The less sugar-coated version of desert

No, we’re not talking about those sweet treats that evoke feelings of comfort, happiness, and mayhaps a slight tinge of guilt. Instead, we’re dropping one “s” and focusing on the bizarre cultural phenomena of ascribing certain people’s situations to their supposed ethics.

Case in point:

Whether outwardly acknowledged or not, Americans (generally) hold two distinct viewpoints about people:

Wealthy people deserve to be rich.

Poor people deserve to be poor.

You may read those two sentences above and exclaim (perhaps just in your head) that you would never subscribe to those sentiments. Those are ludicrous and unfair!

I’m in complete agreement with you. Yet, I see that even those of us who like to believe that we’re above such projections often help perpetuate them through unconscious actions.

Before we dive into what those might be, let’s push pause for a moment and ask: how did we get here? Why do Americans believe so strongly in the correlation of someone’s socioeconomic status and the values/skills/traits that contributed to their lot?

A 2017 Pew Research study examined the question of what makes someone rich or poor and found that partisan affiliation was one of the most significant influences on viewpoint.

By about three-to-one (66% to 21%), Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say hard work, rather than a person’s advantages, has more to do with why someone is rich. By nearly as wide a margin, Democrats and Democratic leaners say the opposite: 60% say a person is rich because they had more advantages than others, while just 29% say it is because they have worked harder.

We Americans heart (as the kids say) the idea of the self-made person. You know, the one where someone (typically a man) pulls himself up by bootstraps and changes the world. But, guess what folks? These types of stories don’t speak for the hundreds of thousands who have been disenfranchised to even begin accessing certain resources to move beyond their current socioeconomic status. No access to loans to start a business; social supports for guidance; or even safe spaces to allow an idea to bear fruit.

Check this reporting out from Sam Pizzigati at Inequality.org:

“Just over 3 percent of the Forbes 400, the United for a Fair Economy researchers found, have left no good paper trail on their actual economic backgrounds. Of the over 60 percent remaining, all grew up in substantial privilege.

Those “born on first base” — in upper-class families, with inheritances up to $1 million — make up 22 percent of the 400. On “second base,” households wealthy enough to run a business big enough to generate inheritances over $1 million, the new UFE study found another 11.5 percent.”

If working hard equals being born in the right family, then congratulations! You’re ability to control the environment where sperm and egg came together forming you is commendable and well-deserving of wealth. But, I am going to hazard a guess that no one would admit to being successful at such an endeavor. Generally speaking, members of the upper and owning classes don’t work harder than members of the poor, working, and middle classes. They just got lucky.

How us do-gooders help to stop reinforcing this notion of desert

If we truly believe that much of our life is determined by luck — where we’re born, who we are born to, the societal expectations for our identities — then we need to be active in dismantling this “norm.”

#1: Eliminate the knee jerk reaction to include language around “people abusing the system” when talking about social supports.

I hear this far too often. This qualifer — “I know some people abuse the system and all…” Why is this commentary necessary? There are a lot of systems — social, financial — that people “abuse” every day. Sometimes those individuals make a lot of money. No, that’s not people utilizing the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) (in 2017, 42 million Americans were enrolled).

 #2: Talk about other forms of government “handouts” that exclusively benefit wealthy, owning class individuals.

If you were completing your own tax paperwork this year, did you celebrate the credits you were able to claim? Mortgage? Educational payments? How about contributions to your retirement?

Oh, did you think you weren’t one of “those people” receiving government handouts? And those three examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Yacht taxes. Rental property write-offs. No more estate tax.

And think of all of the incentives local and state governments offer multi-million and multi-billion dollar companies.

#3: Reflect on how you evaluate philanthropy and charitable giving.

Making a donation to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization makes people feel good (and it used to make people feel even better because you could write it off on your taxes! Now, less incentive. But again, who does that credit really benefit?). But, what does a 501(c)(3) designation truly tell you about a nonprofit?

