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Appreciation Challenge

March 17th, 2016

There have been a few times when I have created presents for other people that are simply lists or little booklets about the best of who they are.  Something along the lines of the “12 gifts of you.” The gift includes simple things that I note about the person that I appreciate about them and am thankful for. Sometimes they are things that I see that I’m not sure that they see about themselves.

It’s a simple gift but a thoughtful one.

This past week I got to be on the receiving end of such a gift. My sister decided to do five days of appreciation of me for my birthday.  Every day she sent me five things that she appreciated about me and she actually did this for five days. It was such an awesome gift of perspective and surprise.

I’ve always enjoyed being on the giving side of such a gift, but to be on the receiving end gave me a whole new perspective. Wow!

To jot down a few things you like about someone is such an easy way to express appreciation and to encourage them.  And, it ends up being a gift for both the giver and the receiver.

Here’s an example of what I’ve done.  I emailed my writing partner this morning.  The subject heading was “Appreciation Day.”  In the body, I said “I love that you . . . ” and then listed 4 or 5 (the number doesn’t matter) things that I love about her.

The things you appreciate don’t have to be huge. They can be quite simple.  For example, for Ann, one line was about how much she relishes chocolate and coffee with a big grin.  It makes her happy.  I also noted how she is so good at re-framing negatives into positives – a trait I admire.

Who could you take five minutes to send an appreciation note to?  Could you make it a weekly practice to send one note?  Or monthly?  Try it out. See what happens.  Making someone’s day doesn’t have to take money, a lot of time or energy.  It can be as easy as saying “I love you” or “I love the way you . . .”

How to Teach Yourself to Live with Gratitude

February 26th, 2016

Research is revealing more and more the power of gratitude for our lives.  As a youth worker, if I want to pass on to my youth how to practice gratitude, then I need to practice it first myself.  Below is a link to a post I wrote on gratitude as a guest blogger for Church Press.  It shares the practice of reframing.

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http://churchpress.co/articles/life/how-to-teach-yourself-to-live-with-gratitude-part-one/

 

Summer Days 12

October 20th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

Summer, our tail wagging, body wiggling, four-pawed bundle of pure joy, showed up in our lives, in our opinion, to share with us how to live from a deeper place of gratitude and to enjoy life’s moments happily.

Summer, a beautiful black and white border collie/lab, has been THE Gratitude Coach for 12 ½ years of our lives who was sent to teach us personally. When you are daily confronted with unconditional love, acceptance and enthusiastic eagerness just because you exist, you tend to pay attention to what that person – or dog – has to communicate.

To date, Summer’s time with us has passed on these lessons:

  1. Show love first thing each morning.
  2. Be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love.
  3. Delight in the now.
  4. Always show appreciation to others.
  5. Work and contribute.
  6. Presume friendship.
  7. Just be.IMG_3955
  8. Sleep and eat regularly.
  9. Offer presence.
  10. Be patient.
  11. Play. Always play.

And it was only in a traumatic, life-changing event that Pete and I were able to articulate a final parting lesson from Summer . . .

Lesson #12: Enjoy everything, no matter what.

It was on a Tuesday, after a long weekend of Summer being sick (unusual for her because she always bounced back after a max of two days), that we went into the vet and were shocked with the news that no dog owners want to hear: our sweet dog was terminally ill and the kindest thing we could do was let her go. I won’t belabor the particulars, only enough to make her lesson point. Summer gave no indication that she was doing poorly over the weeks or months leading to her passing. She followed all the rules of the lessons she had taught us, although some days might have been slightly slower and she did sleep a little bit more (both of which we chalked up to the nearing of her thirteenth birthday). Regardless, she religiously continued to show enthusiasm for each moment and to live each moment to the fullest that she was capable of doing.

It was on her last day – armed with the new knowledge that she had probably been sick for awhile – that we were struck at how she exemplified enjoy everything, no matter what. Never did she show pain in the time leading up to this Tuesday. And on this Tuesday, while lethargic in the morning and obviously not feeling well, she enthusiastically got into the car for every trip we made that day (four total including two to the vet – a lot of jumping in and out!).

