Tag Archives: gratitude

The Letter I Never Sent

In the field of Positive Psychology, there’s a famous happiness-boosting exercise called the Writing letter to a friend.gratitude letter. Designed by Dr. Martin Seligman, it involves writing, delivering, and reading a letter of gratitude to someone whose life enriched yours. When I heard about this exercise from Tal Ben-Shahar, my teacher in the Kripalu Center’s Certificate in Positive Psychology (CIPP) program, I immediately thought of an ideal recipient: my high-school English teacher.

I met Alice when I was a 15-year-old student in her class on the works of William Shakespeare, the literary love of her life. Alice would jump up on desks, gesticulating wildly as she acted out monologues from Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth. This tiny woman with the giant personality had contagious passion for the Bard, along with a wardrobe of distinctive belts, hats, and vests that could be called upon in a theatrical pinch.

But that was just the beginning of my friendship with Alice, who very quickly became a lifelong “believing mirror” for me—the kind of person who affirms what we’d most like to believe about our capabilities, talents, and significance. Alice told me that I was beautiful when I felt chubby and pimply. She encouraged the writer in me when I was more interested in being popular with boys.

After high school, Alice cheered me on through college, career changes, and the adventures of being an independent woman in the big cities of London, New York, and Boston. A trip home to see my family always included a visit to Alice’s house, where a sign on the front door read, “This door only opens for expected visitors.” Upon knocking, any lucky member of that group would be greeted by a hearty, “Well, hello, darling,” as Alice reached up to give the fiercest hugs and kisses I’ve ever received.

At Christmastime we’d exchange gifts, and hers thoughtfully reflected my interests and pursuits, even when they were counter to hers. Although Alice never understood why I left a career in public radio to teach and write about “that yoga, new age stuff,” she once gave me a statue of a woman, seated in meditation, that now sits in the room where I teach “that yoga, new age stuff.”

In summertime, I’d chat with Alice in her backyard as she sipped Scotch and I drank iced tea. When Alice wasn’t listening to my tales, she was telling her own, including the one about how she met her husband during a business call, when his deep voice and charming wit compelled her to suggest that they continue the conversation “over lunch.” Thus began a passionate love affair between a four-foot-something teacher and a six-foot-something editor. Their marriage was tragically cut short by his death from cancer, and I don’t think my dear friend ever fully recovered.

Throughout the years, Alice was a loyal correspondent, sending cards full of news, musings, and encouragement that always arrived at just the right time. When my first story was published, Alice wrote to me, a then 40-year-old woman, “In my rank book, your story receives an unqualified A-plus. This is what you were born to do.” Later, she told me that she’d saved my letters so that I could “incorporate them into the novel you will one day write.”

The most memorable card appeared after the demise of a romantic relationship on which I’d hung very high hopes. I’d even brought my British beau to Alice’s for a Christmas morning visit, during which she turned on the charm like never before. When she later learned that Michael had abandoned ship, Alice wrote, “My dearest, I looked up the word ‘cad’ in the dictionary and, to my un-surprise, there was a picture of Michael. A second likeness appeared to illustrate the tenor of ‘despicable.’ If you are guilty of anything, my Kim, it is that, like Othello, you ‘loved, not wisely, but too well.’”

Once, Alice gave me a box of very small cards, each one containing a line from Shakespeare. Written on the cover were the words, “There was a star danced, and under that was I born …,” a line from Much Ado About Nothing that conveyed her deep affection and went straight to my heart.

And so I was devastated to learn of Alice’s sudden death this summer, and instantly full of regret that I never wrote my gratitude letter. When I mentioned this to a CIPP classmate she said, “You can still do it. In fact, it could be a very powerful experience.”

I had a feeling she was right.

As I sat down to write my letter to Alice, the tears began to flow. I cried for the troubled girl that I was when I met her. I cried for the 50-year-old woman who’s not sure that she’s lived up to her teacher’s expectations. I cried because I didn’t get the chance to say thanks and goodbye, and I cried because there was now one less person on Earth who loved me unconditionally.