It tells you that someone(s) completed the appropriate paperwork and paid the fee to the Internal Revenue Service. Consider it akin to the SAT or ACT tests many high school students may choose to take to pursue higher education. Do those tests — or any standardized test — truly evaluate someone’s preparedness for learning or intelligent? No. The tests reveal how a student performed on that test on that date at a certain time. That’s it. Sure, if you have access to resources, you might have been able to receive more instruction on how to prepare; you may have developed better study habits because of the schools you’ve been able to attend. But, it doesn’t mean that you’re better than someone else who didn’t.

Community-based organizations are the same. Just because a group doesn’t have that shiny seal of approval from the IRS, or has less than 10% “overhead”, or whatever Guidestar review it should have, doesn’t mean that the organization and its people aren’t doing vital work.  Avoid fanning “the flames of injustice.”

We can get hung up on giving to nonprofits that have the best name recognition or the shiniest covers. But real work to eradicate hunger, upend poverty, and dismantle systemic racism doesn’t come in 120lb gloss paper. It comes with sweat and tears. It can’t be captured in an annual report and doesn’t make an appearance at the gala.

Desert. Do people deserve their lot? Do you work hard? Are you wealthy? Do you know individuals who have struggled financially? Are you aware of the wealth you may have, even if income seems a bit spotty?

 

 

 

 

That moment during ‘Waitress’ where I wanted to stand up and scream

Not the typical response during a Broadway musical, perhaps. Especially one built on the bubbly, emotional-fueled songs of Sara Bareilles. But, it wasn’t Sara’s fault that I felt compelled to stop the show and decry the scene unfolding on the stage.

If anyone needs to be blamed, then I will point a finger at the original book’s author, Jessie Nelson. Although I don’t like to blame others. It’s counter productive.  Instead, let me offer an open letter (are those still a thing??) to the writer about what bubbled up inside me at the pivotal scene in the musical:

Dear Jessie,

Former NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano said: “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”

Adopting that approach to evaluating a day, I can proudly share that I had a heck of a day yesterday thanks to seeing the traveling production of Waitress. However, I also experienced a level of frustration that left a stain on my memory of the show. It has to do with this:

Waitress2

Jenna is a woman who has clearly endured years of pain and suffering due to an abusive relationship. She is a dedicated friend and employee; she creates and shares willingly. She is not perfect; she perseveres yet doesn’t allow herself to achieve actual happiness.

But then she has her baby and EVERYTHING IS SUNSHINE AND ROSES. She has the courage to leave Earl and start her own business. She reclaims her self-worth and finds her entrepreneurial chops. Obviously, she shares this newfound realization in a musical number dubbed ‘Everything Changes’ where Jenna sings:

“Today’s a day like any other
But I’m changed, I am a mother
Oh, in an instant
And who I was has disappeared
It doesn’t matter, now you’re here
So innocent
I was lost
For you to find
And now I’m yours, and you are mine.”

I do not doubt that such a moment could have such a profound impact on someone’s perspective and life. Yet, as an audience member struggling with infertility, it felt like a reinforcement that achieving motherhood is the ultimate quest. My life remains in gray until that moment of bringing a life into this world. If my life was a mess prior to this moment, then it will be magically scrubbed anew. 

If that is the measuring stick we’re using for women like Jenna, that such troubled lives can be turned around completely after taking on the role of mom, what does that mean for those of us who cannot — or don’t want to — take that journey? It reminds me of my former high school students, many of whom actively sought getting pregnant in order to create something to love — and something to love them — in their lives. 

While I applaud Jenna’s metamorphosis, I do wish that it didn’t have to be fully centered on becoming a mother. Because that makes me feel sad, inadequate, and worried that I don’t ever fully realize my best self if I can’t become a mother. Will I be able to experience that type of love and empathy? Will I ever feel that overwhelming sense of joy that I have watched play out in film, TV, books, and now a musical?

I know you can’t answer my questions, Jessie. But thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

Katie

Stop Telling Women to Smile

The costs of emotional labor

Emotional labor: something we give daily, often without much consideration. And, it is also something we demand daily from others. Again, this expectation often stems without much thought or deep analysis as to why we expect others to give their emotional labor freely and what the ramifications and costs are for that individual.

