Follow by Email

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Practicing Gratitude, Part II

This second post on practicing gratitude, as suggested by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, includes my responses to what the Center recommends to maintain the practice.

These comments, in bold, are based on my 30 years of teaching journal writing in both academic and adult ed venues.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

TIME REQUIRED
15 minutes per day, at least once per week for at least two weeks. Studies suggest that writing in a gratitude journal three times per week might actually have a greater impact on our happiness than journaling every day.

Comment #1:
I’d suggest writing three times a week and putting those days and times on your calendar. Of course, the days and times might vary each week, and that’s fine.

Plan to write between 10 – 20 minutes each time. You can always write for a longer time, but I'd maintain the minimum of 10 minutes.

*****

HOW TO DO IT
There’s no wrong way to keep a gratitude journal, but here are some general instructions as you get started.

Comment #2:
There are more and less productive ways to keep a journal. Especially for new and/or blocked journal writers, using certain techniques might help make the process more meaningful and worthwhile--especially when confronting a blank page. 

Such techniques might include freewriting; the monologue; and the dialogue.

*****


Write down up to five things for which you feel grateful.

Comment #3:
I’m not sure you need a maximum or minimum number of things to be grateful for. One day you might have three, and another day 20. I’d be open to whatever number naturally comes up.

*****


The physical record is important—don’t just do this exercise in your head. The things you list can be relatively small in importance (“The tasty sandwich I had for lunch today.”) or relatively large (“My sister gave birth to a healthy baby boy.”). The goal of the exercise is to remember a good event, experience, person, or thing in your life—then enjoy the good emotions that come with it.

Comment #4:
Absolutely agree about the physical act of writing vs. thinking.

*****


As you write, here are nine important tips:

Be as specific as possible—specificity is key to fostering gratitude. “I’m grateful that my co-workers brought me soup when I was sick on Tuesday” will be more effective than “I’m grateful for my co-workers.”

Comment #5:
I’d be even more specific: what are the co-workers’ names? What kind of soup? What were you sick with?

*****


Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular person or thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.

Comment #6:
In other words, tell the story of the experience that you’re grateful, including the person’s name, the day/date, the place, etc.


*****


Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.

Comment #7:
Again, people usually do certain things that make us grateful, i.e., they act in a certain way. So describe the who, what, when, and where of those actions.


*****


Try subtraction, not just addition. Consider what your life would be like without certain people or things, rather than just tallying up all the good stuff. Be grateful for the negative outcomes you avoided, escaped, prevented, or turned into something positive—try not to take that good fortune for granted.

Comment #8:
The idea of taking a negative in our lives and turning it into something positive puts me in mind of this quote from the Dalai Lama in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World: “the three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”

Reframe, from the online Cambridge dictionary: “to change the way something is expressed or considered.” So we take a negative event and reframe it such that we squeeze something positive from it. Much like making lemonade from lemons, eh?

*****


See good things as “gifts.” Thinking of the good things in your life as gifts guards against taking them for granted. Try to relish and savor the gifts you’ve received.

Comment #9:
Agree.

*****


Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.

Comment #10:
I’m not sure this is different from the first tip; once you are specific, you can include the fact that the event was unexpected or surprising.


*****

Revise if you repeat. Writing about some of the same people and things is OK, but zero in on a different aspect in detail.

Comment #11:
Well, sure.

*****


Write regularly. Whether you write every other day or once a week, commit to a regular time to journal, then honor that commitment. But…

Don’t overdo it. Evidence suggests writing occasionally (1-3 times per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. That might be because we adapt to positive events and can soon become numb to them—that’s why it helps to savor surprises.

Comment #12:
See Comment #1 above.


*****


And if anyone wants to contact me about their experience of keeping a gratitude journal, please do so at madmoon55@hotmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.



Thursday, February 8, 2018

Practicing Gratitude, Part I

It wasn’t until I was past 50 that I realized how much growing up in an alcoholic home had affected me. Once acknowledged, I found my way to a support group for families of alcoholics. And though most people there were dealing with active drinkers—their spouses and/or adult children—I came away with two valuable lessons from my time there: to be grateful and to serve others.

In other words, when experiencing what may seem the worst of times in our lives—no matter the cause—it really is helpful to spend some time focusing on the positive. And to make that focus a regular practice.

This may not be news to those who live their ethical, philosophical or religious values; such people regularly experience the psychological rewards of being grateful and of serving others. Still, isn’t it grand to know that science now provides evidence for such rewards?

That is the goal of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley “[which] is developing research-based exercises that promote happiness, resilience, kindness, and connection.”

On the Center’s website, there’s a list of such practices, including how they can help us become more compassionate, optimistic, forgiving, and happy, among others.

As for becoming more grateful, following is one of the suggested practices from the Center—keeping a gratitude journal—and tips on how to do it.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

TIME REQUIRED
15 minutes per day, at least once per week for at least two weeks. Studies suggest that writing in a gratitude journal three times per week might actually have a greater impact on our happiness than journaling every day.

HOW TO DO IT
There’s no wrong way to keep a gratitude journal, but here are some general instructions as you get started.

Write down up to five things for which you feel grateful. The physical record is important—don’t just do this exercise in your head. The things you list can be relatively small in importance (“The tasty sandwich I had for lunch today.”) or relatively large (“My sister gave birth to a healthy baby boy.”). The goal of the exercise is to remember a good event, experience, person, or thing in your life—then enjoy the good emotions that come with it.

As you write, here are nine important tips:

Be as specific as possible—specificity is key to fostering gratitude. “I’m grateful that my co-workers brought me soup when I was sick on Tuesday” will be more effective than “I’m grateful for my co-workers.”

Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular person or thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.

Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.

Try subtraction, not just addition. Consider what your life would be like without certain people or things, rather than just tallying up all the good stuff. Be grateful for the negative outcomes you avoided, escaped, prevented, or turned into something positive—try not to take that good fortune for granted.

See good things as “gifts.” Thinking of the good things in your life as gifts guards against taking them for granted. Try to relish and savor the gifts you’ve received.

Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.

Revise if you repeat. Writing about some of the same people and things is OK, but zero in on a different aspect in detail.

Write regularly. Whether you write every other day or once a week, commit to a regular time to journal, then honor that commitment. But…

Don’t overdo it. Evidence suggests writing occasionally (1-3 times per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. That might be because we adapt to positive events and can soon become numb to them—that’s why it helps to savor surprises.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As for why this is a worthwhile practice, click on WHY YOU SHOULD TRY IT on the following link:




Thursday, February 1, 2018

On Not Going Gentle Into Retirement

I passed retirement age nearly 10 years ago, just a few short months after my book was published. In some ways, I felt like I was just getting started, though I’d already been self-employed as a teacher and writer for over 20 years.

I’d employed myself shortly after earning an M.A in English in 1988, at age 45. I had seriously considered becoming a full-time academic after that, and was even accepted into a Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois/Chicago, with a concentration in teaching college writing.

Then I had to consider the very slim possibility of getting a tenured position while nearing 50. Even less likely—as I slowly realized—was that I’d actually enjoy teaching 18 year olds how to write for the next 15, 20, or more years. I’d already been doing that as adjunct faculty and, though I loved teaching writing, I was not so crazy about teaching students who weren’t all that interested in learning.

Hence, the self-employment option.

And so in 1991, I began designing and teaching writing and journal writing workshops for adults, in both adult education and professional venues, and as a private writing coach. And while it’s not been the easiest professional road to travel, it has been, and continues to be, extremely satisfying. And so I’ve no desire or intention to stop.

And I’m not alone, of course. Many of us agers want to keep working, and not just for the income. Following are excerpts from a New York Times article featuring four professionals, ages 70 – 96, who give their reasons why:

Jack B. Weinstein, 96 year-old judge:
“I’m a better judge, in some respects, than when I was younger. I don’t remember names. But I listen more. And I’m more compassionate. I see things from more angles. If you are doing interesting work, you want to continue.”

Adolfo Calovini, 82 year-old high school teacher:
“To me, teaching is about life. This is what I do. I can’t see a time when I wouldn’t.”

Eric R. Kandel, 88 year-old neuroscientist:
“I like what I do,” he said. “Keeping engaged keeps you intellectually alive. I wouldn’t be surprised if it enhanced longevity.”

Laura Popper, 71 year-old pediatrician:
“There’s no part of me that wants to retire. If you have something you love, there’s nothing else.”

There’s more worth reading in the article, no matter where you are in your working life;


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Come and explore how work, among other factors, might figure in
your own aging process:

The Purpose of Aging, Aging with Purpose:
A Journal Writing Workshop
Thursday, February 15, 2018, 6 – 8 pm
7430 N. Ridge Blvd, Chicago


For more information re: fee and registration, please contact me at madmoon55@hotmail.com or 773.981.2282.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

I Was There: 1968

Philip LaChapelle and I were already married when 1968 began, but had not yet moved to New York, where he was to resume his studies at Columbia University. They’d been interrupted by his tour of duty in Vietnam, from which he’d returned less than a year earlier.

While in Chicago, Philip had been hired by City News Bureau, a local wire service that groomed its reporters to work in one of the four Chicago daily newspapers that existed at the time. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1733.html

Meanwhile, I was professionally adrift, having finished two years of college, but without any goals beyond that. To accommodate myself to Philip’s late night work schedule, I took a job as an admitting clerk at Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital just west of the Loop. Philip would get off work, then swing by and pick me up, and home we’d go to our basement apartment at North Avenue & Austin Blvd.

I was a news junkie before meeting and marrying Philip; the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 had kept the entire nation—and my family—glued to the TV screen for days. Then in 1965, the Vietnam war became “[t]he first ‘living-room war’,” with Americans watching reports from the front nightly on their TVs. http://www.museum.tv/eotv/vietnamonte.htm

Three years later, the anti-war movement was also big TV news, especially during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  Protestors from all over the country gathered in Grant Park during August 23 – 28 of that year. Philip and I were among them, though not, fortunately, on the last night, during the “Battle of Michigan Avenue,” when the terrible violence erupted.



All of these images—and many more—came to mind when I read the article by David Waters, “Forces of chaos, seeds of change,” in Monday’s USA Today. A collection of facts, events, quotes, and names from 1968, the piece includes the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Immediately following King's murder, rioting erupted on Chicago's west side. The next morning, Philip and I drove the almost-empty streets, seeing the devastation, though never leaving the car. At one point, we were wedged between two slow-moving National Guard vehicles, making me feel somewhat safer. 

That ended though as we later rode past a north side housing project. Along with a handful of other cars, ours was fired at by a sniper in one of the buildings. I remember all of us quickly pulling over to the shoulder, then jumping out of our cars and taking cover behind them.

There was a lot more cultural and political upheaval going on in 1968, the year I turned 25. And though living in Chicago--and being married to an anti-war vet who was also a reporter--may have placed me closer to some of it, all of the "revolutions" that occurred, or began, in a mere 365 days changed my life forever.

To read more about that pivotal year, especially if you also lived it: