Help me figure this one out.

A few nights ago I was at my local chapter of Women Who Wine. For those of you unfamiliar with the group, it’s essentially a gathering of philanthropically-minded women who get together once a month to raise awareness of a charity and, naturally, drink wine.

At the end of the evening, after we’ve heard from the charity representative, we go around one by one, introduce ourselves, and answer that night’s question. The prompt that night was, “How do you stay grounded and stop you first world problems from bringing you down?”

In other words, the question was, “How do you stay grateful and keep everything in perspective?” My kind of question.

The responses floored me. Here was a group of doctors, lawyers, professors, and business executives, and each and every one of them said they kept their own problems in perspective by serving others. The doctors fought for their cancer patients. The lawyers did pro bono cases to help a victim of domestic abuse gain custody of her children. The professors mentored promising, but first-generation college students. Even the business executives talked about their roles serving food in the soup kitchen.

These women were not expressing their gratitude for the comforts they had that others did not have. They were expressing their gratitude that they were simply able to offer their skills and talents to help others. Each and every one of them spoke about how lucky they were, not because they had a lot of things, but because they could share those things.

The distinction holds an amazing secret about what makes us grateful. I’m still trying to put my finger on it, but for now, let me just say I am grateful to be part of such an inspiring community.

Stepping across the line

So yesterday’s gratitude challenge was to set sail from our comfort zones and in doing so, find a new source of gratitude. Let’s be frank: I hate leaving my comfort zone. When I do so, I suddenly become prone to nervous blushing, hand-wringing and playing distractedly with my hair.

When I sat down today in a room full of homeless people, I am embarrassed to say I experienced all of the above. The worst part of it is that I am a bleeding heart, help-everyone-I-can type of person. Yet I pretend to help from afar, rather than actually interact with those in need of my help. This is probably why I’m a fundraiser. I want to do my part, but I don’t want to get my hands dirty.

But today, I dove in. I spoke with these amazingly resilient people about their housing needs, the lack of mental health care available to them, and how we can make sure everyone has access to the food bank. Was I out of my comfort zone? Absolutely. Did I leave with a newfound sense of gratitude? You bet.

It wasn’t the superior breed of gratitude that I think is far too common. Not the “I’m grateful because I have more than they do” type. It was genuine thankfulness for getting to have real conversations with incredibly interesting people who have experienced challenges I will most likely never face myself, and therefore never learn from without their help. I felt not only gratitude, but privilege.

So many of us stay in our comfort zones. We walk the dog in our own neighborhood; we socialize with coworkers; we even read the books our book club decides on. But what happens when we step out of our little bubble? We realize everything we’re grateful for is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s just a hint of what else we can find out there.

Good luck with this week’s gratitude challenge, and I hope you feel as empowered as I did today!

Let’s act out

This evening I attended an awards ceremony for the local chapter of Business Professional Women (BPW), a women’s group (obviously) that focuses on various political, social and professional efforts in our community. The main part of the event was a “speak off” between the two finalists for the Young Careerist award.

The first got up and gave a very solid speech on how BPW has helped her grow as a person, both professionally and outside of work. Everyone cheered, and, quite honestly, I thought she would be the winner.

And then the second speaker took her turn. She talked about how, as the owner of her own small business, she had made a conscious decision to bring politics into her photography company. Her reasoning was simple: “There are so many politically-minded women and men out there whose employers strongly discourage any sort of activism, one way or another. I’m one of the lucky few who can say, ‘This is my business, my politics.’ I can have a voice.”

And she does. She absolutely does. Much of her photography revolves around those money makers–weddings, family portraits, senior pictures. But she makes a point to use her artistic abilities to lobby for what she believes in: marriage equality, a woman’s right to choose, and the fight for equal pay.

Listening to her speak, I felt myself nodding in agreement, not only with her values, but with her fortitude. She is an incredibly strong young woman. Looking around the room, I saw dozens more just like her. Me, I tend to be on the quiet side of the activism spectrum, though my beliefs are unwavering. I prefer to float along and keep everyone happy and at peace.

But tonight was different. Tonight I was grateful to be influenced by these amazingly unyielding, positively forceful women. To all you strong ladies out there, I’m taking notes.

Running to the pub

This St. Patrick’s Day, my town wore green, dressed up like leprechauns, drank Guinness, and… ran a half marathon. 

I cheered them on. There is no way anyone can convince me to run a race, especially anything over a 5K. So I filled up water cups, clapped, rang cowbells, and hollered encouragement to these thousands of runners who had committed their St. Patrick’s Day morning to running 13.1 miles to raise money for our local homeless shelter.

After my volunteer shift was over, I headed downtown to the finish line. Dozens of my friends were down there, and we all enjoyed a pint together while we waited to hear the winners announced.

Halfway through my Guinness came my gratitude source for today. The race director called up his fiancee, who just so happens to be the volunteer coordinator of the homeless shelter that was the race’s beneficiary. In years past, the race had raised one or two thousand dollars for local non-profits. However, the race was recently listed in Runner’s World magazine, causing interest (and therefore race registrations) to spike. 

“I’ve got a check here for this great local charity,” the race director said, reaching behind him for an oversized foam check. “Looks like you all stepped up this year, because it’s for ten grand.”

His fiancee burst into tears, happy, happy tears for everything that money could do for the homeless families her organization serves in our town. The crowd went wild, and at least half of us had happy tears swimming in our eyes as well.

So I’m grateful for Guinness and whiskey, sure. But I’m even more grateful to be part of a community that will run tens of thousands of combined miles to make sure everyone has a home.

The Versatile Blogger Award

We are taking a break from our regularly scheduled dose of gratitude to say congrats to The Versatile Bloggers!

If you’re nominated, you’ve already won The Versatile Blogger Award. Congratulations!

How It Works:

#1 – Thank the blogger who nominated you and include a link to their site.
#2 – Copy and paste the award to your blog.
#3 – Share 7 random facts about yourself.
#4 – Nominate 5 bloggers and include links to their sites as well.
#5 – Let the other bloggers know that you have nominated them.

The Versatile Blogger Award Itself

VersatileBloggerAward

Thank you to the wonderfully sassy blogger who nominated me: Lil Miss Fox

If you need a pick-me-up, a great “Top 5” list, or a good laugh, be sure to check out her blog!

Now on to my 7 Random Facts:

1. I am secretly saving up to buy another wedding dress. Not because I’m planning a second wedding, but because I LOVE wedding dresses.

2. I purposely buy puzzles for my genius dog, then invite friends’ dogs over to show how smart my dog is in comparison. For the record, I am not proud of this.

3. I tell everyone I’m of Irish descent, when in actuality, my ancestors came straight over from Germany. Thank God I married an Irishman and could take his last name to fool people.

4. My all-time favorite book is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Read it. You will fall in love.

5. I once traveled to Ireland just because I read a poem about it. If you would like to hop on a plane and do the same thing, check out Seamus Heaney’s “Postscript.”

6. Okay everyone, don’t hate me for this: I used to think blogging was kind of dorky. Then I started doing it, and it’s become a joy I look forward to every day.

7. The next trip I’m taking is to Italy and I. Can’t. Wait.

And now onto the nominees! Congratulations if you are one of them, and thanks to all of you for sharing your blog with the world.

Jonathan & Rebecca – These two have got the simple life dialed.

The Happsters – A whole blog that focuses on spreading happiness? Yes, please.

The Ambiguity of Fences – I’m fascinated with borders, and this blog illustrates them so well.

Lesley Carter – One part blogging, one part traveling.

courtingmadness – The place to go for some very witty writing.

Want more? Give more.

I work in fundraising for a non-profit, and today I had the opportunity to witness a whole lot of gratitude. Surprisingly, it wasn’t from someone who needed our services, but from someone who was supporting our services–a bride and groom who were “registering” with our organization for their wedding.

That’s right. Instead of heading over to Crate and Barrel or Macy’s, this couple decided to request that their wedding guests make donations in their honor to the non-profit where I happen to work. The bride and I sat down over a cup of coffee this morning and hashed out a plan to get their guests really inspired to give. I was falling all over myself, thanking her for everything their support could do for our organization. But I don’t think I was the most grateful one at the table. She couldn’t stop talking about how excited she was to be involved with our non-profit, and how excited she was to get their friends and family involved.

