Appreciation vs. Gratitude

This week I’ve been reading Kate Northrup’s new book Do Less (and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a chronic do-er like me!). I want to share something that really jumped out at me, that may be helpful to you. She recommends focusing on appreciation, as opposed to gratitude. She says “appreciation has an even more attractive vibration than gratitude because it’s purely about noticing what we like about what’s in front of us instead of gratitude, which is often about liking what’s in front of us as compared to what could be in front of us or what used to be in front of us.”

This is a really fascinating distinction to me. I’ve talked before about the importance of gratitude (here) and I still think it’s vital to feel and express it, but she makes a very interesting point. Appreciation may be an even more powerful tool. Appreciation feels easier and lighter to me than gratitude. I think this is because often when I’m grateful for something, there’s a tiny bit of fear mixed in. Like, I’m grateful that we’re all healthy (because that might change in the future).

Gratitude can also involve judgment—I’m grateful for something because it benefits me in some way—but appreciation just is. It’s the difference between being grateful for sunshine on your beach vacation (because rain would keep you inside and that would suck) and appreciating how the sunlight sparkles on the water as you sit by the ocean.

Northrup says, “I can simultaneously feel an energy of gratitude that my daughter is taking an awesome nap that I know will last another 40 minutes at least. But this is more in contrast to how it used to be when her naps were unpredictable and often lasted only 20 minutes. Do you see the difference? … How I feel about my daughter napping right now has to do with the moment but more in terms of how this moment relates to a moment in the past and feels better than it used to. … Both of these feelings have a place, for sure, but what we want to be shooting for as often as possible is pure appreciation for what’s in front of us, as opposed to gratitude for what’s in front of us in contrast to how bad it could be or how bad it used to be. Make sense? It’s a quarter turn that will make a world of difference.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear your take on this! Hit reply to this email and let me know, or comment below!

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On Community, Creating, and Pushing Past the Fear

This past weekend I was reminded—again—of the essential nature of community, and the vital importance of sharing our true selves. We are wired to seek out others with whom we feel like we “belong.” As Brené Brown says in Braving the Wilderness, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.”

Even those of us who are introverts want to feel that connection with others who get us and support us. Brown also says, “Never underestimate the power of being seen.” And yet, in order to truly feel like we belong, we have to show up as our authentic selves.

In a creative setting, where we’re putting out something we made, it can feel like we’re offering up a piece of our soul. I find that to be so risky emotionally. Brown agrees: “True belonging is not passive. It's not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It's not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it's safer. It's a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.”

But the rewards for that risk are great—when you’re accepted for who you are, or your work touches others, it’s deeply satisfying. I work at home and really miss the camaraderie of coworkers. Online groups fill part of the gap, but I also crave personal connection.

Last weekend I had the chance to go to the opening of an exhibit featuring a painting that includes one of my poems. And although it meant driving eight hours to Houston over on Friday and back again on Sunday—and I was nervous because I’d also have to read my poem aloud at the event (risk!)—I grabbed that chance. What made it even better was that I’d get to stay with one of my dearest friends, whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. To be able to spend uninterrupted time catching up with her is a rare treat, and immensely nourishing. (More connection!)

The exhibit was called Color:Story 2019, by amazing artists Leslie Gaworecki and Marlo Saucedo. I met Leslie at Lucky Star Art Camp. Last year she put out a request for words to feature in a collaborative work with Marlo, so I submitted my poem “What If.” I was thrilled when they chose it, and even more so when I saw the finished piece (pic below, and more on my Facebook page).

It felt amazing to be part of a collaboration like that. Then they decided to create more pieces along those lines, and were approved to exhibit them in a show. I figured the opening would be fun, and I knew it would meet my desire for connection, but I didn’t anticipate how very much it would fill my soul.

Their space is a huge warehouse subdivided into studios, and before the opening we were able to wander around and see all the other artists. Being in a place dedicated solely to creativity, I felt a special kind of energy that was inspiring and rejuvenating. (It also made my hands itch with the desire to grab a brush and start painting!!)

It was incredible to see my piece in person, and all the other beautiful pieces in the show. The other writers’ work was amazing. And then hearing that work read aloud, and feeling the appreciation of the crowd, brought a whole new level of energy.

It wasn’t quite enough energy to keep me from being increasingly nervous about my turn. But since my poem actually talks about feeling the fear and doing it anyway, I couldn’t possibly back down! I managed to read it all without losing my place or misspeaking—or tripping on the way up—and afterward, several people told me how much they liked it. That meant the world to me. Writers so often send our word babies out into the universe and don’t hear anything back…to get affirmation that our words touched someone makes all the effort, uncertainty, and fear worthwhile.

Seeing such a large group gathered to support the writers and artists was fantastic. It was like getting an infusion of love and appreciation. And seeing all of the artists gathered in that studio space, inspiring and encouraging each other, really brought home to me how important it is for creatives to have a community. Whether it’s “in real life” or virtual, having others who understand the challenges you face and can cheer you on is invaluable.

Especially when we’re starting out, that inner critic can really be loud, and can stop us before we have a chance to get going. Sharing with others who have been there before, who struggle with their own inner critics, really helps us keep going.

And then having others appreciate your work when it’s out there in the world—wow. We create because we have to—because there’s something inside of us that wants to be born, and if we don’t let it out, part of us withers away. We also create to bring joy, or solace, or inspiration to others. Our own pain or happiness, while personal in detail, is universal in feeling. Sharing it heals both the creator and the viewer. Everyone is lifted up. It’s magic, and I’m grateful to have finally gotten to a place in my life where I can experience it for myself.

