It's common knowledge that gratitude improves quality of life. Simply put, when we feel grateful, we feel good. And feeling good makes life feel better.
When our daughter Helena was one year old, we began a family ritual. Every night as we sat down for dinner, before picking up a fork or taking one bite of food, we would share three things we're grateful for. What began as a way to bring more joy into our lives has not only lifted us up after long days at work. It has made us laugh and probably helped us digest our food better and eat more mindfully, too.
At first Helena would say, "I'm grateful for blueberries." That was it, blueberries. That was her thing for weeks on end. Other fruits entered the scene, and then it was "pink" for a while. Tonight at dinner it was, "All the colors." Her shares are almost always more laugh inducing than mine.
So in the spirit of this delightful child we've been blessed with, and in the spirit of The Child, who lives within each of us and freely shares her/his joy, let me share my Top Ten Gratitudes for the day. Just for today -- tomorrow they may be different.
As is the case with most of my writing, this is both an honest, personal share, and an invitation for you to explore what brings you joy... what you're grateful for... Both are an expression of my love for humanity: all of you, and me.
10) I'm grateful to have a pro skateboarder friend who's super kind and generous and will gladly send a few skateboarding goodies to me for my young skater pals' birthdays. His generosity feeds the healthy passions of my young pals.
9) I'm grateful for the last 3 weeks off Facebook. I don't miss it.
8) I'm grateful my ego gets weaker every day.
7) I'm grateful to like who I am, even though I sometimes piss off close friends with the bold things I'm not afraid to say.
6) I'm grateful for the college professor who encouraged me to write my own major.
5) I'm grateful my husband loves to cook, and is really good at it.
4) I'm grateful our daughter survived after being born with pneumonia.
3) I'm grateful for our backyard golden raspberries (pictured above). They are my favorite thing about our current home, ripening abundantly every spring.
2) I'm grateful to have studied communication since I was about 8 years old, even though it took childhood trauma to launch this passion.
1) I'm grateful for acupuncture, frisbee and smart friends to help me refine my resume.
It's addictive! See how I snuck in three on that last one? What are Y-O-U grateful for today?
Get out a pen, write down your ten. Choosing to feel grateful results in feeling more grateful. What we focus on, grows. Simple physics. What we acknowledge, we get more of. If your attention is on it, you are giving it power.
I'm grateful you just read my blog post.
One of the things I remember from childhood was being told, "You are smart and beautiful." Mostly by my mother Carmen, aunt Irma and sister Stephanie. It didn't matter what anyone else thought about me. Nobody is smart or beautiful in everybody's eyes. My world -- those closest to me, as a child -- believed in me.
Those words sunk into my chest. Between them and the sense of safety I found in my home and community, I felt I could do anything. The world would take care of me.
I could unravel, like a flower, exposing my affectionate soul to the sun and being fed, day after day, water and light.
It wasn't the words smart and beautiful that mattered. Instead it could have been "kind and creative" or "generous and truthful." It was that Love was behind them. The most powerful force on the planet. The deepest human need. Through their words and how they chose to see me, my deepest human need was being met.
Acknowledgment is some of the most potent medicine for relationship and yet very lacking in our culture. It is as if we are supposed to pretend we don't need to feel appreciated. We're dying for it, yearning for it, yet encouraged to suppress this longing. We are led to believe we can be fed instead by external resourcing, often commonly referred to as addictions.
When it comes to children, we rock: "Gosh Ariana, you are a marvelous piano player!" we might say to a 4-year-old pecking the ivories with two fingers. But when it comes to adults, we withhold it from ourselves and each other, robbing life of this most simple aspect of affection, and then walk around wondering why we feel empty, unappreciated and broke.
So sure, go buy Valentine's Day cards. Let your children make them. Show love. But for God's sake, don't deprive yourself of it for the rest of the year by forgetting that every day is Love Day. Every day is a day to give ourselves and others the most basic human need there is: the knowing that we are loved, and capable of loving.
Stop suppressing hugs. Open up to their joy and oxytocin.
Stop criticizing people. Start seeing and appreciating their beauty instead.
Quit the insecurity act. You could die tomorrow. Your child could die tomorrow.
Don't withhold the love that, on your death bed, you'll know was the only thing worth living.
Any acknowledgment -- any love -- you withhold from others is withheld from yourself.
Let yourself unravel for love, instead.
Love looks good on you. Withholding it does not.
There are four forms of acknowledgment, the most common and therefore least uncomfortable for most people, is Voluntary. So go ahead, close your eyes and peer into your heart and see what wants to be said. Voluntarily offer somebody your appreciation. Who can you tell that you love them right now? That you think they're generous, considerate, or courageous? That you admire their work ethic, creative persistence or patience?
Then mark your calendar to do it again in March. And April. And on. Make it a habit.
And if you're empty, because you've let your own beautiful batteries become discharged and forgotten to take care of your own needs, then take a deep breath and lay it on yourself. If you don't feel fully acknowledged and appreciated, don't look outside yourself for it first. Look within. What do you long to be appreciated for today? What would help recharge your batteries? Is it... I acknowledge myself for being an attentive mom.... or I acknowledge myself for being passionate about the welfare of animals... or I acknowledge myself for being a ripe, juicy and divine expression of wonder... (It's totally that one, huh?)
Those ready for some potent medicine -- in relationship with self or other -- are invited to join Leaning into Light for our upcoming 90-minute phone workshop on The Power of Acknowledgment, Sunday February 28th, 10:00-11:30AM PST. Cost is $28 per person. Limited to 20 participants, first come first served. Sign up here.
We will do a deep dive into the domain of Acknowledgment, covering the four types of acknowledgment and how to work with them. Participants will leave with the ability to move through life feeling acknowledged and appreciated, and the ability to share that with others so that they feel acknowledged and appreciated. How's that for a power-packed 90-minute dose of Love Month medicine?
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, a mother, coach, and freelance consultant, and eternally a fan of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. This deeply personal blog and our FREE recorded talks and workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.