As I finished the letter and the tears abated, I felt a deep peace come over me. A month later I shared my reflections at Alice’s memorial service, where several other former students told me that they, too, felt uniquely seen and cherished by this childless woman who adopted so many of us as her kin.

While I can never repay my beloved friend for her generous love, I can pass it on by being a believing mirror for my own students, family, and friends. I can also live, as she most certainly did, by these words from Alice’s favorite author: “To thine own self be true.”

(This essay was written for Kripalu’s blog, Thrive, and also appears here.)

Fifty Years, Fifty Lessons

50 years, 50 lessons I just turned 50 and, while it’s difficult to wrap my mind around this chronological fact, I think it begs a celebration. I’m therefore inspired to list 50 things that I’ve learned in my five decades on the planet. It’s a gift to myself, really, to honor the wisdom that I’ve received from people and life, some of which I’ve passed on to my students and clients. We all learn from each other.

1) Believe in your worth. It pains me to consider how much time I wasted thinking that I was unattractive, untalented and un-everything-that-I-thought-everyone-else-was. I obsessed about a little cellulite when I had a gorgeous figure. I thought I was insignificant when, in fact, I made lasting impressions on lots of people. Enough of that nonsense. I now affirm my worth on a regular basis.

2) When you know better, you do better. That’s from Maya Angelou. My version? At 35, I abandoned the party crowd to find my spiritual tribe. At 40, I started flossing my teeth and found the right facial moisturizer. At 43, I gave up emotionally unavailable men. This year I added green smoothies and meditation to my life. It’s never too late to start a good habit.

3) Got a compliment on your lips? Let it roll. One day during an otherwise impersonal transaction at a department store, I complimented the sales clerk on her iridescent, multi-hued eye shadow. Soon enough, she was gushing about her passion for style and make-up artistry. We both grinned as she delivered her parting words, “And you really look good in orange, girl!” Voicing appreciation also works wonders in a marriage, BTW…

4) It’s good to be on time. My name is Kim and I’m a recovering latecomer. My old behavior made me, and everyone who waited for me, crazy and annoyed. Chronic lateness does a number on body, mind and reputation. I’ve discovered that it feels way better to arrive on time and un-flustered. If I get there early, there’s my iPhone to entertain me, or a moment of mindfulness to enjoy. Feels so much better.

5) Things can change in an instant. One morning in 1996, I got a call from the program director at a National Public Radio station in Newark, NJ. I’d submitted a demo tape to this man at some point, but I’d forgotten about it as I continued to work my radio production job at another station. The director told that me that his morning news anchor was leaving and he needed “someone to fill in for a while.” Poof! That’s how I became a radio newscaster for WBGO, Jazz88.

6) You don’t have to keep doing something just because you’re good at it. In 1999 I left a “perfectly good” career in public radio to follow my heart. It led me to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where I became a yoga teacher and a workshop facilitator. Eventually, I lost my passion for yoga teaching and so I left that, too. Now I’m coaching, teaching and writing messages that help people to live more joyfully and authentically. This job’s a keeper, I’m pretty sure…

7) Every feeling passes. I lived, worked and trained at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health for two magical years in the Berkshire Hills. A chunk of that time was spent processing emotional pain from my past to get to the joy of who I really am. I sometimes felt that I’d drown in those tears, but they always subsided, and my sunny nature always reemerged. Like the weather patterns of the Berkshires, my emotions shifted all the time. Feelings, like clouds, come and go.

8) Comparing leads to despairing. I’ve squandered a lot of time and energy imagining how great other people’s lives are and using that misinformation to make myself feel crappy. No one’s life is perfect, no matter how shiny it looks from the outside. Now I tend to my own garden, harvest the good, give thanks and feast on my life.

