A Note About Thank You Notes

If you live in Canada, like myself, this past weekend was Thanksgiving weekend. There are so many fun traditions and things to celebrate and indulge in. I spent mine with my family and ate more turkey and pumpkin pie than I thought possible. It was so great.

I have a lot of half-finished blog post ideas floating around my head and my note books and I didn’t know what to share about this week – but since there is a general theme of thankfulness and gratitude going on right now I thought I would do a little update on the Gratitude Project and think about why it’s important to sustain the spirit of thanksgiving far past the family dinners and trips to the pumpkin patch.

Project Update

Writing “Project Update” sounds much more formal that what this is, but I do want to share a few reflections of what it is like to write a thank you note a day (or try to and then realize you’ve forgotten for three days – nobody’s perfect guys and I’ve definitely missed a note here and there). The first thing is that, sending thank you notes fills your heart with love. It makes you remember little things and big things and old memories and reasons why you love people. It helps you connect with others and fosters relationships and reminds people that you love them. It is hard to be grumpy about your day when you sit down to thank someone for something.

Writing thank you notes out of the blue can feel a bit strange – I have started so many of my notes with “this is so random but…” . Saying thank you , especially for things that are general like a person’s friendship or support over years rather than a specific act, isn’t something I found myself doing very often before this project. However, building this practice into my life has been a great way to see the world and practice gratitude in different ways. Even though it might seem weird to write a thank you note for someone just “being” in your life , and you might feel like you’re living in Jimmy Fallon’s Thank You Note segment, I think you should embrace it and write them anyway.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about fighting for friendship and I think this is a great way to do it. The week of that post I wrote thank you notes to some of the friends that inspired it and thanked them for inspiring me, for being wonderful and named their qualities that I admired. It wasn’t your usual “thank you for doing this thing for me” note , it was more of an I appreciate you and am so thankful for your existence. But you know what, it felt so good to name those things. To tell those people how much they meant to me. I love celebrating people not just for the individual things they do for me but for the person they are and the way they light up my life on a daily basis.

Thanksgiving Everyday

So I want you to think about thank you notes from a new perspective today, and try writing one that is out of the ordinary. Maybe it starts with “this is so random but…” or maybe it’s thanking someone for being a generally wonderful person and the way they inspire you, or maybe you don’t write it to a person. My last type of thank you note I’ve experimented with is writing lists (because if you know me well you know I love lists) about all the things in a day I am thankful for. It can be a little prayer of thanksgiving or list a list in your journal or planner of all the things that you’re thankful for in a day – whatever floats your boat.

When we practice giving thanks everyday we see how many blessings we have in our lives. Things we take for grated: our friends and family; dance parties in the car; the beach; having a safe place to call home; bubble baths; sunshine; the smell of cilantro; community; ice coffee; health care and counsellors; scones; coffee shops; coral lipstick; a closet of clothes; feeling creative and inspired; people who are patient; Chihuahuas; sharing the things I love with people who I love; driving at night with the windows down and warm summer breezes blowing around you; people who encourage you.

There are so many things to be thankful for, I could list more (my friends often joke that I’m like Julie Andrews listing all of her favourite things in The Sound Of Music) but I’ll just say this – thanksgiving is a wonderful time of year but the spirit of gratitude it represents can be a part of how you live everyday if you’re intentional.

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“I believe my life will see, the love I give, returned to me”

The quote in the header is a John Mayer lyric, the title of this blog is a reference to a John Mayer lyric and lately I’ve been quoting him in everyday conversations. I don’t know what’s up but lets just go with it…

The final reflection, and this seems self-serving but it’s honest, is that often when you tell people how much they matter to you they reciprocate. And not that you should give compliments or say you care about someone so that they will return the compliment, it’s also nice to hear. Sometimes you’ll get stuck in a flurry that becomes a compliment battle because you and your friend love each other so much no one can have the last word on how great you are. You should obviously not give compliments to receive them, but I’ve discovered from telling friends and loved ones they matter to me very deeply, is that I’ve found a deep sense of love sent back to me.

 

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Excellence > Perfection

Happy Wednesday friends! This week’s post is going to be short and sweet. I’m talking about perfection and  touching on a few different categories of wellness!

Why write perfectionism in a wellness blog?

I think that being mindful of perfectionism is in line with the “striving for congruent wellness” theme of this blog. Avoiding holding yourself to a standard to perfectionism can be difficult, especially for people who tend to be self-proclaimed perfectionists (me!) but it is an unattainable goal that we shouldn’t hold ourselves to. Perfectionism is unhealthy and eclipses successes you’re making in all areas of wellness.