Knowing it was her last day, we made sure we had one more play day together so that she could enjoy her favorite dogs, places and things to do. At the park, she explored and made her own path off the beaten trail. At our friends’ house, she exchanged sniffs and licks with her doggie friends and received head rubs from her human friends. Tired afterwards, she pulled away to herself to rest but allowed me to read to her and be near her while we waited for the time to go back to the vet. And going back to the vet? She eagerly looked out the windows and showed every sign of enjoying the ride and being with us. Even at the vet’s, she showed interest in other dogs and humans who were around.

And then she called it a day. But it was a great day. Despite feeling awful. Despite having given up eating a couple of days before. Despite the cancer eating away inside her which was causing her to waste away. Despite it all, Summer lived her life out to the fullest, and it was in this last day that we shook our heads with amazement at how long she had been showing us how to enjoy everything, no matter what.

No matter what physical pain may grab you; no matter what disease may try to ravish your body; no matter what age you may be; no matter what job you may have or not have; no matter what obstacles life may hand you . . . you can still enjoy the life you have. You can be in each moment and savor it or devour it or inhale it. You can choose. It’s your choice. It’s within you to do it.

And that may be the best example of grateful living in action that I’ve ever seen lived out. The challenge now is to follow that example. Evidently Summer thought we were ready. Are you?

Today, live in answer to her challenge. Follow her example.

Summer, July 9, 2002 – June 17, 2014

If you need a dog in your life or want to support abandoned dogs and cats, consider one of the agencies that help support strays and abandoned animals. We got Summer from Freedom Farms who set up at Pet Smart in Rivergate on Saturdays. Good people who are doing heroic work in caring for animals.

 

Summer Days 11

October 13th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

I read the other day in an article on play that dogs play their whole lives and never forget play in their routine. It’s simply part of who they are and what they do. My personal experience proves this to be true especially with my Summer Girl, my border collie/lab, who came into my husband’s and my life as one of our two canine kids.

In Summer Days 3, as we talked about delighting in the now, we mentioned that Summer often created her own form of “play”:  stalking the edge of the forest to look for stray crickets to chase as we walked, or hunting for bunnies and nosing frogs in water holes. In addition to these acts, Summer has been known to play with her food (bringing it from the bowl into the living room, dropping food on the carpet to get one kernel at a time). She has been known to dive into her bed and attack it; play with chew toys or rawhides (of course!); or play with Lacey and us. We have chased each other in circles around the house. But our favorite game involved guard duty.  We could literally look outside, WHISPER the signal “Lacey, Summer – squirrel” or sometimes simply “squirrel” and the two dogs would tear off to go outside and chase the offending squirrel or squirrels out of the backyard (usually across the top of the fence around the yard to a particular tree).

Did you notice I said, whisper?  How in-tuned to the idea of play is that? A mere whisper could bring it out of her!

Obvious to anyone who owns or owned a dog is his or her inborn ability to play and thus we have:

Lesson #11: Play. Always Play.  IMG_3973

We had to name it, even if it’s an obvious lesson because it’s still a valuable lesson. There are high connections between play and gratitude. When we play, we are less stressed, more present, more alive and more in the moment. Those playful moments bring about gratitude as a natural response. And yet we often neglect to play as we get older in order to work. (And if you want ideas on how to play, check out our books, Great Group Games, Great Group Games for Kids and Great Group Games on the Go.)

IMG_2245How do you like to play? How do you define it? What does it look like for you? Reading a book? Watching a movie? Playing board games or cards? Being silly with a friend? Taking a moment to run backwards in your workout? Having the windows down and the wind whipping your face? Today as you go about your normal routine, don’t forget to take a moment to play – whatever that looks like for you. You know what play is. It makes you smile, lightens your heart and makes you feel free and young. Put it on your list of “must do” today: go play.

You can read all the gratitude lessons we’ve learned from our four-legged Gratitude Guru and learn for yourself how to: show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; work and contribute; presume friendship; just be; sleep and eat regularly; offer presence; be patient; and play.