Let’s back up for a moment: what is emotional labor? Here are a few examples and perspectives:

“In a work context, emotional labor refers to the expectation that a worker should manipulate either her actual feelings or the appearance of her feelings in order to satisfy the perceived requirements of her job. Emotional labor also covers the requirement that a worker should modulate her feelings in order to influence the positive experience of a client or a colleague.” – Rose Hackman, The Guardian

“Emotional labor includes the management of negative emotions and the cultivation/performance of positive emotions as determined by the nursing role (Bolton, 2001). In addition to the specialized, technical labor required of today’s nurses, they are required to effectively manage their own and others’ (e.g., patients, physicians, aides, coworkers) emotions, so patients and their families retain a sense that calm, confident, and effective care is being provided. As others have shown, however, the expectations surrounding the performance of such emotional labor—or the management of one’s observed emotional displays for pay (Hochschild, 1983)—are not equally distributed across all occupational sectors or incumbents (Fixsen & Ridge, 2012Wingfield, 2010a). Beginning with Hochschild’s (1983) original study, for example, the performance of emotional labor has been framed as a gendered experience linked to sociocultural stereotypes of women as more emotionally competent and community-oriented (Ridgeway, 2008).” – “I Can Never Be Too Comfortable: Race, Gender, and Emotion at the Hospital Bedside”, Marci D. Cottingham,  Austin H. Johnson and Rebecca J. Erickson, National Institute of Health

““When they go low, we go high,” said Michelle Obama during that epic, make-you-want-to-cry speech on the first night of this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. For the next 15 minutes, Mrs. Obama moved a nation from the needle of fear and hate sharpened so dangerously by Donald Trump. FLOTUS spoke to the hearts of a country, dealt with the hate of an opponent, invoked a bloody history, and re-imagined “Make America Great Again” to “America is the greatest country on earth.” She lifted the DNC from confusion and controversy to optimism and committed engagement. Essentially, FLOTUS was doing the emotional labor so many Black women do in nation building, movement building and electoral politics. Black women’s emotional labor matters.” – Esther Armah, Ebony Magazine

Bottom line: there are expectations built within our culture that women, especially women of color, have to take on certain tasks and perform in certain ways. Why? Somewhere in our DNA, we were born with a skill set that makes us the best:

  • caregivers
  • event planners
  • notetakers
  • listeners
  • secretaries
  • assistants
  • customer service representatives
  • nurses
  • wait staff
  • flight attendants
  • doormats

Whatever we can do to make your experience the most pleasant, we will. Or, at least that’s the social value underpinning the concept of emotional labor. And that value does not require or even suggest that women should receive greater financial compensation for that work; equal access to power or decision-making; or even outward acknowledgement of their contributions.

Conversations around emotional labor are happening with greater frequency, which is great. Yet, how do we shift from deep discussions to real actions to address this social and economical inequity?

Reader! You can make an impact on this at your workplace, on boards you sit on, wherever you have the space to exercise privilege and power. And, you can most certainly take responsibility for shifting these norms within your own mind.

Don’t pigeonhole women to play key roles within a team/organization.

Y’all: I’m tired of the assumption that because of our “good handwriting”  or “innate skills” we will want to be the secretary/note-taker of the group. Those roles require the individual to divide their attention between participation and record-keeping, which means less opportunity to fully participate in the process. Women, especially women of color, have been shut out of these processes for eons. Step up and assume that role. Hold other men in the group accountable for doing the same.

Provide financial compensation for trainings, speaking engagements, and knowledge-sharing.

I work in the nonprofit sector, and I get it: we feel stretched when it comes to allocating funding for professional development and thought-leaders. Whether we’re planning a conference or hosting a forum, we request that experts donate their time and talent for our cause/purpose. Good for our bottom line = not equitable for said speaker.