Serving up Lattes & Words of Wisdom

I started working at a coffee shop this summer and one of my favourite parts are the interactions I have with customers. There are the lovely families with little kids, the regular who never fails to get a soy green tea latte, and the memorable moments. I’m what you might call “hyperbolically enthusiastic” and this is especially true when I’m talking to customers; “Great!” , “Awesome!” , “Perfect!”, are all responses you could hear from me in response to you successfully tapping your credit card on the card reader.

Last week I used the word perfect to describe something along those lines and the customer asked me if I knew what perfect meant. He went on to tell me that there was an important distinction between perfection and excellence, saying that excellence is a level you strive for without being perfect. I smiled and wrote down what he said after he left because it struck a cord with me – and that is that its okay not to aim for perfection. I think I often focus on letting myself off the hook for not being perfect, but what if perfect simply ceased to be the goal?

Well, Well, Wellness

In relational, spiritual, physical, emotional and mental wellness, we’re never going to achieve perfection. And we don’t have to either. When we give ourselves and the people we love the room to be imperfect, relationships flourish. When we stop striving for perfection in our lives we emotionally “give ourselves a break”, and when we realize the only way to have a “perfect” body is to stop eating fun food – it’s clear, for me, to see that chocolate cake is better than abs.

I have a small collection of quotes that jumped out at me when thinking about perfection and what it means and why it’s beautiful to explore alternatives to perfection. Rather than write long paragraphs about why I think it’s wonderful to embrace that we weren’t meant to live perfect lives, I’m going to let these words that inspire me speak for themselves:

  • “You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” – Brené Brown
  • “The problem [with being a perfectionist] is this : those of us who are never satisfied with our accomplishments secretly believe nobody will love us unless we’re perfect. We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds to the people we love, but they are.” – Donald Miller
  • “I will hold myself to a standard of grace not perfection.” – Emily Ley
  • “We need to stop trying to attain perfection because we are good enough already” – Iskra Lawrence

If you need more convincing, take it from my girl Anne Hathaway :

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Here is to an imperfect, but excellent Wednesday!

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Make it into Art

I’ve always loved making art. When I was in elementary school it was my favourite subject and I was lucky to grow up in a home that encouraged creativity and artistic expression. This week I’m talking about the power art has to teach you new things, how it can help you process emotions, and the ways which creativity makes life better.

Benefits of Artistic & Creative Practices

Even if you’ve never painted or thought of yourself as artistic, you might want to consider exploring art. A study by Girija Kaimal, cited in Study Says Making Art Reduces Stress, found that “45 minutes of creative activity significantly lessens stress in the body, regardless of artistic experience or talent”. The study goes on to explain that making art can relieve stress for anyone. So why not stop by your local arts and crafts store and invest in some art supplies that could help you reduce stress?

I’m currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and it felt fitting while writing this post I came across the line in her book “while the paths and outcomes of creative living will vary wildly from person to person, I can guarantee you this: A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.” You don’t have to believe me, but take it from Liz, creativity is crucial.

My friend, and former camp counsellor, Nicki Gallo wrote a really cool article, I Played Every Day for a Month And This Is What Happened, about incorporating play and creativity into your everyday life. She wrote “One doesn’t have to wait for vacation or the weekend to bank up all our play days. We can invite play into our daily lives. It can be simple and weird and whatever you want it to be.” I love this idea and the reminder that creativity and playfulness truly can be incorporated into everyday life.

A Range of Applications

Art is a stress reliever and creativity makes life more interesting and enjoyable, but why else is art important and cool and helpful? I’m glad you asked. Art is more than just pretty pictures, it can be used in a wide range of ways to process emotions, stressful or traumatic experiences, or as a source of knowledge. Allow me to introduce you to Art Therapy & Performative Inquiry.

Art therapy is the use of “art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem” (American Art Therapy Association). Giving it Form: Exploring Conflict Through Art by Marian Leibmann explains art therapy can “help people work toward creative solutions… using art to explore conflict can help us to increase our understanding of conflict in a holistic way”. An experience of this I have encountered is when I had the opportunity to hear Shannon Moroney speak at a gallery about her experiences of trauma and the incredible way art helped her to express herself in a way she couldn’t with words.

Performative Inquiry is a concept so obscure it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. It is a perspective that argues art as a way to do research and develop new knowledge about the world. The Production of Knowledge in Artistic Research by Henk Borgdorff states that “research in and through artistic practices is partly concerned with our perception, our understanding, our relationship to the world and to other people. Art thereby invites reflection”. I got to explore this concept in my final university term and through my own assignments I realized making art truly does have the power to produce new knowledge and help you to see the world in a new way.

