What’s in Your Gratitude Jar?
If you are a consumer of news like me then I imagine your anxiety levels are higher than normal given all the chaos and strife in the US and around world these days. Unfortunately, we all have learned to operate in this new normal state of uncertainty, much of which is beyond our control. However, my being a Jewish gay man further fuels my already-heightened angst because my very existence is under attack from lawmakers as well as ideological extremists everywhere.
Before you stop reading further because by now your heart rate has increased, I want to share some tools that help me lower my blood pressure and maintain sanity in what I call life’s constant roller coaster. One technique I learned during the pandemic, to help control my stress, was to only listen to the news on my favorite NPR station versus watching it, because the images of death and despair were overwhelming.
Another way is taking long walks with our dog Bailey on the beach each morning because the peace and serenity of seeing the sun rising over the ocean calms the nerves and clears my head. I also box with a personal trainer because hitting something (punching boxing mitts, not his head) lets me safely blow off steam.
As an executive coach, a commonly used technique with clients struggling to make progress towards a goal is shifting their perspective away from what they cannot control by focusing on what they can control. Even the smallest step forward shows a person all is not lost and provides hope towards a brighter, more fulfilling day, week, and hopefully life.
Perhaps the simplest (and no-cost) action everyone can take is slowing down enough to “stop and smell the roses” more often, to remind ourselves there are things all around us we are grateful for. The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday is a perfect time to give it a try and see how it makes you feel.
Not only does this exercise help you focus on what’s important and make the holiday less stressful, but it is scientifically proven to lead to a healthier life. Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis, and author of the book Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, says “gratitude is a kind of ‘Velcro.’” In other words, embrace it and better mental and physical health will stick.
According to a 2003 study co-authored by Emmons, “…participants who wrote down things they were grateful for each day exercised more, had more energy, and reported less pain.” They also slept an average of 30 minutes more each night. He’s also found gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
A few weeks ago, the Board of Directors threw a little party for former Interim Director Lisa Evans to thank her for the time, energy, and expertise provided to CAMP Rehoboth during the leadership transition. Lisa loathes being in the spotlight so the typical laudatory speech-after-speech approach would not do the trick. As we brainstormed, board member Amanda Albanese suggested we present Lisa with a Gratitude Jar.
For those who are not familiar with the idea behind a gratitude jar, you write down something you’re grateful for on a piece of paper and place it in the jar. Some write down everything they can think of at the time; others continually add “gratitudes” throughout the year, and then draw one out at any time, especially when you are feeling down. Some do this as a family, with co-workers, or even just by themselves, as a way to be reminded of what’s good in their lives. It serves as a way to recharge the proverbial battery needed to tackle daily challenges.
The exercise was truly cathartic for the board and staff who contributed because it required those who worked closest with Lisa to reflect back and write down something she did that had a positive impact on each person. For me, Lisa’s nonprofit management expertise provided much-needed structure, process improvement, and employee development at a critical time in the organization’s history. Her compassion and oversight stabilized day-to-day operations, which allowed all of us to focus on the future—such as the strategic plan. (For more information about the Strategic Plan, check out Vice President Leslie Ledogar’s column on page 10.)
I will end by expressing my gratitude to: the board for their collaborative dedication to this great organization; the staff for their unwavering commitment to serve others; the volunteers who make it possible to deliver the breadth of services; those in the community whose financial support sustain our work; my friends who make me laugh when it is most needed; and my husband for being my cheerleader and partner along the way.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. ▼
Wesley Combs is CAMP Rehoboth Board President.