We live in a world where we have access to vast amounts of information, and most of it comes without a price tag. At least, a visible one. But, we need to recognize that within that tweet (shout-out to Monét Noelle Marshall who educated me on this frequent type of informational co-option sans compensation) or workshop, someone is providing a service for you. They aren’t just “doing their job” but are actively participating in arming you with knowledge to make a difference, which will often result in a net positive for you/your organization. Pay them. If you don’t have the means to cut them a check, find other ways to compensate them in the exchange: a meal, in-kind marketing and promotion, etc. While those other options are fine, I would still argue that actual payment in cash is the ultimate goal. We can do a better job to allocate those funds within our budgets from the start. (Yes, we’re talking about being intentional.)

Let go of norms that people in certain jobs should act in a certain way.

There are certain jobs in our world that fall under the category of “performance”: dancers, musicians, actors, etc. The server at the restaurant is not one of those jobs. Neither is a receptionist. There are a myriad of examples where any gendered or non-gendered individual can hold a certain title, but we (consumers) expect different outputs depending on whether we perceive that person as female or not.

It behooves us to question our own emotions when we feel slighted in a service experience. Is our reaction based on our perception that the individual, because of their gender, should have acted in a certain way? What are the dangers of the assumption? Lost wages, lost jobs. The continuation of gendered norms that transfer to the next generation. The toll it takes on that individual (self-worth, self-acceptance).

As a white woman, I cannot and should not speak for women of color who are disproportionately burdened by emotional labor expectations. Here are voices speaking to this intersectional oppression and ways to dismantle such discriminatory norms:

A final takeaway from Adia Harvey Wingfield in a 2016 Atlantic piece on this fraught and frustrating topic:

“On the face of it, emotional labor can seem something normal and commonplace in an economy where service jobs are so ubiquitous. But as a lot of research shows, the pressure to produce and manufacture certain emotional states can be more draining for some employees than others. When thinking through various workplace inequalities, such as wage gaps and a lack of diversity in certain occupations, it’s just as critical to consider how important unseen labor is in shaping how work gets done, and who gets to do it.”

Featured image credit: Clyde Fitch Report: http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2016/02/black-women-misogynoir-communication/

Reflection: 2.5 months as an intentional shopper

Like many projects that I have embarked on before, I start strong and then, after some time, the great fade comes.

I blogged earlier this year about my goal to become a more intentional shopper after being inspired by Ann Patchett’s “My Year of No Shopping” essay in The New York Times. Many friends shared their own pursuits to live a more minimalist life; to increase support for local business; and to break the habit of instant gratification.

January = I rocked out. I crafted detailed lists when I went to the grocery store and stuck with them 100%. I shifted out of the “I need to buy” mindset; I evaluated what already lined our pantry and freezer shelves and attempted to become creative in the kitchen again, letting go of adhering to recipes. For meetings scheduled at coffee shops, I carried a bag of change from our collection to pay for those 12 and 16 ounce drips. Less reliance on the credit card. Using resources I already had. More shopping at the Farmer’s Market and at Compare Foods. More coupons. One Amazon purchase where I could cash in my points. And, no, I didn’t buy a book.

One month in, and I was winning! 

Then…February.

I’m not sure what happened during those 28 days, but I essentially pulled the rug out from underneath myself. More eating out; less accountability on how and where I was spending my dollars. Now, I didn’t completely fail in my goal for that month; some ways that I tried to be more intentional about my shopping included:

  • Using a gift certificate at The Scrap Exchange to purchase supplies for Valentine’s Day card-making rather than buying cards elsewhere
  • Cleaning out my bookcase and selling more than a dozen to Letters Bookshop in downtown Durham [transparently: yes, I have absolutely leveraged that credit to acquire a new book]
  • Seeking out more free activities/spaces where I felt less pressure to make a purchase.

Yet, I still slipped. Instead of purchasing one item to bring to a meeting, I justified purchasing two. I had more drinks out.

And this is why it is wonderful to have such thoughtful friends. One of my favorite nonprofit & public television rockstars, Sarah, forwarded me another NYT article on March 1st as she checked in on my shopping challenge. One of the “a-ha” moments for me in reading this piece was the advice to “confront your triggers.”

