Tag Archives: Gratitude

What am I doing instead? Making the most of precious gifts of time

Do you iron your sheets? Your tablecloths? Your underwear?

Yeah, I don’t either. But our ancestors did.

They did so because the natural fabrics used in the past wrinkled enthusiastically, and because the water used to wash them was not so clean. Ironing was more than cosmetic—it helped to sterilize.

My fleece sheets don’t wrinkle, and my washing machine cleans them thoroughly, so I’m spared spending time ironing them.

What am I doing instead?

wringer-washerIn my early childhood we (and by that I mean my mother) still used a wringer washer at our farmhouse. Mom spent hours over the machine, feeding each piece of clothing through the wringer individually.

Today, I put a load of laundry in my washing machine and walk away, so I’m spared spending time rinsing each piece.

What am I doing instead?

singerIn the past, most mothers pinched pennies by peddling their Singer sewing machines to make homemade clothing.

These days most fabrics cost more than finished pieces of clothing sold in stores, and sewing isn’t my passion, so I’m spared spending time sewing my clothes.

What am I doing instead?

So many labour-saving devices have freed up my time to do other things. I could volunteer with a local charity to help others, or I could surf the internet. I could spend time with my kids, or I could catch up on the missed episodes of Sherlock. I could get some exercise, or I could wade through more Game of Thrones? (Heaven help me, why did I start reading that series?)

The brother of my great-grandfather hoeing his garden

One of my ancestors hoeing his garden

When I think of my ancestors ploughing fields behind horses, digging stumps with shovels, canning their own food, making all their bread from scratch, cutting and chopping the wood they’d need to keep themselves warm all winter, milking the cows, churning their butter, collecting their eggs, slaughtering their meat, digging their own water well, building their furniture, and on, and on, and on, I feel an awesome responsibility to cherish each second of time I am spared from doing all of those things. But too often I wake in a warm house I didn’t have to build a fire to heat, I toast bread I didn’t bake, I pour milk I didn’t have to touch a cow to get, and I take it all for granted. Too often I crack an egg I didn’t have to snatch out from underneath the warm bottom of hen, I open a tin of tomatoes I didn’t grow in a garden or can for myself, and I fry up bacon from an animal I didn’t feed or muck out, and I don’t appreciate those things as gifts.

They are more than gifts of nourishment and comfort. They are gifts of time—time I didn’t have to spend procuring them.

And what am I doing instead? Am I doing the most I can with those precious moments?

Right now, I’m going to stand up in my warm house, I’m going to walk to my kitchen, open my tap and appreciate water I don’t have to walk far to retrieve or pump to bring up to me. I’m going to fill a kettle and heat it without having to build a fire in a wood stove. I’m going to pour that water over tea leaves from a plant that isn’t even native to this country, and that I didn’t have to grow or harvest. Then I’m going to pour in milk that has been pasteurized and skimmed for me. I’m going to hold that hot mug in my hands on this cold day, and I’m going to close my eyes and savour the aroma, and I’m going to cherish those precious gifts of nourishment, comfort and time. And then I’m going to do something valuable with my day.

Learning how to receive with grace

Very cool photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/publikaccion/

If someone offers you gifts, do you accept with gratitude?

Do you sometimes turn them away?

Some people find the graceful act of receiving difficult.

Author Paulo Coelho, in his latest book, Aleph, writes about the reluctance some people feel when accepting gifts. They think: “If someone is giving us something, that’s because we’re incapable of getting it for ourselves.’ Or else, ‘The person giving me this now will one day ask for it back with interest.’ Or, even worse, ‘I don’t deserve to be treated well.'”

Have you ever offered a gift only to have it rejected? How did you feel?

When offers of a helping hand or heartfelt gifts get rejected, the giver might wonder, Did I get it wrong? Do they not like it? Is it not good enough?” Or else, “I hope they don’t think they’ll need to repay the favour.” Or, even worse, “Is it personal? Do they not like me?”

