Genuine well being for ourselves and the planet

Posts tagged ‘Gratitude’

Love and Relationships: Keeping the Activists Happy

Getting ready to march with Bernie Sanders in the Warren, VT Fourth of July parade in 2012.

Getting ready to march with Bernie Sanders in the Warren, VT Fourth of July parade in 2012.

The focus on relationships in the prayer from the Hopi elder (see previous blog on the People’s Climate March) has me thinking about love. “What are your relationships?” the prayer asks.  “Are you in right relation?”  Then later, “Be good to each other.” And still later, “The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river … And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.”

I’m in the river with some pretty good people, which makes a huge difference in my life.  The support I feel from loving friends, family, colleagues, and community gives me strength and courage to do the happiness work I feel called to do.  They are good to me, we are in right relation for the most part,  sometimes we get to celebrate.  Hopefully, most of you can say the same.   Relationships are the number one predictor of happiness.  We need love to flourish under the best of circumstances.  As we move forward to combat climate change and push for a shift away from dysfunctional capitalism toward a well being paradigm, we will need that love even more.

All the loving kindness that flowed through the vast river that was the People’s Climate March brought to mind some experiences I’ve had in the presence of another warrior for well being, Senator Bernie Sanders.  Talk about being in the river!  He’s like the painting of George Washington standing up in the boat crossing the Delaware River.  I know many of you who live outside Vermont are cheering this 21st century leader onward.  Rest assured, on the home front in Vermont, there are throngs of people eager to celebrate his courage, tenacity, and heart in standing up for economic and environmental justice.  Yes, it’s true: we love Bernie.

Twice I’ve had the opportunity to march with Bernie in Fourth of July parades when he was campaigning for U.S. Senate.  The first time was in 2006 in Montpelier, Vermont.  My friend Judy and I were asked to march right behind Bernie because the organizer liked our sign (Women of Maple Corner for Bernie).  As we marched, Bernie would inspire wave after wave of enthusiastic loving appreciation.  The crowd’s energy, directed at Bernie, also landed on us just a few feet behind him.  It was intoxicating and invigorating, to feel the energy of love like that — just awesome.

Even better, though, was the Fourth of July parade in Warren, Vermont in 2012 when Bernie was running for re-election.  This time, I was one of the volunteers holding Bernie’s banner, just in front of the Senator himself.  Over and over again, as large chunks of the parade watching crowd shifted their attention from the float in front of us to the campaigning Senator, massive cheers erupted — and again, the waves of love and gratitude washed over all the volunteers as well.  I heard the same enthusiastic shouts repeatedly, through the entire parade: “We love you, Bernie!” “Thank you Bernie!”  And the occasional, “Bernie for President!”  The love and gratitude were overwhelming.

And, critically important. A few weeks later, after the parade season ended, Bernie launched his town meetings right next door, at the Maple Corner Community Center.  Unlike most other Washington politicians, Bernie does not charge admittance to these events.  Quite the opposite.  He actually provides a free dinner to everyone who shows up!  Amazing.  But the salad and lasagne were not the reasons why the audience that night was enthusiastic.  We were enthusiastic because of Bernie’s record.  Like the parade crowd, we were filled with gratitude and love for Bernie and his staff because of the work they do.

Before the Senator spoke, his staff member expressed his gratitude for our expressions of gratitude.  He said, essentially, Bernie needs your love, needs to hear your cheers and your cries of thanks because, in D.C., Bernie’s work is damned hard.  He needs to come back in Vermont, take a swim in the river with his supporters here who will celebrate with, and be good to, him.  Like most relationships, it’s circular: we need Bernie, and Bernie needs us.

Right relation.  Being good to each other.  Celebrating.

My daughter Jennifer and granddaughter Madeleine with Bernie Sanders in Maple Corner in 2012, just after his presentation and moments before the baby melted down.

My daughter Jennifer and granddaughter Madeleine with Bernie Sanders in Maple Corner in 2012, just after his presentation and moments before the baby melted down.