9) Taking risks builds risk muscles. Making bold moves and trying new things is scary. But that same energy, channeled as excitement, can propel us into taking risks with love, creativity, right livelihood, authenticity and every other good thing we want. The more I leap in faith, despite my fears, the easier it is to do it again and again.

10) Cultivate a sense of wonder and delight. Paying attention to the beauty of even small and simple things, and appreciating the abundant gifts of Mother Nature, fuels a romance with life that never grows old. I put my inner kid in charge of this one.

11) Yes, I’m sensitive. A friend once called me a “champion feeler” and today I proudly embrace that label. My sensitivity allows me to empathize with people, and my tears invite others to share their own. The downside is that I can be a sponge for the unexpressed emotions of those around me, but I still wouldn’t trade my sensitivity for toughness. It’s a gift.

12) A lack of confidence wastes a lot of opportunity. I regret the times that I let my insecurities hijack and sabotage exciting chances. “Fake it ‘til you make it,” is a chestnut of wisdom that tells me to say yes to opportunities that come my way, even when I don’t feel totally prepared for them. I can always become a quick study, or ask someone for help.

13) Nothing stays the same.  I learned this one the hard way, often when I became attached to certain products (and shades of lip color), only to watch them disappear from shelves when they were discontinued. The good news is that this truism applies to both painful and pleasurable situations, which is nice to remember when the stuff is hitting the fan.

14) I proudly wave my freak flag. I’ve danced ecstatically on sacred rocks, howled at the moon, marched for peace, drummed around bonfires, chanted in sweat lodges and assumed yoga poses in the Grand Canyon. I’ve even been to a clothing-optional gathering or two. I’m a hippie-freak, tree-hugging flower child liberal, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

15) God is not Santa Claus (nor is s/he Simon Cowell). As a kid, I “parentified” God as someone who judged me when I was naughty. When I dove into New Age teachings and spirituality, I thought God would reward me for being nice. Now I know God as a source of unconditional and utterly generous love that’s always just waiting for my call.

16) Wish everyone well. Friends, family members, co-workers, the snippy sales clerk and that guy yakking too loudly on his cell phone…what if we’re all doing the best we can with the state we’re in and the mindsets we currently have? Wish everyone well today, especially those who vex you. I find it a surprisingly effective practice.

17) Pause, rest and integrate. I used to rush from task, to event, to appointment with no time in between for rest and integration. It meant that I was always active, yet rarely satisfied or present. Now I acknowledge the need for space and downtime to savor and integrate major events. Life is too rich to live on fast forward.

18) It’s easy to take our talents for granted. I can edit a rambling, 1,000-word mess down to a snappy 450 words. I can teach a yoga class and turn a group of strangers into a sacred circle. I’m also “good with eggs,” according to my ex-husband, and I sing pretty solos. What talents come so easily and naturally to you that you take them for granted?

19) People are my treasures. “Do you collect anything?” someone once asked me. I said no, but that’s not entirely true. I collect people the way some women collect shoes. Special people from my life have special places in my heart, shining like diamonds in my memory long after our paths have crossed.

20) What doesn’t kill us actually can make us stronger. The study of something called post-traumatic growth examines how stressful events can actually effect positive changes in a person’s life. My own hardships forced me to grow courage, wisdom, compassion and strength. Given the chance to rewrite my history, I just might leave a few of them in there.

21) Things often take longer than we like. I’m still working on this one, which involves patience, trust and a good dose of faith. There’s also something to be said for divine timing, divine orchestration, and the lessons learned while waiting, not to mention how our desires can change over time and render some wishes obsolete.

22) A good talk with a good friend is great medicine. I am lucky to have people in my life who let me be a big, fat mess sometimes. They listen without trying to make me feel better, simply holding a space in which I can speak aloud my complaints, confessions, sorrows and fears. Ironically, I do feel better after these talks, mostly because I feel less alone and more acceptably human.