Creating art can be such a cathartic experience, as Carrie Fisher once said “Take your broken heart, and make it into art”.  I really love that quote (hence the title of this post) and I have found from experience that art can be a powerful avenue to express hard emotions and find healing.

Yes YOU can make Art

We are all amateurs at some point, but it does no good to limit yourself because everyone starts somewhere. Comparing your first painting to a Van Gogh is silly. Comparing your shower singing to a Grammy award winner doesn’t seem fair. When you remove the standard that you are trying to live up to you can appreciate yourself and your creations for what they are.

Exhibit A: Last year I was in a course that required I do an art project, so I bought a watercolour palette. When I was done with the project I kept painting because I had so much fun with it and it has become one of my favourite types of self-care. I’m not planning gallery shows anytime soon but I try to dedicate time a few days a week, even just 15 minutes, to paint and be creative and I really enjoy it!

Recently someone told me they aren’t artistic because they can’t paint and that made me sad because there is so much more to art than that. Art comes in many forms; writing, photography, painting, drawing, dancing, music, etc.

So what is this week’s take away?

Making art has the capacity to help you work through complex emotions, discover new things through artistic research, or it can just be a fun way to de-stress. Creativity is important, making art – even if you’re really bad at it – can make you feel happier, and I highly encourage you to do something artistic in the coming days.

The Gratitude Project

Welcome back to another week and another post on the blog! Today I am excited to write about the importance of expressing gratitude, how it can make you happier, strengthen your relationships, and how I’m planning on incorporating it into my life in the coming year.

Lessons on Giving Thanks 

When I was in grade seven I had an incredible teacher named Mrs. Fleisig. She was my English teacher, but she was much more than that. She’s one of those teachers that really shaped my life, enough that she’s still inspiring and impacting me 10 years after I was in her class.

In the fall, around thanksgiving, she asked our class to think about somebody we were grateful for. She asked us to write down why we were thankful for that person and to think deeply about what they had done in our lives to impact us and what qualities they possessed that we admired.

Then she asked us to write them a thank you letter outlining all of that, to share how we appreciated them and express gratitude for their influence in our lives. The assignment was then to deliver or mail our letters.

I had so much fun with it I think I actually did three. I can still remember the reaction of friends when they got them because it was so unexpected and that’s when I got hooked on thank you notes.

Gratitude & Attitude

It’s fantastic how simple it is to let someone know that you value them and are thankful for them, and the positive impact they have had on you. And how great does it feel to be on the receiving end of that kind of gratitude? Telling people how much they mean to you not only makes you feel more postive and thankful but it also reinforces relationships because you’re telling people you value them.

An article called Giving thanks can make you happier, published by Harvard Health Publications at Harvard Medical School suggested that “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships”.

The article also suggested that writing thank-you notes, thanking someone mentally when you can’t send them a note, keeping a gratitude journal, counting your blessings, prayer, and meditation are a few ways that people could cultivate gratitude in their daily lives.

A media production group called SoulPancake makes inspirational videos. One of my favourites is An Experiment in Gratitude | The Science of Happiness which uses the research from the Giving thanks can make you happier article and turns it into a visual experience. Their video shows an experiment with a similar activity as my school assignment but rather than mailing the letters the person calls the person they wrote the letter to and read it to them. If you have seven spare minutes in your day and are in need of a smile I would highly recommend checking it out!

Taking Stock of What You’re Grateful For

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, and to lose perspective on life sometimes, but one of my favourite ways to gain a better perspective or to manage feeling stressed is to think about all the good things in my life.

There is a blog post I love called On Thanksgiving: What I Feel vs What I Know. It’s a poem that has stretched my perspective on the knowledge of goodness in your life when you feel like you’ve got nothing going for you. It reminds me that no matter what I’m feeling, and especially when I’m feeling down, to take stock of the goodness in my life. My favourite lines are:

So do not despair.

For there is more than what we feel.

There are things missing in every single room.

But there is even more not missing.

So don’t be blinded by the ghosts.

Don’t let them glow brighter than your friends.

Don’t let them glow brighter than your family.

Be present.

Fight to be present.

Even when we feel sad and overwhelmed, our lives are full of goodness. Being intentional about remembering that is very important and has a big impact on our general happiness.

