A personal initiative to live more appreciatively

Friday, November 23, 2012

#315: My Project; Your Project

Yesterday I celebrated yet another wonderful Thanksgiving with my family. Last year was special in that it was the first year that Kegan and I hosted; it was also the kickoff to this project. This year's Thanksgiving was equally special: not only did we host again (so thankful I married a man who likes to cook!), we had both members of Kegan's family and mine together...and it also marked the end of my personal initiative to spend a year reflecting on the aspects of my life for which I am most thankful.

When I began the project I hoped to post daily from one Thanksgiving to the next. In a slightly ditzy move I expected this to be a total of 365 reflections...forgetting that Thanksgiving does not fall on the same date each year. And while I did not actually post every single day-- especially lagging a bit during the first trimester of my pregnancy-- I can honestly say that even when I did not write, I thought, every single day, about what a blessed life I lead, in both big and small ways.

This project truly had a profound effect on me. If you've walked this road with me this year and read regularly, I am so grateful for your investment, interest and support...it was always motivating to hear family and friends commenting on specific posts, or asking me when I was going to post again on the occasions when there was a lag. And for the strangers who've read...the ones who know me only through the musings on this blog...it was humbling to know that something on here struck a chord with you and kept you invested. The project as a personal initiative kept me motivated, but so did readership, so thank you for that.

All this project is was the piecing together of thoughts, words, photos, video clips, and music...and yet from it I have gained so much. Here are the profound ways in which I feel this project has affected me:

*Each day was colored positively: My life is by no means perfect. I have frustrations, struggles, limitations, faults, weaknesses & stresses just like everyone else. I can be moody and emotional, feel conflicted and negative just as I am sure you do. But when I took time out of every day-- even the hard ones-- to look for the positivity in either that specific day or my life in general, some of that negativity was deflated. I felt calmer & happier after I took the time to look past whatever was weighing me down and found something to uplift me. Malorie and I once talked about how your world and your life is colored by the lens through which you choose to look at it. This project allowed me every day to see it positively, no matter how clouded my vision may have been by my own pessimism or life circumstances, and that truly made a difference on a daily basis.

*I suffer less anxiety: Anxiety, in general, is one of aforementioned limitations of my life. I've worked for years to manage, negate & limit it, but it's a pretty powerful opponent. This project, however, has proven to be quite the weapon in combatting the influence of anxiety in my life, a benefit of it that I did not expect, but one that makes perfect sense. Anxiety is worry of the future-- of what will come, and the worry that it will be negative. This project forced me to be more consciously alive in the present, to focus on positivity, and to think how years ago I was worried about all of these days. And as they've come, look at the blessings they've begot. It takes a lot of energy to worry, and I've found how much nicer it is to channel that energy differently. Instead of looking forward at what may be-- which we cannot know or control-- I look at what good is or has been, and am bolstered by it.

*I want less: While I would not consider myself a greedy or materialistic person to begin with, it is part of human nature to want. Yet through this project I have found myself wanting less. While it goes without saying that what matters in life is not material, spending a year accumulating the evidence of that has made me realize I do not need to accumulate stuff...because stuff doesn't matter. Beyond wanting less materially, I want less of a different life. It's easy to focus on what we do not have in life-- to focus on shortcomings, to fall victim to envy or jealousy, to compare your life to the life of another. This project has made it so clear to me just how amazing my life is...I realize that I do not want the life of another, not even in the slightest, if it would change anything about the amazing one I get to lead. As I've focused on all that I have, and in doing so realized how unbelievably abundant that is, I've realized just how content I truly am, which is a pretty powerful, profound perspective.

*I'm happier: Obviously. One of the inspirations for this project was Gretchen Rubin's work The Happiness Project. I could fully relate to her confliction that while she knew she led this amazing life,  on a daily basis she often didn't feel as happy as she knew that she should. This plight affected me, as I think it does most of us. Gretchen chose to cultivate happiness in a myriad of initiatives; I had, even before reading her work, wanted to work on being a more grateful person. This project allowed me to be more grateful but I knew would also make me happier. I now live with a better, more full heart than I did a year ago. I think I am calmer, more present, more apt to look for the good in everything more naturally than the bad...all of which has made me a happier person.

*Light begets light: If I were ever to be asked to express my worldview, I think I would have a hard time doing that. If I had to, I think I would try to formulate the simple tenements I believe shape our lives...and through this project I discovered one that I think is ultimate and powerful, capable of actively changing the course of your life. This project proved to me that "light begets light". I aimed to do something simple: to spend each day thankful for something. It became bigger than that, for all of the aforementioned benefits, and I think it became it's own force. As I appreciated daily a specific aspect of my life for which I am thankful I inevitably thought of more. It was not challenging to reflect regularly on an aspect of my life for which I am most thankful (although it was occasionally a challenge to actually write it down)...once you shine light onto your life it spreads, the darkness retreats. Everything is illuminated, and I truly feel that I see my life now through lighter eyes.

