice--at least not to most people.  But it might just be for me.  

Many people who live here know, that it does have idyllic places to visit, and sometimes a regular-old Nebraska sunset can parallel anything over the ocean.

That said, sometimes I don't totally think it's for me--now hold on before you get angry.  Take yesterday for example. . .

The kids were cheering, "Let's play outside!" so excited from the snowfall.  "Brr," was all I could think on this week of snow and lots to do at work.

But, the evening DID end up being one that reminded me that Nebraska IS the place for me.  One reason why was the super-duper secret that I want to share with everyone.

Last year I made a discovery that helped me find more gratitude throughout the chilly season, even when it was the third week of sludge in January.


"Hygge (pronounced hue-guh not hoo-gah) is a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cosy, charming or special. ... You can't buy a 'hygge living room' and there's no 'hygge foods' to eat." (hyggehouse.com)

In my own words, it's that cosy/warm feeling you get when you and friends are tucked into the house with comfy clothes and warm food and lights all around.  So while you can't buy hygge, you can mix the ingredients into your home--or even into a normal weekday night.

Evi's Prescription for some Nebraska Hygge:
  1. Candles
  2. Twinkly Lights
  3. Soup
  4. Cosy Socks
  5. Hoodie Sweatshirts
  6. Warm Cups of Hot Drinks
  7. Good Friends and Family
  8. etc.
I love it that in Denmark they have a word for this.  Having a word for it helped me feel more grateful last winter.  So, how might you mix some hygge into your weekend?

Today's gratitude dare is to take a picture of something that sparks gratitude. . . maybe something hoogaly (not a word, but one I use, lol).  If you want to share, use #gratitudegal on instagram or Twitter this weekend.


Sneaky Post-It Gratitude

Did your mom or grandma ever put a little note in your lunchbox growing up?  Mine did, and every time I opened my lunch to that little unexpected note, I couldn't help but feel loved and appreciated.  I couldn't help but feel gratitude.

Today the gratitude dare is simple. . .find a sticky note and write a note of appreciation or gratitude and sneak it somewhere where the person will see it.

Cheers to sneaky gratitude!