23) Work your circle of influence. When Oprah Winfrey ended her long-running talk show, she told viewers that they didn’t have to be TV stars to have an impact on lots of people. I thought about that, and realized that every person I encounter may be affected by what I do and say. We never know who’s watching our “show,” so we might as well make it helpful, uplifting or inspiring, right?

24) The buzz is not worth the bummer. I just might be mostly done with alcohol, coffee, and sugar. I say “might” and “mostly” because life is full of special occasions that call for treats. Still, I know that the fleeting pleasure I get from these things is often not worth their negative effects on my body, mind and mood. Practicing what works best for me, and feeling the benefits, is my new high.

25) Happiness is an inside job. I’ve heard this sentiment for years, along with Abe Lincoln’s version, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Now I finally get that happiness is a moment-to-moment choice that has less to do with what happens to us than what’s happening inside of us. Choosing to be happy takes courage and practice, and it’s bolstered by an attitude of gratitude.

26) Crazy busy no more. I used to be someone with no white space on the calendar, over-scheduled to within an inch of my life. Behind all that activity was a sense of desperation, a fear of missing out and a discomfort with stillness. Today, I’m very selective about what lands on my calendar, and I guard my free time like the wealth that it is.

27) Parenthood is not for everyone. I am childless by choice. I just never felt the urge to be a mom. I love being with kids and I relate pretty well to them, but I just don’t want to raise one and have that 24/7 responsibility. Maybe it’s also because of my tendency to worry, or maybe it’s because I’m still growing up.

28) We’re ready when we’re ready. Regarding change, I once heard someone say that, “We can only go as fast as the slowest part of us can go.” Not sure I believe that entirely, but I do know that some major transitions in my life took their own sweet time to incubate. While it’s uncomfortable to hang out in the unknown, and we feel impatient to move forward sometimes, readiness is a key to lasting change.

29) Contentment is underrated. Maybe it has a lot to do with being middle aged, but I’m pretty content to be content these days. It doesn’t seem to be a very popular sentiment, so I sometimes feel out of step. But savoring who I am and what I have brings me peace and joy, and that, to me, is more satisfying than the latest gadget.

30) Tell on yourself. Last year I published something with a major typo thatDoh! made me cringe. I couldn’t fix the error, so I told people about it. The outpouring of support that followed was astounding to someone who once thought that mistakes made her a target for ridicule. Screwing up is evidently something people relate to, so we might as well admit that we do it.

31) To-do lists are good. Ta-da lists are better. This idea comes from Julia Cameron, my guru in the work I do as a creative living coach. She recommends that we write “Ta-da!” lists to honor what we’ve done in the course of a day. When I acknowledge all that I’ve accomplished, I feel good about myself and energized to do more. After a little reward, that is…

32) Turn your defects into assets. My brothers would probably tell you that I was a bossy big sister. But a tendency to be authoritative comes in handy when teaching yoga and creative recovery classes (“Lift your sternum, drop your shoulders, write your Morning Pages, breathe…”). Likewise, my overblown sense of responsibility makes me pretty reliable. What character “defects” can you see as assets?

33) Walking is cheaper than therapy. One day I was all worked up about stuff and my ex-husband asked, “Did you take your walk?” in the same tone someone might use to inquire, “Did you take your meds?” So I took the hint and went outside to walk off my stress and get out of my own head. About 30 minutes later, the knot in my stomach dissolved and I smiled up at the big, blue sky, grateful for this free and gentle remedy.

34) One man’s dirt is another woman’s dishes. I’ve lived with people who had different cleaning habits than mine. I’d go nuts when the bathroom was grungy, and they’d nag me to do my dishes before bed. One day after much grumbling, I got it: they didn’t see the dirt and clutter that I saw, and I was oblivious to the pile of dishes in the sink. What if no one is wrong and we’re all just wearing different lenses?

35) Don’t believe everything you think. I was 32 when I first heard those words from a guru. Today they make a lot of sense, as my meditation practice causes me to watch the tireless parade of thoughts that march across my mind, many of which are repetitive, judgmental, fearful and banal. Were I sitting next to someone voicing this chatter, I’d move away. Watching my thoughts gives me perspective on them, and the chance to shift.