Gifts and offers of assistance come from the place of compassion in the heart. People give because they see a need that is most easily filled with their help. They give when they see an item that is just right for someone they love. They give without strings attached and out of love, joy and gratitude.

It’s our job to learn how to receive with grace.

My friend, Bruce Henderson, has a name for gift recipients: givee. Bruce is a reformed reluctant givee. He wrote this poem about the importance of being a good givee.

Grace of the Good Givee

Bring me your gifts,

I will be strong,

strong enough to take them.

Yes, I have room for your gifts,

in my hands, in my home, in my heart,

I welcome you in—to my infinite yin.

There is a time to give and a time to get,

and every Giver needs a Good Givee.

I am ready to accept,

to receive your loving kindness;

the warm message of your gifts.

In joy we will celebrate

the power of your act.

When you reach out

I will not try to run away.

Come spirit,

grant me the grace of the Good Givee.

©2010 Bruce Henderson

Gratitude in the line of fire

Photo from Ottawa Fire Services @OttawaFirePIO

Last week, as I drove home in the mid-afternoon, I saw in the distance a large plume of dark smoke right over my neighbourhood.

The National Capital Commission Greenbelt lies just 2 blocks from my house. The treed lands provide convenient woodland cross-country skiing in the winter, and my dog loves sniffing her way through the underbrush on our summer walks. I enjoy the Greenbelt almost daily, but last week was the first time I considered what those nearby trees become in a long, dry heat wave: tinder. Fire builds in intensity and spreads blindingly fast in dry conditions.

Last week those trees were on fire, and we are in the middle of a drought.

City of Ottawa emergency service workers worked in 35° C (95° F for my American friends) to get the flames under control. By evening, the greatest danger was past. The fire continued to burn, though, and likely will continue to do so until we get some serious rain. The next morning, I awoke in my comfy bed, in my secure home, with my family safe and not traumatized by sudden catastrophe. It was a morning for gratitude.

Photo from Ottawa Fire Services @OttawaFirePIO

Gratitude often arises out of misfortune or deprivation.

Like poppy seeds springing into bloom after being churned up by the tanks of war, our gratitude only surfaces when our routine gets shaken up a bit. When disaster strikes someone we love, we realize how much we cherish that person. When we have to do without things we usually take for granted—running water, or flush toilets, for example—we appreciate them anew when they become available once again.

Last week, in my comfy bed, I gave thanks for my home, my family, the City of Ottawa firefighters, and the trees that got saved so I will be able to walk there again soon. And I gave thanks for the reminder, for the shake-up, that made me appreciate anew my many riches.

Take a gratitude break, right now. What simple things are you grateful for today?

6 reasons why I am grateful to a hacker

Photo by Randy Pertiet

My family email address was hacked; it was not a positive way to start my morning.

However, I have learned that challenging situations are best endured through the practice of gratitude, so I consciously chose to turn my irritation inside-out and to transform it to gratitude.

Dear hacker:

Thank you. Thanks to your time and talent, I have discovered six things for which I am profoundly grateful:

1. Delayed onset of Alzheimer’s Disease

In the past year I have had my Facebook account, my work email account and my family email account hacked. Thanks to you I have had to change several passwords and create ever more complicated ones. The stimulation to my brain cells that result from creating and remembering complex passwords will no doubt delay the onset of any senile dementia. I and my family thank you.

2. Increased calorie burning

I went for my daily walk with my dog after discovering the email violation. Fueled by anger and irritation, I walked at a much accelerated pace thereby burning more calories. My waist measurement thanks you.

3. Contact with old friends

Since you sent your message offering everyone in my contact list a chance to earn quick money, you have put me in touch with people who I have not contacted for a long time. Every parent who ever had a child on the same hockey, baseball, soccer or rugby team as my children would have been surprised to hear from me, no doubt. All the parents of my former Girl Guides, and all my children’s’ teachers would have been equally surprised to see my name in their Inbox, I am sure. Of course, they would not have been happy to receive the message under the circumstances, but I choose to remember the old public relations adage: There is no such thing as bad publicity—just spell my name right. Thanks for all the publicity.