That’s when I remembered the secret to instant gratitude: Give more! Don’t believe me? Check out this article from a few years back: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/opinion/17kristof.html?emc=eta1&_r=0

See? When we give more of ourselves, we feel grateful for what we’re able to contribute, and that equals a heaping helping of happy. Giving–whether it’s financially, through volunteering, or emotionally–makes us realize we are part of something bigger. It gives us an instantaneous dose of the warm fuzzies, and encourages us to build community. Though being grateful for the things we have might seem easy, it might just be a whole lot easier to be thankful for the things we give away.

Now, just because I write the word “wedding” and think back to my own wedding, please indulge me by allowing me to share my favorite shot from our wedding last summer:

Image

Yeah, we were feeling the gratitude that day. Thanks for giving me (haha, get it? Giving?) that moment of self-indulgence. Now back to our scheduled programming.

When have you been grateful to donate your time or efforts to something? Let’s share our ideas with one another and spread some gratitude opportunities!

Top 5 gratitude lessons learned in February

Here we are in the last day of February! Today, I am grateful for this coldest and dreariest of winter months coming to a close. That, and VAWA passing, but we’ll have that conversation at a future date. To end the month on a high note, I’ve compiled the top 5 lessons I’ve learned in my first weeks of this project. Here we go…

5. People bring the happiness in our lives.

It’s not things that we should be grateful for, but people. I probably could have predicted this one prior to starting this blog, but it was a bit surprising to see how few things came up in my posts.

4. Be grateful for challenges.

A few of these posts, especially “Cooking up some love” and “Let’s explore diabetes with owls,” were about how challenges can really make us better people. That is certainly something to be grateful for.

3. Be grateful for the journey.

Let’s revisit “Just the two of us.” In that particular post, I explored how much I want to have kids some day, just not right now. Right now is about Right. Now. And I’m enjoying it immensely. That being said…

2. It’s easier to recognize past reasons for gratitude than current reasons.

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. When it comes to gratitude, that means it’s much easier to be grateful for things that happened in the past than things that are happening in the present. I’ll make a conscientious effort to move away from too many (I remember when…) posts in the future. It’s time to be grateful for today!

1. When in doubt, look to your dog.

Or other grateful people for that matter. The point is, surround yourself with those who live lives of gratitude and you’ll absorb some of their happiness through pure osmosis. 

So there we have it! Watch out March, there’s a whole lot of gratitude headed your way!

A magic little pocket of community

Exercise is touted as the cure-all for anything in our lives that needs curing. Need to lose weight? Exercise. Need more energy? Exercise. Feeling down? Just exercise! Okay fine, we get it. But how many of us, after a long day of work, cooking dinner for our family, and taking five minutes to ourselves to relax, actually have time to get off the couch and head for a walk in the hills?

On evenings like these, it takes our entire town to get me outside. My husband and I are lucky enough to have a little apartment a stone’s throw from our town’s community mecca, Peet’s Hill. It’s where all the city trails meet, where dogs romp off-leash, and where kids go sledding from dawn til dawn after the first snowfall of the year. Here’s a view of the hill, taken in the spring:

Peet's Hill view

 

A bit blurry, but you get the idea. It’s beautiful, with panoramic vistas of the mountains and an overlook that allows visitors to really breathe in the town. Now these views are great, absolutely, and they’re certainly a contributing factor to why half the town can be found walking the hill on a sunny Saturday. But it’s the undeniable feeling of community that gathers everyone on Peet’s into one giant hug that brings me an unfailing burst of gratitude every time I’m up there.

Yesterday was one of those difficult days in which I needed to change my perspective. It was a Saturday, but I had a few very stressful hours of work to finish, and that rare February sunshine was out in full force, taunting me. So I finished my project, ran home, grabbed my dog, Bailey, and the two of us trekked our way through the melting snow and slippery ice to the top of Peet’s. As we walked, we heard parents laughing as their children flew over jumps on the sledding hill; we saw a bald eagle circle overhead; we heard the greetings of friends and acquaintances; we smelled the fresh air that can only be found in Montana; and I felt a smile on my face that melted away the stress and frustration of my morning. Bailey, in agreement, wagged his tail.

So it’s not exercise for the sake of exercise that gets me out of the house every day. It’s the feeling of gratitude I experience when my community reminds me that I am part of something much, much bigger than my own little trials and dramas.

What about you? What is it about your community that makes you feel grateful?