36) Nature is the ultimate thriller. I’ve seen skyscrapers, cities that never sleep and award-winning movies and plays, but nothing thrills me like a hummingbird, a breaching whale, a Technicolor sunset, the full moon rising, the power of the ocean, a majestic mountain or a sky full of shooting stars. Mama Nature is the original artist, and she is such a diva.

37) I dare to love my imperfect self. Our brains are wired to look for what’s wrong; it’s how we’ve survived over the ages. But while that impulse was designed to protect us from real danger, we often use it to pick ourselves mercilessly apart. If “God don’t make no junk,” as the saying goes, who am I to nitpick? I’m willing to love myself—warts and all—even as I acknowledge that there’s room for “new and improved.”

38) Be a good receiver. The other day a friend told me that I looked beautiful and I simply said “Thank you!” because my intention for this year is to be a better receiver – of compliments, assistance, money and all kinds of blessings. This can be challenging for those of us who are hardwired for self-sufficiency and used to deflecting, but receiving keeps good things in circulation, and I’m doing my part to keep that energy flowing.

39) Season, reason, lifetime. Those words refer to the length of time, and purpose, for which certain people are in our lives. It took me a long time to get this, and maybe longer to accept the fact that some friendships and significant relationships do not last as long as I want them to. I can only appreciate whoever shows up, try to receive the lessons and gifts they bear, and really value those who are with me for the long haul.

40) I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I use that idiom because I’m an avid tea drinker, but the point here is that some people may never like me. Ouch! So I have to ask myself, “Well, aren’t there people who leave me cold, annoy me or push my buttons?” Well, yes. “What if it’s because they mirror a part of me that I don’t want to see, or some part that I’m uncomfortable expressing?” Could be. Or, maybe tea just isn’t everyone’s beverage of choice.

41) I believe in a good cry. It turns out that tears are actually good for us. They lubricate the eyes, remove bacteria and toxins from the body and reduce stress. But even before I knew that, I believed in the power of a good cry to release pent-up feelings of anxiety, anger and grief. I don’t always feel great right after a big cry, but eventually I do feel lighter, clearer and less afraid of my feelings.

42) Rituals matter. My childhood rituals included going to church, sitting down for family dinners and celebrating birthdays and holidays. As an adult, I create my own rituals based on what truly nourishes me. My mornings now consist of prayer, meditation and journaling. If I skip them, I feel “off.” Rituals ground me, enrich my life and connect me to what’s meaningful.

43) I forgive myself. I’ve made choices in life that caused me pain and suffering. I’ve hurt people and said things that I wish I could delete from the universal record. Today I forgive myself for making mistakes and causing harm. I make amends when possible to those I’ve hurt, including me, aiming to be kinder and wiser.

44) I forgive them, too.
Resentments, grudges and grievances are like toxic waste piles that litter my mind and poison my spirit. Forgiveness, on the other hand, feels liberating and clean. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that I condone bad behavior or want to become best buddies. It means that I no longer let another’s actions hold me hostage or define me. It also opens the way for healing.

45) Jealousy is a messenger. For years, being jealous of people who had what I wanted was something I just did. Once I became aware of my jealousies, I felt bad for having them (compounding the misery). Now when I catch myself feeling jealous of someone, I know it’s pointing me toward my own desires. I then remind myself that it’s an abundant universe, and only I can block my good.

46) Find the good and praise it. Author Alex Haley used these words to sum up his philosophy, and they describe a practice that I’ve been building on. It’s called savoring, and it’s related to the “glass half full” concept of looking for what is good and what’s working in our lives, aiming our focus there and giving thanks. This is especially useful when times are hard, and it’s a great relationship tool.