Afterwards, before leaving Maple Corner, Bernie  paused to share the love with my daughter and four-month-old granddaughter.  I’d say two out three of them were happy to have their picture taken together!  Anyway, I’m grateful for the photograph.

We all need to share the love.

Bernie may need the love more than the rest of us, because he’s the target of so many more slings and arrows.  But all of us who choose to be activists — for happiness, for justice, for the environment, for a new economy — need the sustenance of love.  Maybe that’s because, like all humans,  we all suffer, and we know that we will suffer more.  Further, those of us who are actively trying to make the world a better place also carry the knowledge that the earth and the people on it are suffering intensely.  “Each of us feels some aspect of the world’s suffering acutely,” writes Stephen Cope in The Great Work of Your Life, “And we must pay attention. We must act. This little corner of the world is ours to transform. This little corner of the world is ours to save.”

Even in our little corners, we can’t do it alone.  We need relationships.  We need community.  We need love.

Fortunately, love comes in  a wide variety of packages — from what Barbara Frederickson calls “micro-bursts” of love which can occur even between two strangers who are momentarily connected, to long term relationships with intimate partners and best friends.

Indeed, the day before I left for New York and the Climate March, I was on a conference call as part of the yearlong certificate in positive psychology I’m earning through Kripalu.  The conference call was focused on the importance of relationships to our personal happiness.  At the close, lead instructor Tal Ben-Shahar wished us all, “many micro-bursts of love.”

And in a way, that’s what the whole trip was — giving and receiving micro-bursts of love, as well as weaving deeper more loving relationships with the people who are near me in the river.  This was especially true for Ginger,  a friend from central Vermont who generously shared her New York City apartment with me and my  happiness colleagues Linda and Paula — who are now Ginger’s friends, too.  Ginger met me at Penn Station, thus soothing my fears of having to negotiate the streets of New York City on my own.  Paula arrived a little later, and Ginger fed us both a wonderful dinner.  We watched a very funny video Saturday morning before a full day playing in a sunny NYC — a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry, a free walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and indescribably delicious street food at an Italian Street Festival.  Then we welcomed Linda for a lovely evening of pizza and wine.  Sunday, we had a hearty breakfast before heading uptown to march.

Ginger, me, Paula, and Linda getting ready to march!

Ginger, me, Paula, and Linda getting ready to march!

Thanks to a day of being good to each other, and celebrating, we arrived at the march fully supported (and supporting) in loving kindness.  Once there, we were all able to be our best.   When asked to help make and distribute signs, all four of us cheerfully and energetically jumped in and worked for at least an hour and a half.  The march started very late, but it didn’t matter — our spirits were high.  I felt at my best — able to be a happy, well-behaved member of a large crowd, take it in more fully, absorb it, and more ready to share and live the message of the march when I got home.

Okay, honestly, I wasn’t actually at my very, very best for the entire march.   Toward the end of the climate march, there was a small group of individuals holding anti-abortion signs. I thought, if you’re really pro-life, you should be in the march!! We’re talking about trying to save all human life — and most animals and plants, too — from extinction. How pro-life can you be?? But I wisely kept my mouth shut.

A few steps later, though, stood another “protestor” holding a sign, something to the effect of “Come to Jesus.” All I could think was, seriously? Don’t you think Jesus would be marching with us? Annnndddd … that came bursting out of my mouth. I hollered, “Jesus is over here.” Surprise, surprise, that was not well received. He yelled back at me “no over here” and I yelled something like, “no, over HERE!” It was not a particularly sophisticated or mature exchange.

But I was not in the river alone.  I could just feel my friends looking at me.  Imagining my behavior through my friends’ eyes helped me step back from my unhelpful behavior.  I took a deep breath, and returned my focus to the march.

Thank goodness for friends!  I guess we need them in the river with us sometimes to throw us life preservers.  That, too, is important.


