Will you still be my friend?

We haven’t talked in ages, and it’s all my fault.

My excuse – I was thesising!

Don’t be mad. I was working on my thesis. But I received my Master’s degree in December 2015 so I’m done. Do you wanna hang out now?

my diploma
It’s official!

My thesis is titled The Use of Facebook by Older Adults. I conducted interviews and observations of a wonderful, generous group of folks over age 65 and analyzed the results. The project was a challenge, one I wasn’t sure I was up to. As it turns out, I made things harder for myself than they needed to be. (Shocker!)

I discuss this in a guest blog post I was invited to write for the Thesis & Dissertation Office at Northern Illinois University. I thought I’d share it here so you’d have an idea what I’ve been up to.

Guest Blog — Connections Matter

Thanks for giving me another chance. Now let’s talk about you!

Thanksgiving, gratitude, and wiser holiday shopping

Black Friday rolls toward us in a tsunami of spending.

tsunami wave with a dollar sign
Tsunami of spending

But there is a way we can resist the onslaught of commercialism with our sanity and our wallets intact: gratitude.

Remembering all we are grateful for

If we are mindful of all the blessings in our lives, we are better able to resist the temptation to spend too much.

table set for Thanksgiving dinner
Counting our blessings

In his column “How to Defeat the Impulse Buy” in the New York Times, David DeSteno discusses his study on impulse buying. His findings reveal a lot about our spending habits.

Willpower alone isn’t enough

Willpower alone doesn’t help curb impulse spending, according to DeSteno, and in fact relying on willpower alone will lead to failure. Marketers have perfected the time-pressured sales pitch of Black Friday and the holiday season in general.

ad for Black Friday saying entire store is 30 percent off
Time-pressured marketing on Black Friday

Instead of relying on willpower, we need to cultivate gratitude.

Gratitude leads to what DeSteno calls “financial patience,” the ability to give up the immediate gratification of a purchase today in exchange for a purchase in the future. Study participants who felt grateful had twice as much financial patience. The takeaway for us is that financial patience can help us resist the temptation of those moonlight madness deals.

Cultivating gratitude can help us stick to a budget

Being mindful of all we have to be grateful for can help us stick to our budgets. And it can restore our ability to think clearly in the face of amazing deals, never-this-low prices, and limited quantities available.

This year when I go out shopping I plan to take a gratitude list. What about you? Will you give this a try?

 

I lost 13 pounds in half an hour!

Okay, so I lost the weight from my closet, but hey, it’s still 13 pounds! (Yes, I actually got on the scale and weighed the piles of clothing.)

piles of clothing
What I cleaned out of my closet.

  Continue reading “I lost 13 pounds in half an hour!”

Who are you grateful for?

One of the ways I’ve found to live a healthier, more mindful life is to reflect on what I’m grateful for. As I mentioned in an earlier post, keeping a gratitude journal helps me focus on the people and things I am lucky to have in my life.

Today I’m thankful for the ways my sisters help and support me. I can always count on them, whenever I’m teetering on the edge of hopelessness, to reel me back in. I wrote about them yesterday in my gratitude journal.

My gratitude journal entry about my sisters
My gratitude journal entry about my sisters

No matter what I do, my sisters still love me. And it hasn’t always been easy. Growing up I was the bossy older sister. (Actually, sometimes I still am!) But somehow they’ve gotten past all my obnoxious behavior and now they’re my own personal cheering squad. And I’m theirs.

For some reason I can no longer recall, we used to call each other “piggy,” which wasn’t an insult but rather a term of endearment. And we spoke our own piggy dialect (not pig Latin), which involved bizarre accents and inside jokes. Sometimes we still call each other piggy.

three cartoon pigs
The Piggy Sisters

My sisters live thousands of miles away, but we’ve managed to stay close in the ways that matter. It didn’t happen automatically, of course. We had to work at it. We had to stay in touch. We had to talk openly and honestly.

And we had to appreciate each other.

30 words. That’s all I wrote in my journal. It’s amazing how powerful the simple act of writing something down is. I can’t wait to call my sisters this weekend.

Who are you grateful for?

When was the last time you told them?

An Attitude of Gratitude

On Facebook recently a friend challenged me to name 3 things I was grateful for every day for a week. I didn’t make it. Does that mean I’m an ungrateful wretch? I hope not.

grumpy cat staring straight at you
Ungrateful? Moi?!

The truth is that I was frustrated by trying to come up with 3 fresh items for my gratitude list without repeating myself. But if I felt blessed to have such wonderful friends on Monday, surely I felt the same on Thursday. Since the point of the challenge was to open my mind rather than make me cranky, I gave up in frustration and embarrassment.

