One of the recurring themes in this blog is gratitude. I write about this topic so often because I genuinely believe that attitude is everything. I think that even in our darkest hours, there are things to appreciate if you look hard enough. Even bitter lessons are worthy of gratitude because they help you grow and survive.
There is so much in this world that we take for granted. Sometimes it’s worth stopping and taking a breath and appreciating the sun on your face and the wind in the trees. It’s such a gift to be alive and able to think and reason and exercise free will and create beauty and give and receive love.
I think the unhappiest people are those who focus on the negative in their lives. They may be unhappy because of their negative focus, or negative experiences may have made them unhappy, but either way, until that cycle is broken, nothing will change. It makes me sad to see people trapped in that way.
I’m not saying we should all wander around like Stepford Wives. And yes, bad things happen to us all. It’s just that the way you frame things matters. It takes practice. Some days will be a lot harder than others. But there’s good out there, if you only look.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and it’s fast approaching. I wish we didn’t need a holiday to remember to give thanks. I think gratitude should be part of our daily lives.
I feel so strongly about this topic that I published an anthology of my essays on gratitude. It’s called A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. I’m really proud of it. I think it would make a great Thanksgiving gift, or, for that matter, a gift any time of the year for a loved one who could use a little positivity. And can’t we all use some of that? Think about it.
As always, I’m grateful that you take the time to read my blog. As a little bonus, below is one of the short and to the point essays that you can find in the book. This one was originally posted on this blog on November 29, 2015.
Ever since I moved to Seattle, I’ve sort of felt as if my heart has come to reside outside of my rib cage. Vulnerable. Exposed. Sensitive. It’s kind of a crazy feeling. I need to develop a thicker skin.
I’ve just been through so much in the past couple years. I’ve given up so much, sacrificed so much. I’ve taken some insane risks, some of which have paid off, and some of which have blown up in my face.
But on a positive note, this has caused me to appreciate all the good in life so much more deeply. When I think of my friends and loved ones, near and far and old and new, I often well up with tears of joy. A good sunrise can take my breath away. I can be walking down the street and suddenly it hits me how lucky I am to be where I am, and I have to stop dead in my tracks for a second and gather myself.
In essence, I’ve become a sentimental old fool. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s really frustrating when you are sitting at your computer, staring at that stupid hourglass, waiting for… whatever. Everybody hates when a computer is slow to download. It’s really inconvenient.
But when I hear someone complain about this, I have to laugh inside. I can’t help but think, as I’m trying to send that e-mail, that 100 short years ago, if I had wanted to get that message delivered, a whole different process would have to occur.
You’d write the message. You’d give it to a delivery person, or deliver it yourself. You’d go outside. You’d saddle your horse. You’d hop on. You’d ride across town. You’d deliver the message. You’d probably be obligated to socialize. You’d then return home, where you’d groom and feed the horse and clean his stall. It’s amazing that anyone got anything done.
Suddenly a slow e-mail doesn’t seem so bad. Even at its worst, it sure beats saddle sores. Try not to forget that.
I feel the same way about microwaves. How can we possibly get impatient with a microwave when a century ago you’d have been sweating in a hot kitchen, after having spent months raising your crops and/or your livestock, then going through the monumental hassle of preparing, cooking and serving the meal? And lest we forget, no refrigeration. We should kiss our microwaves.
We are able to do everything so much faster these days that somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten about patience and appreciation. I’m not sure that sacrificing those qualities for the sake of convenience was a fair trade.
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A friend of mine turned me on to the book 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Have I read it? No. I’m already overwhelmed without adding another book to my reading list. But the subject intrigues me quite a bit.
I have always noticed that people have very unique ways of expressing love and also of feeling loved. I think it’s important to know what signifies love to your partner, so you can express it in a way that means the most to him or her. It’s also interesting to examine what equals love to you, so that you can see when someone is expressing love to you in a way that you’re not noticing.
If your partner’s love language is touch, for example, and he touches you a lot, that’s his way of expressing love, even if your language is different. Learn to appreciate it. And touch him a lot. And tell him what means the most to you.
Here are the 5 types of love languages that Mr. Chapman has identified, in no particular order:
Acts of Service– This is the one I relate to the most. Having someone do something for me when they can see I’m overwhelmed is practically an aphrodisiac to me. Want to show me you love me? Do my laundry! My boyfriend recently went to my house and left some chicken in the fridge for me so that I wouldn’t have to make lunch for the next day, because he knew I’d be exhausted. That moved me to tears.
Quality Time– Pay attention. Listen. Focus. If you want someone to feel special, just be there.
Words of Affirmation– Some people feel most special when they hear “I love you” or “I’m proud of you.”
Physical Touch– We’re not just talking sex, here. This means hand holding, or even just resting your hand lightly on your partner’s arm.
Receiving Gifts– This isn’t about being a gold digger. This is about being really touched by the effort it takes to obtain or make the gift, and the thought you put into determining what that person would like.
This is a fascinating avenue of inquiry. If you want to know what your love language is, take the test here. You may learn quite a bit.