47) I love my body and it loves me back. I haven’t always been a wise or well-behaved inhabitant of this precious body, but it has steadily performed for me nonetheless. I’m amazed by what it can do, heal and repair, all by itself. The older I get, the more I want to reward my body with healthy food, lots of water, good supplements, massage, ample rest and movement. Whispering words of love also helps, and so I do.

48) Easy does it with expectations. There’s a saying in the 12-Step world that expectations are “premeditated resentments.” Translation: Don’t hinge your happiness on what other people do or don’t do. My unmet expectations of people and life have led to many disappointments and pity parties. A more useful attitude is to be grateful for what is given, cut everyone some slack and keep filling my own well.

49) I turn to face my shadow. Wisdom teachers say that if we don’t acknowledge and integrate our darker impulses and internal saboteurs, they’ll thwart our best efforts, tarnish relationships and trigger lots of bad behavior. Failing to see and own our shadow sides, we end up pointing fingers instead of looking inward. I’m willing to explore the aspects of myself that I’d rather not see, and shine a loving light on them.

50) Life is for learning. Agenda for the next 50 years: quiet my inner critic, calm my inner control freak, grow my gratitude and patience, be of greater service, appreciate the heck out of my parents and family, be more generous, stay curious, keep asking for what I want and have more fun. Not necessarily in that order…

The Human Side of Sandy

I lived in Hoboken, NJ, for 15 years during my late ’20s and 30s. It’s a mile-square city, a so-called bedroom community to Manhattan, and the birthplace of Frank Sinatra. It was also one of the most close-knit communities I’ve ever called home, full of people who still occupy a special place in my heart.

The last time I visited Hoboken was October 2001, when I returned to empty the apartment that I’d been subletting and pull up my roots for good. I’d been away for two years, and out of the country during the attacks on the World Trade Center. As I walked around Hoboken that week, I saw dozens and dozens of “Have you seen…?” fliers with desperate, handwritten appeals and the haunting faces of those who were likely buried in the rubble of the Twin Towers. The city felt bruised, sad…and surreal.

On October 30, 2012, my heart went out to Hoboken again as I saw arresting images of flooded streets, destroyed property and stranded residents in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. When I heard Mayor Dawn Zimmer crying out for help on CNN, I started to follow the situation on TV and Facebook.

Hoboken residents share their power with those needing a place to recharge

Hoboken residents share their power

What I saw next was a different kind of surge, as the beleaguered people of this small city began sharing their precious power and resources, opening their homes to moms with kids for extended play dates and movies with snacks. People in neighboring Weehawken offered their showers, couches, spare bedrooms, kitchens and vacant apartments to complete strangers who were suddenly homeless.

The Hoboken Facebook page became a place where people posted all kinds of urgent appeals and generous offers. Kids and adults came out to clean up homes, parks, streets and businesses. There were block parties with free food and activities for kids who couldn’t go to school. People were dropping in on isolated senior citizens while making trips to donate furniture, diapers and flashlights.

And help arrived from beyond the Garden State, too, as revealed in a post that said,  “Super amazing. Heritage Academy from Monterey, TN, sent up a bus of 59 students and teachers to assist in our efforts at the High School. They were a huuuge help! Thank you!”

Across the river, New York City was grappling with its own devastation and loss. Again. Just as they did on 9/11, so many resilient New Yorkers rebounded as quickly as they could and rose to the occasion. “When something like this happens, it’s as if  you’re suddenly in a small town,” said a friend of mine in upper Manhattan. “A lot of people here are housing friends and relatives and colleagues who lost their homes. There was so much worse destruction in some places that my friends downtown say they felt lucky that they only lost power. One of them joked, ‘It’s like I’m camping, except there are no trees.'”

Making the best of tragedy is what a lot of Americans are really good at. And compassion often comes biggest from the smallest of us. In Bullitt County, Kentucky, three hundred elementary school kids mailed their Halloween candy to the children of Hoboken last week. Their teacher reported that many of these children, who themselves receive public assistance, donated all of the candy they had. “One student told me that he’d only donated ‘the good stuff,'” she added.