If you’re feeling that urge to put something out there, remember this. If even one person is touched, it’s worth the vulnerability and the risk. The world needs your voice. Each of us has something unique to share, and someone else needs to hear it because it will benefit them. Don’t let fear keep your voice bottled up inside. Something that can really help you push past fear and doubt is the book The Artist’s Way. Read that, and find your community, and as Rumi says, “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal.” The risk is great, but the reward is enormous.

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Remembering Joy and Goodness

My friend Keri Wilt, great-great-granddaughter of Frances Hodgson Burnett and author of the blog FHB and Me, recently sent out this post and I wanted to share it with you. She has some wonderful ideas about how we can remind ourselves every day of all the joy and goodness in our lives.

She quotes writer Marianne Williamson, who said, “Joy is what happens when we allows ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” This is truly the key to feeling joy every day. Even during tough times, we can always find something positive to appreciate. I think you’ll love Keri’s idea for gathering up goodness!

Read her full post here.

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The Big 7 Ways to Boost Happiness (Quickly and for Free!)

I just got these 7 tips on how to boost your happiness in Sonia Sommer’s “Wellness Wednesday” email and had to share them with you! Here’s what she says:

I used to struggle with depression and anxiety. For years. If this is you, I know how it feels mate. I thought I'd stay like that for my whole life.

But I didn't.

These days, I jump out of bed feeling joy. Even when life serves up the shit sandwich, emotions pass through very quickly and I go right back to my new baseline of genuine happiness.

You're supposed to feel happy most of the time too. That's why I've been throwing joy spaghetti on your walls lately, so that something will stick.

It's actually natural to feel joyful. Stress and anxiety are an unnatural state.

Joy tip #4 the Big 7

My fantastic colleague Brian Johnson sent me this and I have to share it with you because it's a beaut summary of many of the methods I used to create my happiness baseline. 

This comes from a compilation of research by Neil Pasricha, author of "The Happiness Equation."

If you do any of these seven things for two straight weeks, you will feel happier.

Three Walks + The 20-Minute Replay + Random Acts of Kindness + A Complete Unplug + Hit Flow + 2-Minute Meditations + Five Gratitudes

Let’s take a super quick look at our Big 7 ways to boost our happiness and remember that science says the Happiness Equation STARTS with happiness.

It’s Happiness —> Great work —> Success NOT Great Work —> Success —> Happiness.

1. Three Walks. Exercise is as effective as Zoloft in reducing depression. Even just three brisk walks can do the trick! Remember that *not* exercising is like taking a depressant and get out there and MOVE YOUR BODY.

2. The 20-Minute Replay. Writing for 20 minutes about a positive experience is a GREAT way to boost your happiness. Scientists call it savoring. Groove the good stuff!

3. Random Acts of Kindness. Did you know that THE fastest, most reliable way to boost your mood is to do something nice for someone else? Yep. Find ways to do something nice!
 
4. A Complete Unplug. We’ve gotta make waves. Fully on. Fully off. Repeat. Are you training your RECOVERY as much as your “on” phases? Remember that it’s not that we work too hard but that we don’t recover enough. 
 
5. Hit Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tells us that the optimal state of human experience is found when we are engaged in activities that stretch us such that the challenges match our skills. Too much challenge = anxiety. Too little = boredom. The right match? FLOW. Find it!
 
6. 2-Minute Meditations. Meditation is huge. I meditate every single day because it's changed my whole life. You don’t need to be a levitating monk in the Himalayas to experience significant benefits. Even just a couple minutes a day keeps the gremlins away.
 
7. Five Gratitudes. As Neil says, “If you can be happy with the simple things, then it will be simple to be happy.” Find things to be grateful for and focus on them often. What are YOU grateful for today?

Thanks Brian. That's awesome!

I'm loving the 20 minute replay. It's like mainlining joy !

Which ones are you going to try today ?

xox, Sonia

Aren’t those tips amazing? If you’d like more info on Sonia Sommer and what she offers, check out her website at www.soniasommer.com.

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Zoom in on the Good

I’ve been participating in The 100 Day Project, where you choose an activity and do it for 100 days, posting on Instagram as you go. Many of the projects are art-related; I decided that mine would be to create something new every day, either with art or words.

The first few days I was pleasantly surprised by what I produced. Then on Day 8, I hit a wall. I’d been busy and wasn’t able to do anything until late in the day. I had an idea of what I wanted, but what ended up on the paper did not match the vision in my head at all. I really didn’t like and didn't want to share this piece. However, there wasn’t time to start over, and I wasn’t about to miss a day so early in the project.

Then I discovered that if I zoomed in tight on one corner, I liked what I saw—a lot. So I took that picture. And it struck me that this could be a sort of metaphor for life. No matter what the big picture looks like, we can always zoom in on at least one detail and find something we like. We can focus on that area and feel appreciation for it, which shifts us into a positive mindset of gratitude rather than a negative one. And even if nothing about the big picture changes, if we stay focused on that feeling of gratitude for what we do like, we will feel better.

Appreciation and gratitude are so powerful. Studies have shown that feeling grateful actually improves our physical and psychological health. That’s pretty amazing. And in my experience, when I consciously seek things to appreciate, I seem to encounter them more and more.

So my reminder to myself, for the rest of this project and beyond, is to zoom in on the good whenever possible.  As this quote from William Arthur Ward puts it, “Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” Happy Thanksgiving! ;-)

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