I don’t know if Mr. Chapman gets into this in his book, but there are also a lot of toxic “love” languages out there. Here are a few I’ve seen:
Feeding– When food equals love, it tends to bring on health issues. I’ve seen many mother’s do this. “Eat hardy!” “Did you get enough to eat?” “Let me make you your favorite cake.” It’s a form of love, I suppose, but it’s very destructive.
Jealousy– I’ll never understand people who actually enjoy it when their partner is jealous. “He must really love me if he gets that upset.” That’s not love. That’s a warped control dynamic.
Teasing– It may start off as cute and funny, but over time it can evolve into insults and cruelty. Again, not the best path to go down.
What makes you feel most loved? Let me know in the comments below!
I don’t have a smart phone. In fact, my phone is just about as stupid as they come in this modern world. But hey, it only costs me about 5 bucks a month, so as far as I’m concerned, that makes me pretty darned smart.
Living in this state of self-imposed technological deprivation, I know nothing about apps. There may already be an app for this, but if not, there really should be. I would call this app the “gratitude alarm”. It would instruct your phone to set off a gentle alarm at random, completely unanticipated times throughout your day. The alarm would remind you to stop what you’re doing and look about you, and really appreciate your place in the now.
Too often, we forget to do this. Sometimes you need to just enjoy the sensation of the sun on your face. Don’t take your current experience for granted. Be grateful for the people you are having lunch with, and for the food on your plate. Embrace the experience of that crowded subway, as it’s taking you where you want to go. Appreciate the fact that you have a job when so many others do not. Admire that flowering “weed” that you might have otherwise overlooked.
I suspect that if people were to use this app for just a few weeks, they’d see a shift in their attitude for the better. After a while, the app would no longer be needed. An attitude of gratitude can become a delightful habit if you let it.
For now, pretend this blog post is your alarm. Stop right now. Look around. Be grateful.
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Plaudit is one of my favorite words. I wish it were used more often. I love the sound of it, but I especially love the sentiment behind the term. It’s all about giving credit where credit is due. That doesn’t seem to happen enough these days. Those who take the time to make the world a better place, even if they aren’t looking for kudos, deserve applause as far as I’m concerned.
There are so many opportunities to show appreciation to people. Do you take those opportunities? Have you thanked someone today?
Here are some plaudits that I’m sure everyone can agree with:
To all veterans and first responders for being heroes.
To teachers, for spreading knowledge and influencing all of us to be the best we can be.
To volunteers, for being so generous with their time.
To owners of rescue animals, for saving lives and providing them with safety and love.
To artists, for making life worth living for the rest of us in so many ways.
To friends, for being supportive.
To farmers, for providing us with sustenance.
To writers, for making us think.
To listeners, for listening.
And I’d like to send out a very personal and heartfelt plaudit to you, dear reader, for making this blog such a pleasure to write, and for giving me feedback and sharing it with others. I wouldn’t be here without you. So thanks!
The other day, I wrote a blog post entitled “A Surreal Encounter”. After a friend read it, she said, “You did the right thing. And your response was good, too. Proud of you.”
Of course I thanked her and told her that that meant a lot to me, but I don’t think that adequately puts across just how much it means to me. It brings tears to my eyes, just thinking about it. Everybody appreciates positive feedback. I think that most of us, deep down, wonder if we’re doing a good job in life. And for some reason, compliments are thin on the ground these days, so when you get one, it’s delicious. Savor it.
Personally, one “I’m proud of you” from someone I respect is worth more to me than gold. Because of that, I try to say that to people when I genuinely feel that way. They aren’t mind readers. They deserve to be told. And it’s so easy to do.
I don’t understand why people don’t realize what a precious commodity their good opinion is to the recipient thereof. I mean, it has become increasingly obvious in a general sense. We like to be “liked” for our Facebook comments. Everyone loves to be “swiped right”. So you’d think we wouldn’t be so hesitant to say, “Good job!”
If you haven’t given someone a sincere compliment in the last 24 hours, you may want to sit down and think about why that is. Do you really have such a low opinion of the people around you? If so, poor you. It must be a miserable world that you live in.
Or do you think that your words won’t mean anything to others? To that I say poppycock. And even if your compliment means nothing to the recipient, it’s not like you have a limited supply and you need to use them sparingly. It’s good practice. How hard is it to say, “I like your shirt,” or “Well done!”
If we all committed to giving one extra compliment per day, I think it would make a palpable difference in this world, which currently seems to be so obsessed with hate and division. Give it a try. What have you got to lose?
Consider this to be a thought experiment. If your body were a separate, sentient being, and you were simply a parasite who rode around inside of it and dictated what it did, what would your body want to say to you? I’m fairly certain mine would be rather furious.
So, what follows is my attempt to voice my body’s opinions.
“Oh, HELL no! This has got to stop. My whole life, I’ve done every single thing you’ve asked of me.
“I have run, walked, jumped, and even danced to your tune. I’ve toted that barge and lifted that freakin’ bale. I’ve even climbed up the side of a volcano for you, for cryin’ out loud! I have fought off infections, suffered broken bones, survived illness and surgeries, and subjected myself to untold numbers of indignities, all for you. For you!
“And what have I gotten in return? Abuse. Pure and simple.