....And so you might ask, what's next?

To begin, I invite you to do this for yourself. You've invested time in my project, and I am so thankful for that. I hope that through reading my posts it inspired you to think of your own blessings...what would be more amazing to me is to know that there was a ripple effect....that I started a project, and someone else took it on for themselves. Because when I reflect on what this has done for me, I can only want for it to equally transform the lives of others. If you've ever thought reading this that it's "a nice thing" I've done, if you've looked forward to reading the posts, if you've ever considered trying this yourself...do it! I cannot endorse it enough. Start today. Here are some suggestions for how you can do it-- in the same vein as me or completely differently.

1. Just make a list: I like to write, clearly. But all of the elaboration isn't necessary. Simply list, one thing a day, that you're grateful for (like my post headings). You can probably sit and do a ton right off the bat, but try and limit yourself to one, focus on that for the day, and spread the wealth out over the year. You could write it on paper or type it on a document.

2. Keep a journal: I made my project public for a number of reasons, but the project can be just as transformative if it's private...maybe even more so. Buy yourself a notebook and take the time to write regularly.

3. Create your own Thankfulness Project Blog: Don't be intimidated by the interweb! I am by no means capable when it comes to anything technological...and I can personally avow that it's easy. You can do it, and if you want I can help. If I know you I will personally come and start it for you and show you how to use it. Sorry my Russian reader...you're on your own :)

4. Facebook It: Facebook users are so willing to share the most mundane (pardon my criticism) crap as their Facebook statuses. You had egg salad for lunch? Awesome. I shouldn't judge, but I so often wonder what exactly spurs people to make their statuses...I'll even critique the psychology behind my own! (Yes, my self reflection and constant analysis can be an exhausting way to live). I think it's just the need to connect and share, but also to express. Whenever you go on Facebook, update your status with something you are thankful for. You can change it once you eat that bangin' egg salad sandwich, but for the moment you consciously thought of your gratitude and you shared it with your world...and you'll feel pretty awesome for that.

5. Make it dinner conversation: Last night my family went around the table and shared what we were thankful for, as I think many families do on Thanksgiving. I love it, think it's such a powerful moment of the holiday. One of my motivators for this project was to extend the positivity of Thanksgiving throughout the year...and a simple way to do that would be to just have that conversation at dinner. Simply say what you were thankful for that day, and ask those you are dining with what they are thankful for. I am going to start this with my family, and cannot wait to see how it shapes us to collectively, nightly reflect on our gratitude.

However you do it, I strongly urge two things:

1. Make it a habit. Like any resolution, no matter how good your intentions are life can get in the way. But it is so worth it. So take it one day at a time and keep it simple (a reason my first suggestion might be the best, because it's likely apt to be the most successful) but make the commitment to do it. You'll lose steam at some point, but look at the big picture. Next Thanksgiving will be here before you know it....you probably thought at some point last night 'I can't believe it's already Thanksgiving, it feels like it was just Thanksgiving last year.' As Rubin reflects, "The days are long but the years are short." Keep it going, and you'll see how much you can transform your life with a simple act...but it's best if it's continuous.

2. Tell the people in your life that you're thankful for them: One of the reasons I made this project public is because there are so many people about whom I knew I would write, and I wanted to share it with them. That was one of the most profound aspects of the whole endeavor. It meant a lot to me to be able to tell the people in my life exactly what they mean to me, what effect they've had on me, how blessed I am to know and be known, to love and be loved by them. So you can keep your whole project private, but connect at least with the people you appreciate when you're appreciating them. Call your mom or dad. Send your best friend a card. Write an email to your coworker. I know it's meant a lot to the people who've I've written about to read my words, and that's made it so much more worth it to have ever taken on the project. I feel closer to them, and know that no matter what tomorrow brings in either of our lives, they know how much they mean to me. It's nice to tell people what they mean to you, and I know from the people I've told, it's even nicer to hear it. Light begets light, not just in your life, but in the lives of those you share it with.

...and dare I ask you to share it with me? You don't need to share your actual reflections, but if you take on this project I'd love to hear about it. If you know me personally you know how to reach out to me. If you don't you can email me at this snazzy email address I created simply for this purpose:
projectthankfulness@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you...or regularly cleaning out spam :)

As for my project...I intended to end it with Thanksgiving 2012....

But it will live on. There are so many more people to write about and so much more of my life for which I am grateful, it doesn't feel right to totally end it. The regularity with which I post will likely change, as in a few weeks I will live a much different life...but in a whole new, exciting, unbelievable way that will bring so much more to be thankful for. I'll keep writing; I hope you'll keep reading.

In summary (yes, this post is ending), here is what I have ultimately learned from this project, hope you see that I've learned this, and feel inspired to learn it for yourself:

"It is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy."

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