Gratitude Changes Everything

Good morning, dear reader! It is the week of Spring break here in our cozy tiny Ozarks home, and I gotta say…it’s cold af. Spring break would be much easier if I didn’t have to come up with ideas for a ten-year-old boy who was INSIDE. However, there will be one day when the temps are supposed to get over 55* so I plan to take him to this Missouri phenomenon and wear his little booty out climbing all day.

Today we will just continue our little low-key and awesome staycation (My theme for the week. Catchy, huh?) with some indoor trampolines, painted pottery, and the quest for a good (non-Domino’s) cheese pizza. Fingers crossed.

As I was sitting in my chair this morning, I realized it had been since September that I took an entire week off from work, and then, well, we went to Disneyland and walked over 38,000 steps over two days. That, friends, was not a vacation. Vacation? The hills of Scotland, the shores of Norway…heck…flea markets in the middle of Mississippi and odd little bookstores in Salem, Massachusetts. No, folks, Disneyland wasn’t all I remembered it to be. (Can’t swing a week? Recharge with a planned mental health day. My favorite HR guy says “I don’t need to know what you do with your sick days.” Be that guy.)

But it is now 8:36 am this morning, and the kiddo is still sound asleep. The cats have found their sunny morning spot, and I find myself here – alone with my keyboard – thinking just how lucky I am to be alive and spend the days with my son.

Being grateful for the little things prepares us for when we seemingly ‘have it all,’ and it collapses. It’s easy to be bitter in those times of demise, but if we can continue with a daily practice of gratitude, it can get us through the hardest times. For example, in my lowest time – the most difficult financially and the most difficult as a parent – I was grateful for the church food pantry. I was grateful when a friend purchased me a microwave. I was grateful when another friend paid a deposit on my apartment. I was grateful for the times when people took my son for the day free of charge so I could recharge and not end up in an orange jumpsuit.

And I’ve been doing some research, friends. Yep. On gratitude. And I’ve learned that ‘an attitude of gratitude’ isn’t just some catchy bumper sticker thingy. There’s actually some neuroscience behind what this gratefulness thing does for you. Wanna learn more? Good.

Grab a drink. Settle in.

1) Being grateful improves sleep, mood, and immunity. But don’t take my word for it. The Mayo-freaking-Clinic did an entire study on this. The challenge is the brain is designed to problem-solve. It isn’t designed to be grateful. So, for example, if your car doesn’t start, your brain jumps immediately to how to get this to start so you can get to work on time. It doesn’t think, “Oh, well, great. I’m grateful for this extra time to meditate or start a load of laundry while I wait for the Uber driver.”

2) Grateful people are more generous. Think about Scrooge in Dicken’s novel. He was only grateful or generous once he was shown all the reasons he had in front of him to be both. Try stretching yourself a bit and putting yourself out there. Instead of donating money to the school’s project, ask if you can help implement it. Instead of clicking the stupid “hug” emoji when a friend expresses a need on Fakebook, how about calling them and asking them to lunch? (And being grateful when they decline. I’m kidding. Okay. I’m sorta kidding.)

3) Gratitude can be expressed even in your darkest hours. I know this personally. In my darkest days, the Universe placed me in several situations where I had direct contact with those who were unsheltered and families who were way, way, way below the poverty line. Yet, even though I was in a situation I never expected to be in, I was grateful for a roof over our heads and a car that got me to and from work. I was thankful for all the meals people took me to or prepared for me. I was grateful for a 30-gallon tote of ‘gently used’ boys’ size 4T. And I’m still thankful today. (Today, specifically, for coffee…heat…and a sleeping child.)

If you want to know more about the biology of gratitude, here’s the link to the Mayo Clinic article. And they even have a ‘month-long gratitude program’ if you, like me, are into that sorta thing or need the structure and accountability.

And, I leave you with a song from the 70’s. (I know you are grateful I’m not linking to Dido’s ‘Thank You’. – You’re welcome.) I had to giggle because the first comment on this video link is “It is scientifically impossible to be in a bad mood when listening to this band.” I don’t know about ‘scientifically impossible’ but pretty darn impossible, I’ll admit.

I Am What I Am

Good morning, dear reader! I’m late to our gathering this week, I know. I just…well…I’m exhausted. The Full Moon in Virgo on Monday/Tuesday was fascinating, and good things are happening, but I. Am. Just. So. Tired. Nonetheless, Spring break starts next week, and my kiddo and I are planning some super fun things close to home. I’ll post more next week.

As I made my coffee this morning, my mind started wandering. I don’t know why I conjured up the day when Alton Brown taught me how to make “the best” french press coffee (the secret is salt!), but that’s what started this train of thought today. At some point in our lives, we see or hear things that change our lives. I have a Keurig, too, and will use it in times of emergency (French press coffee takes eight whole minutes, y’all. Sometimes that’s too long!) But, by and large, I like my FP coffee every day. With just a splash of cream if you’re taking notes (#Stalker).