What Are You Grateful For?

Gratitude.  Aaaahhhhh.  I just love moments of gratitude.  How fortuitous, then, that practicing gratitude is a scientifically proven method of deepening one’s own well of happiness.

Many years ago, long before I’d even heard of positive psychology, I had a gratitude practice: noting in a daily journal what I was thankful for.  But I confess, I only journalled for a few days, which couldn’t possibly have done me much good.  In The How of  Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirksy stresses the importance of choosing happiness activities that will keep you engaged for a significant period of time in order to actually make a difference.  Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and author,explains the brain science involved in an article called “How To Trick Your Brain For Happiness.”  Here’s an excerpt from that article, recently shared through The Daily Good web feed:

“Just having positive experiences is not enough to promote last well-being. If a person feels grateful for a few seconds, that’s nice. That’s better than feeling resentful or bitter for a few seconds. But in order to really suck that experience into the brain, we need to stay with those experiences for a longer duration of time—we need to take steps, consciously, to keep that spotlight of attention on the positive.”

Happily, while listening to Lyubomirsky’s book during my long drive from Vermont to Alabama last spring, I had an “aha moment” — rather than write about happiness, I would pull out my watercolors and create a weekly gratitude painting.  Perfect!

Okay, so the weekly painting turned into a monthly painting and I skipped April altogether (hmmm, could that have something to do with helping my daughter care for a newborn???) — but I stuck to it.  It’s working.  I have weeks to contemplate the subject of my next painting; thus, gratitude is frequently on my mind.

My first gratitude painting. I am often surprised by the subject matter that comes to the top of the list when I sit down to paint.

So my mental pump was primed when I stumbled on Ken Wert’s “Meant To Be Happy”  blog list of 48 unconventional things for which he is grateful.   His list  ranges from toilet paper (this makes me smile) to gears (yeah, okay, I can see that) to color (yes, yes, my heart is singing!) to hugs and voice (deep sighs of appreciation).  It’s a pretty darned good list.

Wert’s list, and the many expressions of gratitude I heard at the Happiness Conference in Seattle, made me wonder: what are other people grateful for?

To find out, I put out a few group emails, and changed the question on the blackboard in front of The Happiness Paradigm to, “What Are You Grateful For?”   Naturally, the blackboard collected shorter answers: “Obama,”  “Fall in Vermont,” and “blankets.” The written answers, on the other hand, are wonderfully thoughtful — perhaps precisely because writing takes more thought, and perhaps because almost everyone who responded is involved in some way with the happiness movement.

Their responses are below.  Before you read them, though, I’d like to ask, what are YOU — the person reading this, right now — grateful for?  This collection is neither scientific nor comprehensive, but the more answers the better, because this is good food for thought for all of us.  So please feel free to post a comment or send an email with your own answer to this question.

Now, in no particular order, here are some gratitude answers thus far:

  • Grateful for the fact that I’m alive and well each day. And grateful for the opportunity to work on this (happiness) movement 🙂
  • I am grateful for my Mom who taught me I can do anything!
  • Immense gratitude to all who call forth the most thriving possibilities for humanity and the fullness of life. The call to happiness and compassion has deep roots even beyond the measurable and our time together was soul food.
  • Grateful for all the help from near and far in taking care of a new baby — babysitting, onesies, toys, students taking care of the baby, support from family, etc.  Can barely name it all!
  • I am thankful for old clothes that seem to melt into my body this cold September morning, one that marks the beginning of Fall, a season I love best in New Mexico. And I am grateful for the happiness class I began teaching last week on the anniversary of September 11th. I am grateful that in spite of such darkness in the world we can gather in places like Albuquerque, Seattle, and Maple Corner,Vermont to promote happiness.
  • I am grateful for: 1)  My spiritual teacher Sant Kirpal Singh, and my meditation practice.  2)  Fran Joseph’s uplifting Laughter Yoga Certified Leader training last weekend–and Laughter Yoga itself.  3)  My kindred-spirit office mates.
  • Sleep — it’s like a miracle every night.
  • Shooting stars, and being able to see the Milky Way.
  • I am grateful to have such a good friend in YOU!
  • I am grateful that the conditions of my life allow me to participate in the arena of enhancing happiness, compassion, community, and  creativity; I am grateful that I am surrounded my many whose lives are about lifting the spirit of those that they touch; I am grateful that I live in a place where I have access to nature, culture, and really good food; I am grateful that there are so many people in my life that I love and appreciate; and I am grateful for the authors and film makers that create or capture stories that are captivating and meaningful.