Luckily I found this article on the website for the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California. It offers 6 sensible and easy tips for keeping a gratitude journal which made which made me feel better about the whole stupid challenge. Here’s a quick summary of their tips:

6 Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal

  1. Easy does it. Don’t expect to write in your journal every day. Let go of expectations that can snuff out our good intentions.
  2. Decide that you really want to feel more grateful. Just writing stuff down won’t magically change your attitude. The point is to become more mindful.
  3. Go for quality over quantity. Instead of making a long list, stick to just a few things, or even just one, and then explore that in depth.
  4. Yes, things are nice, but thinking about the people we’re grateful for will result in a greater change in our outlook.
  5. When something good happens unexpectedly, write it down. These happy surprises can touch us deeply if we slow down and let them sink in.
  6. If you’re stumped, think about what it would be like if you didn’t know certain people or have certain things.

Number 3 really resonated with me: quality over quantity. It’s easy to say, “I’m thankful for my friend Lucy.” But to take a pause and dwell on what makes Lucy so special, what my life would be like without her friendship (see #6 above), that to me lays the groundwork for a practice of real gratitude.

So I rushed right out and got myself a small notebook in which to jot down the people and things I am thankful for.

gratitude journal
My gratitude journal

One of the things I am very grateful for is photography, especially outdoors. I love approaching a subject from multiple angles and trying to capture a mood, or a meaning, that I might otherwise have just walked by. And I’m thankful for the magic that happens when a shot that I thought was terrible turns out to be good. That’s what happened with this photo, which I took on a trip to Seaside, Oregon with my family.

heron in the river in Seaside, Oregon
Heron in the river in Seaside, Oregon

I had fun editing this photo and applying different effects. I wanted the image to feel dramatic, and I wanted to emphasize the rhythmic element of the ripples in the water. Looking at this picture reminds me of the fun we had on that vacation, walking on the beach, cooking each other meals, and watching Mel Brook’s movie Young Frankenstein. I guess photos are another way to chronicle who and what we’re grateful for.

Why is there so much stuff?!

I moved recently from an apartment to a townhouse and the process overwhelmed me. How had I managed to fit all this stuff into a one-bedroom apartment? Some of it held sentimental value, of course, but much of it was just taking up space. A look at my bookshelves provided insight into the larger problem. The shelves were crowded with volumes I rarely looked at:

  • collections of crochet patterns, which I now prefer to browse for online;
  • Shakespeare’s plays (from the days when I could afford a subscription to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater);
  • gardening books (not useful for apartment dwellers);
  • user manuals for software and devices I no longer owned;
  • textbooks from my (long ago) days as an undergrad;
  • books I felt I should read but probably never would.

I walked past these shelves every day but I wasn’t actually seeing what was on them. I had accumulated much of this clutter by default, simply by not paying attention to what I had and what I really needed. Broadening my gaze to the rest of the apartment, I found the same problem everywhere: too much stuff. I was reminded of comedian George Carlin’s classic routine about stuff:

I felt better after watching George’s routine, but I still needed a plan, a system, to make sense of the chaos. I didn’t have a system of my own, so I decided to borrow someone else’s. I went to the Flylady blog, written by Marla Cilley. Flylady is a guru for those of us who need help with organizing and cleaning, cheerfully reminding us to take baby steps and learn to do a little bit every day. Her page on moving offered some liberating advice: If you don’t love it, don’t move it.

To get rid of clutter, or “decluttering” as she calls it, Flylady recommends getting 3 boxes or bins (laundry baskets work well for this) and using them to sort things into 3 piles:

  1. Put away
  2. Give away
  3. Throw away

I started with the books. At first, her system seemed harsh. How could I let go of things I had owned for decades? But gradually, as space opened up on the bookshelves, I started to feel better. I hadn’t realized how much all this stuff weighed me down. Letting go made me feel lighter. Freer. Relieved. I continued moving through the apartment, letting go of things I no longer needed or wanted. I regularly donated boxes of clothes, books, and household goods to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. I liked to think about the people I might be helping this way. I reminded myself how lucky I was to be in a position to help others. Interesting the way that giving often leads to gratitude.

I’d like to claim that I thoroughly simplified my life in that one move, but I didn’t. I held on to many things out of fear that I might need them in some far-off future. When I started unpacking at the new place I was dismayed by how much I had schlepped with me. So I got out 3 boxes, sorted things into piles and made daily trips to Goodwill. I’ve learned that living this way is a process, and a never-ending one. New stuff will always find its way into my home, so I need to make uncluttering a regular habit. When I buy a new book, which I am bound to do, I need to get rid of an old one.

I’ve found several rewards for my efforts. Dusting has gotten easier. I have more room to display the items I really treasure, like the brass samovar from my uncle’s travels. I don’t dread going into my closet to search for something to wear. And I have a place now that feels not just tidier, but more spacious, more serene, more welcoming. More like home.