Focused Living, One Month at a Time

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Challenge #5, November 2011: GIVING THANKS

I will write and mail a hand written thank you note every day to someone I am grateful to.


“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
—Melody Beattie


How it went
This has BY FAR been the most rewarding challenge yet, and the most fun as well.  My goal was to send a personal old-fashioned (snail mail, NOT the all too convenient email!) letter to 30 people in my life, including a thank you for something.  Instead of just a one day obligatory American holiday where we all mainly express our brief gratitude at the table before stuffing ourselves with our families, I wanted to turn Thanksgiving into a month of connecting with people, most who I knew fairly well but some not, to personally express why I am grateful for something they have either done for me, or for others, or for the world in general.  
I had so much fun at the beginning of the month picking out the cards I was going to use - each one different and many of them collected over many years, of various sizes and styles.  Most were blank inside, with nothing to start from, only the empty page awaiting my message.  What I found the most rewarding was to literally stop and focus on the person for the ten or twenty minutes (or a few times more than that), and think about what I was grateful to them for and how to best express it to them.  Most of the time once I started, the text would just flow and it was easy to then fill up the page.  And I mailed them all with the perfect accent piece:  a colorful groovy heartsy-flowery love stamp!

I thanked my mom and dad in advance for not worrying about all my upcoming travels over the next six weeks, and included copies of my flight itineraries.  I thanked a woman who I had met a few months ago for the wonderful recipe she had sent to me, told her how I had adapted it a bit, and sent her one of my own favorites.  I thanked a new dear friend for loaning me her trail running shoes while camping in the Grand Canyon when my ancient hiking boots fell apart the second day of the trip - it was pure luck that we wore the same size!  I thanked my boyfriend’s mom for being such a good mother to both of her sons and such an amazing care-taking role model.  And I thanked other people I knew in various capacities for the work they do and how carefully and thoughtfully they do it, and let them know that it was recognized and appreciated, by me at least.  One of the most unusual notes I wrote was to a friend who’s dog had recently died, and who he was very close to.  I transformed a sincere sympathy note into also a thank you note, by appreciating his generosity toward animals through all of the philanthropy and support he gives to animal and conservation organizations throughout the world – that was an interesting one to write.
Probably my favorite was the very last letter to a man I met in person just once. He may well have accomplished more than anyone to protect California’s amazing coastline over the past 30 years.  He is a thoughtful, dedicated, peaceful man who is now retired and battling cancer but I wanted him to know how much his life’s work was appreciated by me and no doubt so many others.
I found that instead of doing one card every day, it was easier to get in a gratitude mood and group about 5 or 6 of them together at a time.  The feeling I had after completing a batch often lasted a few hours or more, so it was like my own personal pick-me-up – it was like taking a happy pill with only good side effects – others were likely benefiting as well.  Who doesn’t like to be appreciated, for whatever reason?

Take Away
Sometimes I heard back from the folks I sent notes to, more often I didn’t.  This didn’t matter to me either way – as I said, it just felt good to me to think that I had possibly brightened the recipients day when they got the note.  The people I did hear back from were universally appreciative, often surprised, and for me getting that reaction was like a second dose of the happy pill, this could get addicting!
Overall, I just think many of us may have lost the practice of simple, noticeable, daily gratitude to others in our lives, and this month was a rousing success for me as a way to bring that back in full force into my own life.  I also rediscovered that I enjoy handwriting - haven’t done much of this since I have become addicted to my laptop.  It is quite a different thought process vs. slapping the computer keys and instantly editing myself.  I will continue to write more of these kinds of notes more often – I think they are valuable, definitely to me and hopefully to the recipients as well.