Summer Days 10

October 6th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

My Gratitude Guru, Summer, has one particular trait she has exemplified over and over throughout her doggy days. My husband was the first to name this particular lesson that she has been trying to teach us:

IMG_3972Lesson #10: Be patient. Our border collie/lab is the very essence of patience. When it’s time to eat, Summer has always let Lacey, our rat terrier, eat first while she patiently sat to the side waiting her turn (no need to fight over food – there’s enough for everyone). She would patiently sit and stare at Pete every evening starting at 7:00 p.m. waiting for him to give her evening treat at 8:00. On walks, as we ran into neighbors who want to chat, she would gently lie down and wait for us to finish our conversation.

These are just a few of the daily examples of the lesson she has tried to convey to us to teach us to be happier and more content in our lives. In her early days, she tested our patience as we got used to her. As a pup, she was a very nervous, insecure puppy that had been abandoned (and rescued by Freedom Farm) and needed to know she was safe and secure. In fact, it took two years before we thought of her as more than “Lacey’s friend.” It was two years before she began to warm to us and truly became part of the pack. In those formative years, we learned we couldn’t yell at her to not do something. Yelling resulted in an immediate squat and pee.

Summer taught us to be gentle with her and to have patience as she grew and overcame her fears. Once she knew she was safe and loved, she bloomed and emerged as the Gratitude Guru who then outdistanced us and returned the favor (of offering safe, loving support and friendship) by beginning to teach us to become more of who we are. And patience is one of the keys to a happy life: patience with self, with family, with quirks, with timing . . .

Where are you most impatient? Why? Where do you need to breathe deeply and show patience? What might happen if you let go of control or expectations and simply offer patience and let things unfold as they will?

Today, be grateful for the trying moments that try your patience and recognize that within that moment is a lesson just for you waiting to teach you what you need to learn. Maybe it’s to be gentler with yourself or others. Maybe it’s to accept differences. Look deep into that challenging moment that stirs you and wonder what in you is begging to change. And give thanks for the moment and the opportunity to behave differently.

Summer has taught us many lessons as our Gratitude Guru. Read all the blogs to learn how to: show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; work and contribute; presume friendship; just be; sleep and eat regularly; and, offer presence.

Summer Days 9

September 29th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

There have been many joys in hosting a Happiness Teacher in my home for 12 ½ years. Short, adorable and easy to get along with, my border collie/lab, Summer who conveyed so much in the past decade has taught us much about making life worth living every day. The gift-wrapped lesson that has been the most significant on a daily basis to me has been:

IMG_4090Lesson #9: Offer presence. 

Every day whenever I’m around the home, she offers presence. If I’m in my office on the computer, she comes to lie down on the rug near me. If I do bills at the dining room table, she comes to lie down near my feet with her head touching my foot. If I’m working out in our workout room on the mat, she has been known to come and lick my head as I do sit-ups, walk through my legs as I stretch or be near by as my legs scissor across the top of her body. If I have been too long on the computer writing on my next book, she comes over, nuzzles my hand for “lubbing” (love + rubbings) and if possible to pull me away from work for a quick break. Sometimes I pet her and then absentmindedly tell her to go away. Sometimes I agree that I’ve been at it too long and take a few minutes to play or walk outside with her to get the mail. If I’m too busy or focused and can’t do much petting, then she “talks” to me to voice her complaint and then she will plop down at my feet.

Her lesson in presence has been a daily occurrence. “I’m here. I’m letting you know I’m here. I care.” Nothing beats that example of simple loving presence to let me know I’m loved.

In the “human” world, we often forget how valuable presence is. We feel like we have to have the right words, say the right thing, or do the right thing. Sometimes not having the right words or actions in mind will stop us from being with someone. And the truth is: simple presence is enough.

Where can you offer presence? Who shows you support that you take for granted? When is the last time you’ve told them how grateful you are that they are in your life?

Today, express gratitude to those who show you support. Tell them how much you appreciate their friendship and presence. Look for ways you can offer presence to others. Trust in the power of presence and don’t worry about having the right words or actions if it’s a tough situation. Simply sit or be with them. Let your presence speak for itself.

Practice all the lessons of Summer Days: show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; work and contribute; presume friendship; just be; and, sleep and eat regularly.

Summer Days 8

September 22nd, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

Lesson #8:  Sleep and eat regularly. This no-brainer lesson is one that many people often IMG_5797_2struggle with, but my border collie teacher on living well, Summer, has shown on a regular basis that along with play and work, one absolutely must get regular sleep and food. Food, for her, is simply nourishment.

Not all dogs are this way. Our other dog, our rat terrier, Lacey, is highly motivated by food and would rather have food than affection. She’s a little piggy. And, naturally, she’s also more of a couch potato who likes the idea of a walk better than the actual walk itself.

Summer, on the other hand, views food as the sustenance to fuel what’s really important – to do the things she wants to do each day. Food and sleep are staples for maintaining health, a positive outlook on life and having the energy need to do important or fun things like chasing squirrels, sprinting to beat her human in a two-legged versus four-legged race down the street, or jetting outside in a quick burst of energy to guard and check on a strange noise.

She really has exemplified balance and has set an example for minimizing an emotional attachment to food – a problem for many humans. She eats – enough, scattered throughout the day (and she has been known to eat from her doggie friends’ bowls when at their house), but her relationship with food isn’t her primary reason for existence. It doesn’t play substitute for something else. She doesn’t live to eat; she eats to live.

From her, I’ve learned the importance of balance and of caring for one’s body in order to do what counts. And as I’ve watched her in the evenings when she gets her rawhide treat, I’ve noticed that she savors it. She sits with it, waits, works on it, puts it down, rests, worries it again and so forth until done. She appreciates both regular meals and special treats.

What’s your relationship with food and rest? Do you get enough? Do you fuel up? Or is there an imbalance and you end up overdoing on either just to stay awake and keep going? And then, end up eating or drinking the wrong things (caffeine, too much sugar . . .) to get the extra jolt? What if you looked at food like you do the gas you put in your car – when you choose a particular octane to get premium performance? What if you ate that way and then slowly savored the one treat each day with gratitude and appreciation?

Today, observe what you eat. Notice how you feel when you eat, after you eat. Give thanks for the foods that nourish and aid you in being your healthiest so you can do the things you do each day. Honor your body and treat it well. You need it so be gentle with yourself.

Practice all the lessons of Summer Days: show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; work and contribute; presume friendship; and, just be.

Summer Days 7

September 15th, 2014

Summer has been the one teacher in my life journey who has taught me the most about valuing life’s moments, expressing gratitude and being happy. Of everyone I’ve encountered in my life, from strangers to those who know and love me, my 12 ½ year old black and white border collie/lab, girl’s best friend and canine constant companion, Summer, is the one who has taught me my most valuable learning in life.

Of all the lessons she has tried to convey in her special doggie way – show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; work and contribute; and, presume friendshipit is lesson #7 that could just possibly be the most meaningful teaching of all; the one that may very well change my life.

For my life, “being” is not something I’m very good at. Staying busy? Yes. Doing? Achieving? You betcha. Doing for others? Absolutely. But “being”? Not so much. And “being Susan”? Whoa! Now you’re talking crazy. I can only do that with a few people!

The one constant that Summer has exhibited in attitude and actions over the years is that Susan is good enough just as she is. Summer has never expected me to keep her entertained for hours; she hasn’t looked for me to put into action a five-year business plan. I haven’t had to set, meet or exceed a goal; she’s never asked that I put on a smile or pretend interest for the sake of furthering a cause or making nice. I haven’t ever had to put on masks or be anything I’m not. I’ve always just been me.

For Summer, “me” is enough.  She is happy to simply be in the same room with me. She is content to be near me whether we’re interacting or not. With her simple presence, she has communicated:

Lesson #7: Just be yourself. 

IMG_6033As I’ve pondered this lesson over the past month, I’ve realized what a great truth Summer has tried to convey and demonstrate. I’ve repeated the words “Just be Susan” often in my head when faced with moments where I might want to act differently in order to please someone else or put their desires above mine. “Just be Susan”, I’ve come to realize, holds a key to tell me how to live freely. It begs me to be confident that who I am is a gift – as is. Summer has challenged me to trust “me,” to trust myself that I am good. I am enough.