Earlier this summer I bought a ring at a little beach shop near my cottage with 10 little cut out hearts in it. If I’m having a particularly hard day, or even just having a moment of feeling overwhelmed I try to stop myself and before I get lost in the stress of it all I fiddle with the ring and think of 10 good things.

Stopping yourself from focusing on the negative and affirming that the good things in your day, week, or life outweigh the negative can have a huge impact on your perspective and help you to better manage frustrating situations from a place of love and grace.

The Project

If you’ve made it this far into the post you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m a big fan expressing gratitude. I like making room in my bullet journal (or any type of planner or notebook) to make daily lists of all the people, things or events I can think of that made me happy that day.

I think showing gratitude through thank you notes is a wonderful way to encourage others and make yourself feel good by taking on a perspective of thankfulness SO with this post I’m going to kick off something I’m calling The Gratitude Project. For the next year I’m going to write a thank you note every day.

Making lists of things and people you’re thankful for is all good but I want to go one step further. The thank you note project will encourage mindfulness of what I am thankful for while also showing gratitude to people who brighten up my life and letting them know how much I value them and the little and big things they do to contribute to my life.

They might range from notes to cards to emails to phone calls, but from now until August 2nd 2018 I am planning to make a point of saying thank you to someone everyday. That is a lot of thank you notes, but I’m confident I’m not going to run out of people or things to be thankful for.

And this is YOUR invitation to join the party! Do you have:

  • A favourite prof who had an incredibly positive impact on you?
  • A family member who you can always count on for support?
  • A coworker who embodies teamwork and is always willing to help you out?
  • A friend who recently got you a spontaneous gift?
  • A parent who lets you borrow their car on a very regular basis?
  • An elementary school teacher who you still tell stories about because they were great?
  • A friend who is a major source of encouragement in your life?
  • A neighbour who helps you out with shoveling snow or mowing the lawn?

If you said yes to any of those, or if you didn’t but you have someone else in mind who you’re thankful for, try writing one thank you card to that person.

Here is to 365 days of saying thank you!

Preemptive Champagne

The other day I bought “preemptive champagne”. Okay, it was sparkling rosé, not champagne, but it’s close enough and within my post-university budget.

Anyway, I bought this champagne and I don’t have an occasion for it. But I believe that I will soon, not because of imminent plans coming up but because I have faith that good things happen even when I don’t see them coming.

To me, preemptive champagne represents hope and optimism for the future. I trust that life is worth celebrating and it’s never a bad idea to have something on hand to celebrate with. It doesn’t have to be champagne – it is just less of a mouthful than “preemptive non-perishable celebratory food items and/ or beverages”.

When Trials aren’t Trivial 

It can be hard to see growth if you’re feeling stuck or if you’re struggling at work or school. To quote the Friends theme song, maybe “it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year”. You might have something big weighing on you or a lot of small things have piled up. Some days are just hard, you fail a midterm, have a disagreement with someone you love, you feel like you’re in a rut where you are, whatever it is for you, we all have hard days.

And that’s okay. It’s okay to have days like that. It’s necessary to face the facts and admit that every day can’t be the best. However, it is important not to live in that mindset.

Getting caught up in difficult seasons and feeling like they’ll last forever is easy but it’s crucial to remember that they won’t. Several studies have found that positive thinking is good for our mental and physical health. In addition, optimistic outlooks help us overcome challenges. Have a grey day, allow yourself to feel the feelings that demand to be felt, but prepare for great days to come. Acquire balloons for a party you haven’t planned, buy celebratory non-perishable food items, make plans for brighter days and trust that they will come.

Plants & Perspective

A hopeful mindset and a keen eye for things to celebrate will make a difference in your life and how you see the world around you. When you operate from a perspective of “looking forward to the things worth celebrating” rather than “there isn’t anything to celebrate right now” you infuse your life with optimism.

Small steps forward eventually get you farther ahead on the road of your life. If you wanted to run 10 kilometres today and you only made it 5 kilometres, then celebrate those 5 because that is still good. Keep a can of champagne (yes that’s a thing) ready for when you finally sign a lease after a drawn-out apartment hunt, buy yourself cupcakes to share with friends after surviving a challenging week, and make a habit of commemorating little things. Life is worth celebrating so don’t be afraid to do it more often.

If you haven’t heard me talk about my plants recently, I’ve become obsessed with my mini indoor garden of succulents and cacti. My bedroom is slowly turning into a green house and I lost count of how many plants I had at 15, but that is beside the point.