    My gratitude painting for May — grateful for yoga!

  • While eating corn on the cob last night I realized how grateful I am for my teeth…many of which are implants.
  • I’m grateful to be reminded how happiness and gratitude go hand in hand ….  And that you keep me on your email & Facebook lists. I’m really appreciative of the work I have, even when it keeps me fairly close to home.
  • Ginny, I’m grateful for your regular messages on happiness and your ongoing curiosity about what creates it; I am so grateful to be here in Vermont where people still work at “creating a more perfect union,” as Bill Clinton reminded us yesterday was a goal of our nation’s founders. I am also very grateful for an amazing partner with a heart bigger than problems we’ve faced together. Together! I’m grateful for that word.
  • Silence, even though I love music.
  • Antibiotics that kill Lyme disease.
  • Right now I am feeling grateful for the people that have a passion and act — you in your store and how you reach out with your great loving positive energy, Linda and Paula and their big walk and listening hearts, and just a ton of people I read about and listen to that open their eyes to understand, then open their hearts for generous selfless action.
  • I always come back to gratitude for the most basic things.  I am again and again overwhelmed with gratitude for my senses – –  For being able to see (beauty of all kinds) and smell (roses, lavender, verbena, pine, chocolate) and hear (music, rain) and feel and taste.   I am also frequently grateful for having a soft clean bed to sleep in, a roof over my head and a safe, warm and dry place to call my own, and a fridge full of wholesome food whenever I open the door.  So many others are not this lucky.

    In June, gratitude for the trees my neighbor planted.

  • To all this wonderful gratitude others have expressed, I will add something to just reflect that gratitude can be for big deep things, but it can also be for little things:  today I’m grateful for pure maple syrup!
  • Today I’m grateful for this space in time:  a few hours to listen to my inner messages, to detach from the pull of outer events, & to process emotions.  So, really, I’m grateful to my Self for choosing to give me this gift in spite of all the pressing “shoulds.”
  • Our own little savings and loan down the street that only makes local loans.
  • Skype.
  • I am truly grateful to be able to be doing this work. Part of it is because of the wonderful people. Part because of the learning experiences. But mostly, because we are so very lucky to have the opportunity to do this work. It’s a grace not many people on this planet get.
  • I just got back from a short meditation retreat in Canada.  While there I got the news that two different old friends had died in last few days, greatly heightening my appreciation and grateful was for my Buddhist practice.  The outlook is so precious in preparing for decline and death, which we all must do; to have a path of joy in such reality is a great gif
  • I’m grateful that my husband thought to take my RAV4 to our neighbor when I drove it ’til there were no more brake pads, and he was able to earn some extra cash, and I was able to avert driving into a ditch.  I’m grateful that we have a generator as we just lost all power with this rain storm.  I’m grateful that I’ve been sober 11+ years, and I’m able to be of service to women who struggle with alchoholism.  I’m grateful to have a Mother-In-Law who is full of joy and laughter.
  •  I am grateful for so much, including my life and that of all beings (may all be at peace).   I am grateful for  connection, blessings, challenges and the opportunity to grow and share.

And me?  So many many things, from that first cup of coffee each morning to the glory of puffy white clouds in azure autumn skies and opportunities to be of service to others.  But, right now, having a six month old granddaughter (who lives with us!) trumps all else.  I am in love, I am happy, and I am grateful for this precious new life.

