Category Archives: Gratitude
This past week I had the privilege of writing an article about a woman from my church. Jean volunteers for a long list of organizations, giving to others in different ways. As she bakes, delivers meals to seniors, quilts, and tackles her many other labours of love, she glows with energy and good spirit. When I asked her why she does all she does, she said, “It makes me feel good. I get back so much more than I give.”
Another friend of mine volunteers for Canadian Red Cross. He supports people in need in his own community, and he travels to countries in crisis around the globe. When he speaks of this work, he glows. “I get back so much more than I give,” he says.
I have heard that refrain over and over in my life, from people aglow with the joy of hands-on giving.
After my conversation with Jean, I thought about other people I know who have stable jobs and who probably give to charity, but who don’t give of themselves in a close contact way. They golf every Saturday, or they enjoy fine dining, or they spend most weekends at their cottage.
I would never say these people aren’t happy. If I were to ask them if they are happy, they would say yes. What is the difference then?
The difference is the glow: The merely happy people pass through life content; the others glow with a giving contact high.
The question then: Do I want to be merely happy, or do I want to glow?
About a year ago I read a book called E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality by Pam Grout. The book appeals to my “I create my own happiness” philosophy.
Her book is a teaching manual of sorts, with simple “thought experiments” you can choose (or not) to try to see how the way you think affects what happens around you. The second experiment is called “The Volkswagen Jetta Principle.” It suggests that when we really look for something, we notice things we might overlook on your average day. For example, if you tell yourself that you’re having a bad day and look for bad things to happen, that is all you will see. Or, if you tell yourself how lucky you are, all you can see are all the fantastic things in your life.
Pam Grout suggest that, for a period of 24 hours, you look for a particular colour of vehicle. For an entire day, hold the intention of looking for, noticing and keeping track of the number of vehicles of that colour you find. In her book she suggests sunset beige cars.
When I read this book the first time, I followed her example, and I looked for sunset beige cars. Sometimes I had to debate if a particular colour fit the “sunset beige” criteria, but overall it was pretty easy. In 24 hours I counted 76 sunset beige cars.
This time around I thought “Sunset beige was too easy. I want something harder. How about purple?”
To increase my odds of finding purple vehicles, I decided it would be a good idea to leave my house. (I work from home, so this is not always required.) I ran errands around town, and in so doing, I drove by six car dealerships—none of which had a purple car or truck. Not even a bicycle.
I realized this was going to be more difficult than I thought.
I went for a walk in my neighbourhood. After strolling down a busy road and past the parking lots of three shopping areas, I still had not seen a purple vehicle of any description.
I began to negotiate the colours. Was that deep red close enough? It was almost purple. Some of the blue cars were pretty close too. I was tempted to include them, but when I was honest with myself, I had to admit, they weren’t purple.
As the 24-hour period drew to a close, I began to doubt. Maybe I would never see a purple car? I started to scold myself. Why did I pick such a difficult colour? I could have picked something much easier.
But I was determined. I really wanted to make this happen. I went to my basement where there is a box of toy cars my kids used to play with. The first vehicle I saw was a Jolly Rancher truck, undoubtedly purple. The words on the side read “Long Lasting INTENSE Fruit Flavor.”
From all of this, I learned:
- We have the opportunity to choose our level of challenge. We can choose easy, difficult or almost impossible.
- We can’t just look for something and expect it to walk up to our door and knock. We have to take action, look for it, work hard for it and never give up.
- As we face difficult challenges, we will have moments of doubt about the outcome.
- As we work hard to fulfill the goal, sometimes we will try to negotiate the completion of the task, and we will be tempted to settle for “close enough.”
- The harder the challenge, the more intense and long-lasting the flavour of the reward.
- Sometimes we set out on a quest and, after a long journey, we find the answer was right at home from the beginning.
Just for fun, give it a try. Pick a colour and look for all those vehicles and see how many you find.
I wouldn’t recommend purple though.
On Sunday, my friend, Ellie, made me think about something in a different way.
During her church reflection entitled “When Forgiving Takes Three,” she spoke about how we sometimes need assistance from a third party to help us through conflict situations. What really made me think, though, was the idea of listening as a gift to others. Usually we think of listening as receiving. We sit back, someone tells us their thoughts or feelings, and we receive that from them. But the act of listening—really listening—is more about giving than receiving.
How many times have you felt tuned-out by someone when you are speaking with them? Frustrating, isn’t it? How many times have you shared thoughts or ideas with another but felt your concerns weren’t received in the way you intended?
We have the power to dissipate conflict early on simply by allowing another person to vent their frustrations and by giving that person the gift of really hearing them and working hard to understand.
I’ve got my ears on. Ready to listen.
Rev. Ellie Barrington: “When Forgiving Takes Three” http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/reflections/when-forgiving-takes-three/
When I read biographies or autobiographies of people I admire, I find that as a consistent theme. Every person I now see as special, or heroic, or powerful was ordinary. The people who now get the best seats in restaurants or invites to celebrity parties used to walk down streets unnoticed, were once fired from jobs or rejected from sports teams. Every one of those people, at some point in their lives, was made to feel “not good enough.”
They didn’t buy it.
In their mind’s eye, they saw their lives as greater than what they were at the time. Oprah Winfrey, a poor, black abused child, always felt that a special destiny lay before her. Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school, but he persevered with the image he had of himself as a film director. Elvis Presley was told he should go back to driving a truck.
In Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One, Dr. Joe Dispenza writes: “. . . if we cannot think greater than how we feel, we can never change. To change is to think greater than how we feel. To change is to act greater than the familiar feelings of the memorized self.”
Many of us get stuck in accepting what is and what other people tells us should be. It’s just easier that way.
But if “what is” or “what other people tell us what should be” doesn’t fulfill us, then something needs to change. If we persist with harmful habits or lazy approaches, we don’t serve our best interests. Dispenza adds: “And when you really see what you’ve been doing to yourself, you have to look at that mess and say, This is no longer serving my best interests. This is no longer serving me. This has never been loving to myself. Then you can make a decision to be free.”
What do you want to be, where do you want to be, or what do you want to be doing a year from now?
Form that image in your mind, think greater than what is now, and today start one new habit that serves your best interests.
In Canada, our summer draws to a close and a new season of activities awaits. In other parts of the world, spring approaches with its potentials for newborn projects. No matter what part of the world we live in, this time of year calls us to cleanse ourselves and begin anew.
Are you holding on to bitterness? Are you drinking poison, swirling it in your mouth, and savouring its flavour?
Can you see it as poisonous only to you and not to the other person or other people?
Forgive, pour out the glass of bitter poison and begin again.