Earlier this week my friend and I were exchanging photos of our plants, comparing them against photos we’d taken when we got them a few months ago and marvelling at how much they’d grown. I know, I know, we’re plant moms. I hadn’t realized how big they had gotten, and just like my cacti we often don’t notice how much growth is happening around us. Look carefully at your life to see areas of growth and success you might be overlooking that deserve recognition.

Celebrate good times, come on!

My aunt used to tell me that I should always try to get multiple birthday parties out of each of my birthdays and to celebrate as much as possible. This is why I have instated “birthday eve”. Life is good and we should celebrate more. Stay hopeful and believe that good things are happening in your life. Even if you don’t feel like you have anything to celebrate right now, take a note from Kool & The Gang and go out and buy something to celebrate anyway because you never know when good things are around the corner.

No matter what season of life you find yourself in, I hope this encourages you to look at the world through a more optimistic lens or to think about how you can celebrate life and celebrate more often.

Cultivating Goodness

Lately I have felt that the season of life I am in is focused on cultivating goodness. What I mean by that is that I am intentional about surrounding myself with things that bring me joy and I am conscious of recognizing and being thankful for the abundant blessings in my life. I like the word “cultivating” because it represents doing something actively to nurture or help something grow. It represents intentional actions to plant things into my life that will make it blossom.

The book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up talks about this concept in the context of cleaning your house, you pick up items and ask “does this bring me joy?” and unless the answer is yes, or it is a necessary item, you get rid of it. I’ve been trying to apply that idea to my life by filling my days with things that bring me joy: investing in people who make me feel good, volunteering my time for projects that stimulate my creativity, buying WAY too many plants to live on my window sill, and thrift shopping a lot because its the cheapest form of retail therapy. It’s also helpful to remind myself that when things don’t go as I planned, that doesn’t necessarily mean that things are going wrong. It is easy to have days that make you feel defeated or lose your optimism but it’s important to believe that in the grand scheme of things, life is good; to paraphrase Daniel 3:18, “And if not, He is still good.”

For myself, gratitude is a major part of ‘cultivating goodness’, because as nice as it is to buy lots of cute succulents and interesting books and go for coffee dates with friends  – that isn’t going to make your life good. Your life is already good. To quote the epic 1993 film Cool Runnings “a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.” I think the same concept applies to filling your life with good things; life is already full of so much goodness, and you have to be able to recognize and appreciate what you already have – or else the things you add to your life with will soon be forgotten. If you don’t trust me, in her TED Talk, The Price of Invulnerability , Dr. Brené Brown says, to that live a remarkable life we must “practice gratitude and honour what is ordinary about our lives because that is what is truly extraordinary”.

When I’m having a bad day or I’m not feeling like myself, I find it helpful to catalogue all the things that bring me joy. It’s a reminder that the good always outweigh the bad in life, and it gives me a fresh perspective on staying positive. I have a running list in the Notes app on my phone of things that make me happy, and whenever I notice something new, I add it to the list. I always start with the people who fill my life to the brim with love and work outward to the little things I am thankful for. The list I have is long enough for multiple blog posts of its own, but some examples are:

  • Sitting on park benches reading books and soaking up sunshine
  • Drinking vanilla ice coffee
  • High waisted jeans
  • The smell of cilantro
  • Friends that make me laugh
  • The privilege to have free time to volunteer for things I care about
  • Making dinner with my mom
  • Bright pink manicures
  • Reading books that comfort me, give me hope, and inspire me to think differently
  • Forests of Forget-Me-Nots
  • The smell of lilacs blooming
  • The taste of lime
  • The colour cadmium yellow
  • Birds singing
  • Sunsets
  • Singing in my car with friends
  • Singing badly in my car alone
  • Drinking tea in bed
  • Coral lipstick
  • Bubble baths
  • Hearing songs in public that remind you of old memories and make you smile from ear to ear
  • Dance parties
  • Scones
  • Watercolour painting
  • Cozy rainy days
  • Camp fires on the beach

As the landscape of my life changes I’ve begun to realize the importance of having faith that things are going to work out the way they should and recognizing that every day doesn’t need to be the happiest day, for it to still be saturated in goodness.

I know that I am writing from a very fortunate place; I am lucky to have a beautiful life and a lot of wonderful things going for me, I have an amazing family and lovely friends and I just graduated from university. But trust me, 2017 has handed me a lot of tough days and the best way I’ve learned to manage them is by remembering that the good always outweighs the bad. Even on my worst day, I know that there are things to be thankful for.

This week I encourage you to try making your own list of things that bring you joy and be intentional to notice the little things that make you happy, because when you add them all up you’ll see even more clearly how good life is.