I can definitely be an emotional shopper. Running by the grocery store after finishing a workout or before eating a meal spells trouble for my ability to stick to a plan. I’m hungry and tired; I want to reward myself and that’s when I see my cart filling with items like Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream or Kite Hill cheese that are both delicious and unnecessary (and really expensive!).

Another one of my triggers is seeing products and events on social media. I want to do it all! But, I can’t — due to time, money, and capacity. But the desire remains and can propel me into purchasing tickets or showing up to a space where I will no doubt spend money.

Like I reflected in my prior post, none of these actions are inherently bad or wrong. It’s more about recognizing the “why” behind these choices and being at peace that there will always be more. Our world loves to promote scarcity, which is so far from reality.

After taking a few steps back last month, I’m feeling good about getting back on track. It’s about finding a balance between militancy and blowout.

 

Humbled and afraid

It’s been a week where carving out time to write dropped in my priority list (old habits creeping back?) yet I did not want to pass up on this opportunity right now to extend my deepest appreciation for people in my life who reached out after my last post.

I have had the honor of being surrounded by brave individuals willing to peel back their pain and sorrow to talk through their experiences in trying to become a parent. Some of those journeys successfully accomplished their pursuits of bringing a child into the world with their partner. Others have paved their desired paths to parenthood via adoption, foster care, surrogate. And others have found peace and acceptance as a childfree individual or couple, fueled by the desire to pour into others who may have gone through a similar experience and the continued fight to ensure that our world remains the type of place we want to bring children into.

The horror of another mass school shooting this week can make any of us afraid to bring any life into our violent world. It isn’t just these terrifying incidents that underscore how frightening America can feel and appear. We operate in a nation under a mindset of scarcity and competition. That means people win, and people lose. That means there will never be enough to go around. We can’t show each other compassion because we’re locked in battle to do all we can to get out ahead. We’re so fearful of losing that we close off the opportunity to forge connection and community with others.

That’s what scares me the most about our world right now. How quickly we back into our corners, no matter what political ideology we espouse. It feels like we’ve lost our ability to see our shared humanity. We will all die. That is inevitable. And we will all live, for some amount of time. And in this time, how do we maximize the gifts we’re given as human beings to bring joy to others; to love; to be grateful; to offer help; to comfort. You can be an individual and be a part of the whole. It’s not a zero-sum game.

Have you seen this Ted Talk from Celeste Headlee: “Help Make America Talk Again”?

I don’t ascribe to the belief that people should ever put themselves in physical/emotional/mental/spiritual danger, which can happen in trying to seek understanding of how others view the world. I do think there are opportunities given to us each day where we can be safe and we can start to forge connection again.

You have shown that when it comes to the deeply personal and often private topic of fertility, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable creates the space to see each other in new, profound ways. We aren’t alone in those journeys or in life. I hope that we can continue to find ways to be there for each other, behind the scenes or in center stage, throughout our lives. Not just during these dark moments but also when the light is bright.

I’m grateful for you. I respect you. I love you.

On fertile ground? Not so much.

“Wait, this isn’t going to be a post about mindfulness?”

No, no dear readers. Not today. Although, I could argue that a heightened sense of awareness, developed through mindfulness, will increase one’s ability to be empathetic, which for a woman dealing with infertility is a highly desired quality.

In previous ramblings, I’ve alluded to my fertility journey. I’ve tried to be as open as possible about this experience with people in my life, as I have been blessed to have received the same openness from others who have walked their own path down a similarly frustrating, heartbreaking road.

And yet, talking about infertility is not a comfortable, cozy conversation topic. It’s one spoken in whispers, as if normal volume will spread it like wildfire. Like many women in a particular age range, especially after getting married, I get asked almost daily if I have children.

“Do you have kids? Not yet? Do you want kids?”