4. Appreciation for the weather

It is cool and rainy in Ottawa, Canada today; the kind of weather that makes you want to go back to bed. Blah. Before I turned on my computer to discover you, dear hacker, I was a little grumbly about the weather. But then, when I saw all the undelivered mail messages in my Inbox, suddenly the weather wasn’t the worst part of my day. I started to look at it positively. After all, the trees and flowers needed a good drink. Our thirsty gardens thank you.

5. Pride in life choices

When I considered the time, talent and skill that you spent doing something that ruined my day, I felt rather proud of myself by comparison. When I have an hour or two to spare, I spend it trying to make the world a better place. I volunteer with several community organizations, I help out at my kids’ school, or I donate blood. I feel proud that I use my time, talent and skills to make someone’s day a little brighter. My community thanks you.

6. Compassion

I worked hard at putting myself in your shoes. I tried to understand you. I concluded that at some point in your history you were deprived of love in some way, or harmed physically or emotionally. Why else would you want to inflict harm on others? I was able to find compassion for you and to wish for a positive change in your life.

Dear hacker:

You have such skill and talent, and you obviously have WAY too much time on your hands. I ask that you look around. There are people who need your help.

Please use your time and talent to help, not harm.

What is the secret to long life?

“Discouragement cannot live in a grateful heart.”  —Anonymous

My friend is celebrating a birthday today. She is 103.

What is her secret? I can’t say for sure, but I suspect it might have something to do with joy and gratitude.

Three years ago, at the time of her 100th birthday, she wrote down some of her memories to give as a gift to her children. (It was her birthday, and she was the one giving gifts.) She asked me to prepare the printed manuscript of the stories, so  I received the lucky task of transcribing her memories from handwriting to computer.

At the age of 100 her handwriting had not deteriorated; I could read every word clearly. They taught penmanship in school in her youth.

Often, in the telling of a tale, she wrote, “That puts me in mind of a poem.” The poems followed, word-for-word perfect, as remembered from her school years 80 or 90 years earlier. When I searched the poems on Google, I discovered that, not only was every word perfect, she laid out the poems on the page exactly as the authors had decades ago, and every punctuation mark was in place. They did memory work in school in her youth.

But what I noticed most about her writing was this: joy and gratitude on every page. Story after story ended with, “How fortunate I am!” Or, “Why is everyone so good to me?” They taught humility and gratitude in school in her youth.

The formative years of her life involved World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, and yet her memories overflow with joy and gratitude.

Are joy and gratitude the secrets to long life?

I can’t say for sure, but they make the time that we’re here—however long it might be—a lot more enjoyable.

Gratitude makes you happy

This past summer, A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible, spoke to a gathering of law librarians in Philadelphia. His speech included anecdotes about how the research for his writings has affected his life.

When Jacobs chose to explore the Bible, he did it the Jacobs way—to the extreme. He lived for a year following every law and teaching in the Bible. Or rather, he tried to live that way for a year but discovered that there are more than 700 laws in the Bible and some of them contradict one another. “Even absolutism must have exceptions,” he wrote, as he struggled to decide what to do.

But at the end of the year he had changed.

He was happier, and the secret was gratitude. Faith communities encourage the giving of thanks, and when he adopted a daily practice of giving thanks throughout the day for all those little wonderful things that often go unnoticed, it changed him. He realized that for every one or two minor things that went wrong, a hundred things went right.

Sometimes we “save up” our gratitude for Thanksgiving weekend, instead of mindfully practising the giving of thanks throughout each day, week and month. This weekend, be thankful, and let it be the beginning of spreading out your gratitude, and your happiness, throughout the year.