I’ve experienced some exciting turns in my life that have changed my mind, adjusted how I live, corrected trauma responses, and so forth. And I bet some of you can relate.

So, what do you say? Wanna dig in? Okay, then.

Grab a drink. Settle in.

1) Learn more about who you are. I used to feel ‘weird’ because I didn’t really like people. I was a cheerleader back in the day; I was president of a few clubs, and I’ve been in leadership positions in my community and at my job. But the truth is people exhaust me. And the sad part is…I let others tell me that I was odd because of this, that I didn’t fit in. So I decided to really dig in and learn more about myself. The Myers-Brig indicates I am an INTJ. The DiSC test tells me I’m a high D with a bit of S. Not a hint of ‘I’ (the lover of people) in that one. The Strength-Finder assessment brought something exciting into the light (wait for it…): I have zero (Z E R O) “woo”. Bottom line? I’m a jeans and t-shirt girl. Make-up is for expensive dates only. Books over bros. Bookstores over bars. House concerts over dance clubs for this gal, all the way. Libraries over libations. I am not the least bit ‘fun,’ and I don’t care. Smart is sexy. I like smart. (There’s even a word for that.)

2) Question all you’ve ever known to be ‘the way it is’. Want to know something? When my grandfather died, we found a membership card of his – to the KKK. I mean, I knew him as a bit racist…but wow. I also live in one of Missouri’s ‘most Christian’ areas. And it’s also one of the most dangerous places for people of color and the LBGTQ+ community. I mean, I love Jesus, folks, and even I (the Christ-follower with three tarot decks and full moon rituals) think he’d be a bit disappointed in his fan club around here. It’s no wonder I feel closer to God now that I’ve officially left the church. (Bonus song: The Indigo Girls have a song for that!)

3) Sometimes, fear is our greatest motivator. I never wanted children because I never wanted to be a single mom. Weird, right? My parents never divorced, so I don’t know where this originated. I can’t help but wonder, though, that somewhere down in my psyche, I must have known I have lousy taste in men, and because I feared the inevitable, I just never wanted a child. Until I had one. And his father left. And I realized I do a pretty good job as a single parent. It improves me at work, in my community, and in his life. And I have some of that drive because I fear the “single mom” stigma. People often look at single mothers as if we are all poor and on food stamps because we can’t seem to make it without a man and wine. The wine part is genuine…but I’m not buying the rest. I get that Nintendo and Mario made a ton of money off the fact that the princess needed to be rescued…but I saved myself. Give me my damn crown.

4) Less is more. Yes, you knew this was coming. I embraced the concept of rational minimalism in 2011, and it’s taken me this long to stop apologizing for it. People who buy homes that are bigger than they need or cars that cost more than some people make in a year will never understand why I choose to live in 900 square feet with one skillet and three pairs of jeans although I have two master’s degrees and have a well-paying job. I’ve even left jobs that pay more because, well, I hated them. My car is five years old. My whiskey ‘collection’ is six bottles at a time, and if the weather is willing, I’d rather camp in my car than stay at a five-star hotel. And I make these choices because I want to give my son all that he needs and grant him experiences rather than hand him another toy that he did not earn. If people think I make these choices because I have to rather than choose to…well…that’s their issue, not mine.

5) The most important ‘soft skill’ is strong Emotional Intelligence. It only takes three deep breaths to begin resetting the frontal cortex and balancing the chemicals in your noggin. And it is so tough to control the urge to tell someone to go fuck themselves. I know because I used to do this a lot. But, a guy I dated (okay, to be fair, I’ve dated a lot of ‘these guys’) can’t seem to ‘practice the pause’ long enough to get his wits about him when he’s angry, and well, that’s why I don’t even speak to him anymore. (Isn’t it ironic that the tongue – one of the smallest muscles in the body – can do so much damage? Hmmm.) The point is, you don’t get to be mean every time you don’t get your way and then try to apologize with a statement resembling “That’s just how I get.” Hmmm. Well…“Get better then.” I’m not going to say I have my EI degree or anything. Sometimes I get hot under the collar, use inappropriate language at work, and lose sleep because of my anxiety. But I’m better than I used to be, and that is what counts. So. Google Emotional Intelligence and find whatever learning tool works best for you: YouTube, podcasts, books, whatever. Because, reader, the world needs more calm people under pressure. The world needs more nice people. The world needs more people who think before they speak. Be that person.

As we end today, I found you a song. I don’t know how it relates, but I think it does. It’s a song by Dalton Domino from a few years back. It’s about simply accepting who you are at your core…changing…getting better…and being okay with your wild and wonderful self. Take a listen and tell me what you think.