That candy was distributed at yesterday’s Ragamuffin Parade, Hoboken’s annual Halloween event for kids and kids-at-heart that was delayed, but not destroyed, by Sandy.

Two weeks after this massive storm, too many people in New York and New Jersey are still without power. Thousands have lost everything they owned, and more than a hundred people lost their lives. I have officially closed down my personal complaint department for 2012, as I’m reminded every day to feel grateful my home, heat, electricity, running water and abundant food and clothing. For those of us who were unscathed by Sandy, Thanksgiving is a month-long celebration this year, and a chance to remember and help those who were not so lucky.

 

Gratitude is Not Just a Nice Attitude

About fifteen years ago I was driving solo along the highways of New Mexico with some books on tape to keep me company. The most memorable of these was Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, a self-help classic by Susan Jeffers. Among other good recommendations, Jeffers suggested that I take time every night to write down 50 things for which I was grateful.

“Did she say 50?!” I exclaimed, rewinding the cassette. Yup, she said 50. Because it’s not really about the list.

In order to create a 50-item gratitude list each night, you have to spend your days looking for things to write down. Today my items will include: the surprise of a monarch butterfly in my garden, finding Ben and Jerry’s on sale at Whole Foods, the shy smile of a toddler in the checkout line, my favorite Joni Mitchell song on the radio and that email from a soul friend full of just the right words. That’s 5 down, 45 to go. And so I’ll mentally note more to appreciate as the day goes on.

Sometimes the things that make my list reflect what did not happen that day, like a near miss on the expressway, the car repair that wasn’t needed after all, or the fact that my air conditioner worked on a 98-degree day when residents elsewhere were suffering a blackout and losing their cool. When I turn on the tap water, I’m grateful that I don’t live in a town plagued by drought. When my wheelchair-bound neighbor calls me for help with small tasks, I’m reminded to appreciate my legs. And because Thich Nhat Hanh once said something like “Be grateful for the non-toothache,” I try to remember to give thanks when a pain or illness has disappeared. It’s easy to be miserable when I’m suffering and forgetful when I’m well.

What Jeffers is up to with this list thing is getting us to flip our internal scripts from a running monologue of criticism and complaining (and their close friends “poor me” and “life sucks”) to one of appreciation and even wonder for the what we have and what is given to us. Research shows that gratitude boosts mental and physical health, and I find that it assuages loneliness, too. When I feel as if life is serving me up a bounty of blessings, I feel “companioned” by a benevolent force.

“So often what blocks people from their greater potential is that they don’t appreciate what they have so far,” says spiritual teacher Carolyn Myss. I think that’s because a focus on lack is akin to wearing super dark shades all the time. We won’t even recognize our good if we’re clouded with negativity, and we sure won’t be motivated to strive for better. Think about a closed fist versus an upturned palm – which is more likely to receive?

Author and astrologer Rob Brezsny takes the concept a little further in his book Pronoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings. Brezsny explains that pronoia is the antidote for paranoia and “a mode of training your senses and intellect so you’re able to perceive the fact that life always gives you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.”

Sometimes it takes me awhile to see that life is giving me what I need when it’s not giving me what I want. That’s when I have to flip into “Well, it could’ve been worse,” or “I guess there’s something I’m meant to learn here.” Believe me, I don’t go from angry to accepting in 60 seconds, but I do find that life is just gentler when I reach for things to appreciate in difficult times.

“Gratitude is a real practice in my mind, as valid as yoga or Zen meditation or Sufi dancing,” says Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast, adding that it begins with a sense of surprise for all that is given, rather than an air of entitlement. “It’s not joy that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us joyful,” he says.

Speaking of joy, I invite you to spend ten minutes watching Loius Schwartzberg and his gorgeous film about the power of gratitude. Then, in the words of German theologian Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

Thank you. I’m grateful for your readership.