A Very Happy Night

In a few days, I will leave home for nearly two months to support my daughter during the final weeks of her pregnancy, in the delivery room, and for the first month or so of my granddaughter’s life.  I am excited and busy.  My mind is swimming with details.

Last night, though, I put details aside to be with a group of friends who held a Grandmother Baby Shower/Blessings On Your New Adventure/Please Return Safely ceremony for me.  It was one of the happiest nights of my life.

Previously Loved Baby Presents

Happiness studies show that we each have a natural happiness level, which can be raised by developing happiness habits.  Joyous events and circumstances, like the communal love I felt last night, raise our happiness level for a while. Sad, tragic, and dreary situations lower our happiness. In either case, we eventually settle back into our natural level.

This morning, I’m tired (I was too wired up to sleep well!) but still enjoying a happiness upswing.

Why so happy?  Silly question, right?  Anybody could look at the circumstances and say, of course you’re happy!  You’re about to become a grandmother, your friends just celebrated your joy — and, icing on the cake, you’ll be driving away from the tedious end of a Vermont winter into sunny warm weather in Alabama.  Who wouldn’t be happy?

Even so, I want to break it down a bit.  Grand-babies don’t come along every day, but the other ingredients of my current happiness high are available to each of us on a pretty regular basis.

Gratitude. Gratitude is one of the most reliable contributors to personal happiness, and my gratitude cup is overflowing.  Hugs, blessings, good food, thoughtful presents … I’m so, so grateful.  I’m not very good at writing thank you notes, but I’m going to send a heartfelt thank you to send one to everyone who made last night special.

Community. My town has pot lucks, talent shows, silent auctions.  We take meals to people who are sick, and check on pets.  We sing together, swim together, skate together, snow shoe together.  It’s like a bank: we make regular deposits in our community account.  And when we need a withdrawal, the “funds” are there.  It’s a solid investment strategy.

Forgiveness. When I looked around the room, I felt such pleasure in my relationship with each woman in the group. Because we’re human, I’ve been in conflict with some of the women in the past — conflict that we worked through together so we could move on.  I’ve forgiven, been forgiven, and deepened relationships.

Touch. Twice we stood in a circle holding hands.  Hugs were also abundant.  Gretchen Rubin, author of the blog and book The Happiness Project, cited research on hugging from  The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky.  Rubin wrote about Lyubomirksy’s “study in which students were assigned to two groups. One group was the control; one group was assigned to give or receive at least five hugs each day for a month – a front-to-front, non-sexual hug, with both arms of both participants involved, and with the aim of hugging as many different people as possible. The huggers were happier.”  Let’s hear it for hugs!

Mindfulness. Savoring, and being fully present, are excellent happiness tools!  Perhaps I’ve been sharpening those tools lately through a ramped up meditation practice.  And/or, perhaps the loving energy and shining eyes all around the room were too powerful for my mind to wander, despite my pre-trip to do list.  I knew I was experiencing a very special, once-in-a-lifetime event.  I was definitely present, and in full savoring mode.

Recycling.  My friends know, I strongly believe changing our shopping habits to be less voracious consumers of Planet Earth is a requirement of our long term personal happiness.  So I was thrilled that several of the presents were items previously-loved by other babies.  I was especially pleased to know that my young friend Edwin (just three years old) gave the thumbs up to passing on one of his old trains to the new baby. Learning to give is good for Edwin’s happiness, too.

Acknowledgement.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs includes the need for recognition from others (as well as internal self-eteem). In general, I try to give generously of my time, and my heart, with no expectation of any recognition (except from my faithful husband; his support is usually enough).  But I just flushed with pleasure last night when one friend explained that they wanted to have this party for me because I “do so much for the community” and I “will be missed.”  It makes me feel good even now to type those words!  Sometimes, recognition does matter.

Okay, enough analyzing.  I’ll get out of my head, and slide back into enjoying the moment.