Why are we socialized to ask this question to people, especially strangers? What does having a child, or holding the identity as “parent,” really tell us about someone? Do we perceive an individual as being a better person if they are a parent? Are they smarter? More responsible? More capable of giving love? Perhaps there’s research out there proving otherwise, but my gut is that those associations are fallacies.

In the year after my doctor dropped the “I” label on me, I answered such questions with a hopeful response of: “Yes, I want kids. We’re working on it!” I soon learned this opened the door to the laundry list of unhelpful statements people utter that are both good-intentioned and make you feel like a 21st century Hester Prynne.

Hester Prynne

Enduring heroine or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s views on women’s sexual freedom? You decide!

I want to be upfront that I can only speak to my perspective on what is helpful and unhelpful in supporting a friend grappling with infertility and the swirl of exhaustion, guilt, blame, self-loathing, hope, outrage, confusion, and pain that infiltrates the mind, body, and spirit. So, in that vein, here are some of my suggestions on what actions to take — and which ones to avoid — when trying to be supportive:

  • Do: take cues from your friend on how much they want to open up about their experience. Ask permission to ask questions. Be patient. It is their story to tell, and they deserve the chance to share it when they are ready.
  • Don’t: don’t share a story about your brother’s girlfriend’s aunt who tried getting pregnant for 100 years and then — lo and behold! A baby was born. Leave all comparison stories at home. I do not care. That is their experience, and bully for them. But, those stories do not fill me with hope because our bodies are completely different vessels.
  • Do: if you feel sadness as a friend, share it witnessing another friend go through this, share it. “I am sorry that you’re going through this.” I am sad too. I wish you weren’t sad, and I wish I wasn’t sad. But, I feel your compassion and care in your words.
  • Don’t: don’t unload a pile of advice on my doorstep. Have I thought about working out less? Decreasing my coffee intake? Standing on my head in the middle of the street? The short answer: YES. Yes, I have cut out x,y, and z and taken this supplement and added this and — you get the picture. Yes, again, well-intentioned. Let us not forget that intention does not negate impact. I feel worse after hearing this advice because it makes me feel like I’m being perceived as not doing enough to fix this situation. I’m trying — believe me, I WANT to get pregnant! If I want advice, please allow me the chance to ask for it.
  • Do: if you are willing, share your story if you have also had trouble conceiving. Even if you did eventually get pregnant and now you’re a rockstar parent, I appreciate your willingness to name the challenges you endured. Even though you achieved your desired outcome, you still experienced sorrow and loss.
  • Don’t: don’t tell me to just relax and have fun. Ever. My response to this statement is not appropriate for the Internet.giphy
  • Do: be my friend. That may seem silly, but let’s continue to do things together that bring us joy! Sure, some of those could relate to women’s health (or MINDFULNESS! See, I could sneak it in there). But, it can be all of the other activities that people – fertile or not – take up: go bowling, start a book club, attend a concert, dance like no one is watching (except that one creepy person in the corner). Distractions are welcomed. Having fun and creating spaces for laughter are appreciated. Finding time to build our bonds of kinship remain a priority.

One situation, where I don’t feel like there’s a clear or justified do/don’t, is around sharing your own personal good news if you become pregnant. This happened to a friend of mine not too long after I had revealed my own struggle. Later on, she confessed that she was afraid to tell me as she was attuned to my situation and didn’t want to hurt me.

Now, this friend is by far one of the kindness, most selfless people I know. I appreciated her honesty, and I expressed that her decision to withhold her celebratory news made me feel sad. I reveled in her happiness — and now get to do that to an even greater extent by holding her beautiful child.

At the same time, there are days where I catch a friend’s social media post announcing their pregnancy and my first reaction is not one of celebration. There was a string around the holidays where it felt like everyone in my circle was holding up little baby booties and onesies and I was like:

C’MON ON NOW UNIVERSE.

A friend reflected that the infertility journey is truly a roller coaster. There are moments of such anticipation and excitement — you try to temper it as best you can — but there’s something so visceral when you allow yourself to be filled with that hope.