Losing My Ambition

As I approach my personal half-century mark, I find myself in strange territory. Having successfully climbed a few career ladders in my life, I am currently, apparently, without ambition. It doesn’t feel like a bad thing.

I’ve lived in big cities and charming towns and traveled the world from Alaska to Zimbabwe. I’ve interviewed celebrities, been interviewed on TV, hosted radio shows, co-written books and hung out with politicos and hip hop pioneers in New York, New York. I’ve sung to crowds at Boston’s Symphony Hall and the Hatch Shell. I even swayed and clapped with fellow gospel singers behind Mariah Carey as she belted out “Make it Happen” to thousands of fans at the huge TD Garden. (That was awesome.)

I’m not trying to brag here so much as note the highlights of a life lived pretty fully so far. I’m sure I’ll be up to more adventures eventually, but right now I’m satisfied with the ones I’ve had.

The evidence of my contentment, if that’s the word for it, is mounting:

A few weeks ago, as I sat in the waiting room of a Toyota dealership, I scanned the table full of gossip rags. I realized I had absolutely no interest in anything that any celebrity was up to that week. This, from someone who used to devour People magazine from cover-to-cover, watch Entertainment Tonight religiously, and fantasize about being a big somebody some day.

Always a fan of comfort clothes, I now find myself primarily dressing in a style that can best be described as casual bordering on frumpy. Most days you’ll find me in sensible footwear, yoga pants, and no-iron tops. I cannot recall the last time I put on a pair of pantyhose or high heels.

I recently ran into a former yoga student of mine as she prepared to give a talk on European flower shows. When I asked her if horticulture was her business she said, “I do it for fun. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of a ‘kept woman.’” To tell you the truth, that sounded pretty good to me.

What happened to the teenager who wanted to be the next Barbara Walters, the public radio reporter who planned to host her own show, and the yoga teacher who thought she’d sit across from Oprah one day, gabbing about her spiritual awakening and helping millions to achieve their own? She’s the same person who walked away from a career in broadcast news at age 35 because her soul beckoned her elsewhere. She’s the passionate creativity teacher who recently said, “Yeah, I wanna be a ‘local somebody’ too!” upon hearing the clever phrase from a student. The current me delights in coaching others to live fully expressed lives, writing articles for a local healthy living magazine, selling the occasional personal essay and blogging for beloved readers.

When it comes to amassing a fortune, well, I always worked in non-profit but now I seem even less concerned with profiting. I pay the bills, enjoy a simple life, and follow a work schedule that leaves me with adequate free time. If time is indeed money, then I’m rich. So is a former student who echoes my sentiments as she writes, “Sometimes I feel I should be doing more and leading the kind of busy-productive life I admire in others, but my unscheduled time is so precious and essential to my peace of mind. I’m grateful to have it, because I know not everyone does.”

Author Daniel Pink recently said that this age of abundance and prosperity has liberated but not fulfilled us, leaving more people searching for meaning instead of megabucks. Last year I heard a news story about MBAs who were becoming farmers to live more sustainable lives, and last month I learned about the Junky Car Club, in which people drive old cars in order to have more money for charitable contributions.

Like these folks, my highest ambition is to be a better human being. I also want to spend more time with my family and friends while we’re all still around, keep using my skills to help people, and savor my blessings.

Crowding 50, I have no advanced degrees, no property in my name, and no record of civic involvement apart from some volunteer work and the local garden club. Still, I’m happy with the person I’ve become and I love my life. The other day I read a little message on my tea bag that said, “You can run after satisfaction, but satisfaction must come from within.”

I think I’ve stopped running.

Back in high school I thought I was too cool when I wrote my yearbook quote in French. Today, it’s the sentiment that impresses me. “What is success?” I wrote, in the English translation. “It’s being happy with what, who and where we are in life.”

More than thirty years later, I find that to be true.

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p.s. Okay, now I AM bragging – this essay made the front page/Editor’s Picks this week on Open Salon, a forum for writers. You can see it by clicking here.