“You’ve pierced me, poked me, and put me in precarious shoes. You’ve sunburned me, dehydrated me, and exposed me to toxic substances. You’ve closed my fingers in doors. You’ve crashed me into things. You’ve dressed me funny. You do stuff you know is going to make me feel worse.
“You fill me with junk food. I don’t need it or want it, and still, in it goes! It’s like there’s this crappy food conveyor belt and you keep it piled high. Are you trying to turn my liver into foie gras?
“And do you exercise? Do you even take me for a freakin’ walk? Nooooooo… Not you. You’d rather sleep or binge-watch Star Trek. (Although I must admit, you give me plenty of rest, and then some.)
“And where’s the appreciation after all I’ve done for you? You don’t love me. You don’t even like me. You do nothing but criticize me. You have spent half your life being ashamed of me, and picking me apart for not meeting your standards. That’s the thanks I get.
“You are a kind person. I’ve seen you be kind to others every single day. It’s time you appreciated me for all I’ve done for you, Buddy-roo. It’s time for this relationship to become a two-way street. You’d be lost without me. Where’s the freakin’ love?”
A friend of mine recently pointed out that I have a thankless job. As a bridgetender, I’m always shocked to discover the vast number of people who don’t even know I exist. People tend to assume that all drawbridges are automated. They don’t realize how lucky they are that most aren’t. People can easily die on drawbridges. We’re talking about millions of pounds of steel and concrete in motion. You really want someone there who can think independently; someone who actually cares about your safety.
But oddly enough, I’ve never really thought my job was thankless. Actually, thanks has never been something I’ve even considered one way or another. Granted, it’s a rare boater who thanks me for opening the bridge for them. Pedestrians and commuters certainly don’t thank me for slowing them down. In fact, I’ve had things thrown at me more than once.
There was one vessel captain in Florida who would give us gift certificates to Red Lobster every Christmas. That made me feel good, but I looked at it as a delightful surprise. It is nice to be appreciated, but for me it’s not a requirement.
When I think of what I need for job satisfaction, thanks doesn’t enter into it for me. I’m sure the criteria is different for everyone, but for me to be satisfied with my job, the thing I need more than anything else is to be left alone to work within clearly defined parameters. I do not thrive on drama. I don’t go in for office politics. I prefer to work independently. Of course, adequate compensation and benefits are quite nice as well. If I were only able to flourish in a career that gave me frequent opportunities for positive feedback, I wouldn’t have lasted for two days as a bridgetender.
I think one of the best pieces of advice I could give to someone who is making job satisfaction a priority is to find out what you need to feel content in the workplace, and then seek out a career field that will provide those things to you. There’s no right or wrong answer. Only you can answer that question for yourself.
What would make you happy? Being a caregiver? Producing things with your hands? Being creative? Once you know what rocks your world, you’ll know what to do. Ignore what your inner voice is urging you toward at your emotional peril.
Oh joy! The sun is out! The sky is blue! I feel like dancing.
At this time of year in Seattle, sunshine is a precious gift; one not to be taken for granted. It’s like manna from heaven. You can almost hear a choir singing down every solar ray. Laaaaaaa…
On the other hand, in Florida I dreaded the sun. It was always there, sucking the life out of me, making the air as thick and humid as bathwater, covering me in sticky, stinky sweat. I used to scoff at the tourists who reveled in it until they burned to a crisp.
Having had sun poisoning before, I can tell you that it is a most unpleasant experience. I literally turned purple. I blistered. I had a fever and vomited for days. I longed for a peaceful death. After that it became normal for me to avoid the sun at all costs.
But here in Seattle when the sun comes out, you cherish it. You revel in it. You rejoice!
It seems like a contradiction, but by being deprived of the sun, I have been given the gift of the sun! I shall never take it for granted again. How lucky am I? Deprivation is the best thing that has ever happened to me.
It seems rather simple to me. The more you give, the more likely you will be to receive. And even when I don’t receive, I just feel better when I give.
One of the things I try to do regularly is send out kudos e-mails here at work. I don’t know why people find it so hard to recognize and compliment the good works of others, but since I know I appreciate it when people do that for me, I try to do it for others as well. I’ll write the e-mail to their supervisor, my supervisor, the division head, and the person in question. I’ll simply state the good work that was done and how much it is appreciated. I’ll only do this if I sincerely feel it. (People can tell when you’re being fake.)
I also try to keep in mind what people find interesting, and then when I hear something new about that topic, I share it with them. People genuinely like being thought about. I know I do. When someone says, “This made me think of you,” it feels like a hug to me.
I’ve known plenty of selfish people in my lifetime. What I’ve observed is that when you turf guard or hoard the good things for yourself, or put your needs ahead those of everyone else, people stop trusting you. They don’t like you. They’ll hesitate to help you in your time of need. And you will therefore become even more bitter, selfish and angry. It’s a downward spiral.
The best way to stay off that spiral is to give, even if you’re fairly certain you’ll get nothing in return. Give, even when it doesn’t feel pleasant. Give, and let the universe take care of whether that giving was deserved. It’s not always easy. But in the end you, and everyone in your circle of influence, will be much better for it.