Then, there are times when the bottom drops out; your body sucks your breath back in by the sheer force of your current reality. You want to hold on to something — someone — and yet you are often alone. You may be on a bathroom floor. You may be laying on some awful table with your legs in stirrups. You have to find a way to pick yourself back up. Slap a smile on that face. Be ready to shake hands with someone new as they ask:

“So, do you have kids?”

Establishing a gratitude practice

I feel like it would be remiss if I didn’t begin this blog post by extending my appreciation to you, reader. Thank you for reading these words and visiting this random assortment of thoughts, ideas, reflections, and calls for action. While I can envision a scenario where my ruminations echo in a uninhabited universe of the Internet, I prefer to imagine a space full of individuals — like yourself — participating in the conversation.

On of this journey to be a more mindful and centered person, I kept stumbling on this notion of a ‘gratitude practice.’ Now, over the years, I’ve seen friends use the social media platform of Facebook to take on a “X number day” challenge to share appreciation for other people, special places, basic needs, etc. I would see those posts (when the Facebook algorithm decided that I should) and think: “Awww, that’s so nice!”

And then I was like: “Where are the cat photos?”

catmeme

Seeing other people publicly acknowledge their gratitude is inspiring. Showing thanks in our world can feel so perfunctory. Like many others, my parents made sure I said “thank you” after receiving a gift or being the recipient of something special. Does this sound familiar:

Did you say thank you to your Aunt?”

Public shaming can be an effective tool to form what should be a kind habit. As adults, how do we get back to the root of why we express gratitude? How do we turn those words into feelings that sit with us, in our hearts and minds, and fill us with joy and celebration?

One of the tools that could help, according to gratitude gurus, is to start keeping a gratitude journal (mindfulness folks love their journals!) I’m a notorious start-a-writing-outlet-and-lose-interest-in-three-weeks person. I always have been (minus sophomore year of high school where our English teacher required us to keep a journal for the year. Some hilarious entries, I assure you, including a recap of my first date with my “long” term high school boyfriend, who I treated poorly looking back. I’m sorry Eric.).

Back to gratitude: in concert with the Calm app’s “7 days of Gratitude” meditation series, I’ve been physically noting what I’m grateful for each morning. In most cases, I reflect on the prior day and the people and experiences that positively impacted me. I’ve also tried to step back and extend appreciation for the seemingly mundane in my life, but from the perspective of others, are enormous gifts: running water, a heating unit, access to the public library, the ability to own a car, living in a neighborhood where I can freely walk or run outside.

Sometimes acknowledging these pieces of my life make me feel weird — it forces me to stare at my privilege head-on. I need that reminder because it’s easy to let these gifts gloss over me — the entitlements and opportunities. When I pause to appreciate the electricity in my home and my ability to talk on a phone with my parents, I feel the flame of injustice flicker in me, as I don’t want these gifts to be exclusive. I want them to be universal. And that requires me to be a part of the fight.

The initial steps to establish a gratitude practice are more private and hidden. Whether through journaling or running through a list mentally, we keep these actions behind closed doors. The next iteration is extending our thanks outwards (hence, going back to friends on Facebook). For me, I am less interested in sweeping displays of gratitude; I want to ensure that people I interact with feel my appreciation in genuine ways for me and for them. That looks like me sending a quick text or email letting them know how grateful I am for their willingness to give advice or attend an event. Or leaving a voicemail that ends with me saying “I love you.”

Gratitude

Gratitude rocks! Get it? Yeah…

This is a work in process, like everything else in life. Some days I will excel in expressing gratitude; other days, I will lie in a dark pit and cover myself with self-pity and dark chocolate. Over time, I hope that I will become more in tune with the gifts the world offers me — in the form of adventure, friendships, convenience, comfort — and give myself the time to acknowledge and appreciate those gifts, both internally and externally.

I am thankful for the ability to have time and space to write this morning. I am grateful for the Wifi connection that bridges people and communities across the globe. I am appreciative of having access to a coffee maker and coffee that provides the fuel for mornings…and afternoons…and sometimes evenings.

What are you grateful for in your life today? How do you share your appreciation for these gifts?