And this unbelievably wise, four-legged, tail-wagging guru – who has the brain of a four-year-old, I might add – has passed on this most valuable, personal lesson by simply embracing and enjoying my presence without me having to do anything to earn her affections and friendship except being myself.

Today, be grateful for the gift you are. Journal about the things that make you uniquely you and that you appreciate and enjoy about yourself. Be proud of who you are. When challenging situations arise and you start to get anxious over how to respond, remind yourself to “Just be you” and then trust that you are enough. Then act from who you are and see what happens. You are good. You are enough.

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

Summer Days 6

September 8th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

My ever-loving canine teacher on how to live well in this world, Summer, didn’t believe in strangers and thus her on doggy version of friendship expressed in her very doggy way was this lesson:

Lesson #6: Lean into strangers or nose them.

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You’ve probably seen it or experienced it. Think: Have you ever taken a dog for a walk or met a dog on a walk? Your dog or the one you met often pull said human to the new person to meet them. Assuming the dog is friendly, there is this built-in wiring to know another. Unfortunately, this knowing can be presumptuous at times (embarrassing the owner) as medium to large dogs head straight for the crotch of the new friend. (Note: if you want to avoid said embarrassment, get a small dog.)

Summer sometimes headed straight for the crotch but more frequently, she went over and leaned into the “potential new friend” with the whole side of her body. What else can you do if a dog leans into you but pet her? Summer’s theory was that by giving body hugs, said “stranger” was no longer a stranger but a new friend, one worthy of sharing affection with.

Summer presumed friendship and made it so. What would our days look like if we presumed welcome, friendship or acceptance? How different would our days look if we presumed that the universe was FOR us and not against us? Or if we presumed that others wanted to connect with us as much as we want to connect with them?

Today, presume friendship, presume welcome and make it so. I don’t suggest you express it in a doggy version, but that you do so in a very human way. Offer a smile, thanks, an expression of appreciation or a sincere compliment. Give a hug, pat a shoulder, look someone in the eye and listen. Presume goodness, send it out and watch it come back to you.

Practice all the lessons of Summer Days: show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; and, work and contribute.

Summer Days 4

August 25th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude –  so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

As I think about the things that Summer, my rescued border collie/lab, has taught me, I realize that her bright soulful spirit really showed up in this world to be a Gratitude Guru. Her job has been to show us over and over, how to be thankful and express thanks.

From her we’ve learned to show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when you get to do the things you love and to delight in the now.

As I reflect on a typical Summer day, I have seen how she expresses big love on two very different occasions every day. She first expresses love for taking walks (see Summer Days 2) in a very exuberant, happy dance way. When we return from said walk, she waits patiently to gently express love and gratitude for me, her human.

It is in this constant action that she has taught me lesson #4: Always show IMG_6040appreciation/affection when you get to do what you love with the one you love.

Every single day, this is how the lesson plays out after we return from a walk: Summer follows me around the house, keeping me in full eyesight until I am done with tasks and the opportunity presents itself for her to express affection and appreciation. Literally, daily, the routine follows that pattern. After the walk, I get a shower. Summer sits and guards the bathroom door until I come out. I walk to another room when she positions herself across the hall so she can watch me as I get ready. She then follows me to the kitchen for breakfast and then to the living room where I sit to meditate. Once I sit down and have quit moving, she comes over, leans into me, gives me a lick on my hand, receives a pat on the head, her tail wags a “thanks” and then she finally goes to her bed to settle down . . . but still with me in eyesight.

No matter how long it takes me to get to that chair, she follows me around and waits for the moment when she can say thanks. She never neglects her job to say thanks. And, she never forgets.

How faithful are you in remembering to say thanks when someone has done or said something kind to you? Have there been times when you meant to but life happened and next thing you know, time has passed and it seems too late to express appreciation?

Today look for opportunities to show appreciation to others for who they are and the nice things they do. Maybe it’s the coffee barista who remembers what you drink before you ask. Or, the receptionist who makes copies for you all the time. Or maybe it’s a stranger who lets you go through the door first. Look for ways to show appreciation and kindness to your colleagues and family. You never know what they’re going through and a word or act of kindness may just possibly make their day.