Tag Archives: Gratitude

Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons Why I’m Thankful for Books

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

A photo of the hands of a brown-skinned person who is wearing pink nail police and holding up a sign that says “thank you.” Here are some of the many reasons why I am thankful for books.

1. They’re an easy form of entertainment when I’m sick or injured.

2. They introduce readers to people from all walks of life. I’ve learned so much about other cultures from them!

3. They don’t come in arbitrary sizes that are somehow different in every single library or bookstore out there or require you to use a fitting room before selecting which paperback to bring home. (Can you tell I really don’t like shopping for clothes? Ha!)

4. They teach us about the world around us and how things work. This is especially true if you read nonfiction, but fiction can be educational as well.

5. They work when the power goes out. Unless you’re using an e-reader or listening to an audiobook, you never have to worry about draining the battery too much or charging a book up again.

6. They’re (often) soothing when you’ve had a bad day.

7. They (often) encourage readers to assume the best of others and work to make life more fair and harmonious for everyone…or at least many of the books I read do this!

8. They encourage the development of your imagination.

9. They introduce you to all sorts of lovely new people…just like the friendly folks I’ve met as a result of Top Ten Tuesday.

10. They’re a great bonding activity when you read a book aloud with kids or other adults.

11. They’re a free form of entertainment if you’re like me and also use your library card regularly. This is such an important thing for people who are lower income or who have a very limited entertainment budget for other reasons. I am so grateful.


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How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Makes Us Who We Are

If the embedded video doesn’t play, click here.

This is a 20 minute talk about how people find meaning in their own suffering without relying on supernatural or religious explanations for it. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, try skipping through the first half. The last 5-10 minutes is where this talk gets really good.

Andrew Solomon acknowledges that you can do this while still being really angry about what happened. You don’t have to say something is at all ok in order to find meaning in it.

Here is where I disagree with Andrew. I understand why he focuses so much on the circumstances that have spurred people into doing amazing things, but the former is much less important than the latter.  This is a minor quibble with an otherwise invigorating talk, though, and I suspect that he’d agree with me if we were sitting down to dinner. It’s hard to compress this kind of worldview into such a short amount of time.


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Small Kindnesses Blogsplash

Today I’m participating in a synchroblog on small kindnesses to help Fiona Robyn celebrate the release of her new book. 

I was 11 years old the first time it happened.

Pain blots away the past and future. There was only one moment that had ever existed and it was wrapped up in an intestine-curling, breath-stealing, sweat-beading illness that swooped into my life without warning.

Eventually an elimination diet helped me realize that my body was having serious issues with milk products. The less I ate dairy products the better I felt but rural Ohio in the 1990s was not an easy place to have food allergies.

There were few milk alternatives back then and even fewer people who understood that people with food allergies aren’t being picky.

Enter Mrs. C., my computer science and word processing teacher. At the end of the year she was also a chaperone for a field trip I went on with a dozen classmates. On the way home she treated us to ice cream. There was nothing on the menu I could eat so I quietly didn’t order anything.

She noticed right away and asked me why I wasn’t eating. I told her about my allergy and she grew quiet.

The field trip was on a Friday. That following Monday she called me to her desk at the end of class and gave me some colourful sticky notepads. She said she was sorry I couldn’t have ice cream but that I deserved some kind of treat.

I was so touched that she’d thought of me and gone out of her way to be inclusive.

Even all these years later her kindness makes me smile.



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How to Celebrate the Holidays When You Don’t Have an Extended Family

A new reader recently found this blog by searching for this phrase. It’s a great question, one in which is just as applicable for people who live far away from or haven’t formed a close or healthy relationship with  their extended family.

My family moved several times when I was growing up. For four years we lived on the opposite side of the country as all of our extended family members. When I was a teenager we often ended up attending three or four dinners in order to visit everyone over the holidays.

As an adult I decided to move to another country in order to marry the man that I loved. His parents and siblings don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas so most of time we’re on our own. In other words, I have quite a bit of experience celebrating holidays with and without extended family.

It was a little lonely at first but now I’m perfectly content with our two-person holidays. As much as I love travelling to the U.S. every few years over Christmas there’s something to be said for a quiet day at home on the off years.

The trick is to figure out what makes you happiest. Do you want to be alone over the holidays? Is spending time with one or two other people your sweet spot? Or maybe you want to squeeze as many friends around your dining room table as possible?I can’t answer these questions for you but I can offer up a few concrete ideas as you make plans for the next six weeks:

Go commune with the trees. If the weather is nice go for a long walk. Even in the winter nature is full of surprises and there’s nothing I love more than disappearing into a quiet park, desert or forest for a little while to see what it has to offer me today.

Find people in the same circumstances. Trust me, you are not the only person who will be celebrating alone or only with your nuclear family this year. If you need someone or several someones with whom to spend the day pay attention to what your coworkers, neighbours, fellow volunteers or acquaintances say over the next several weeks.

Photo by Boby Dimitrov.

Start a new tradition. Make your favourite meal. Volunteer somewhere. Pop a fresh bowl of popcorn and rent the least (or most!) holiday-related movie you can imagine. Go see what restaurants are open in your city. Play board games. Stay in bed all day with your significant other – what you two do in there is no one’s business but your own. 😉

Try something new. This tip depends on where you live but here in Toronto there are people from so many different cultures and religions that most holidays are not actually universal. Some areas of the city shut down on Christmas. Others are so heavily populated by groups who don’t consider it holy or special that December 25 is treated just like any other day. Restaurants in these neighbourhoods remain open and provide a wonderful opportunity to try new dishes.


How are you planning to celebrate the holidays this year?


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Thanksgiving Thoughts

This past year or so has been quite the roller coaster ride.  Drew and I have moved twice, had several relatives become seriously ill, said a permanent goodbye to two extended family members and dealt with a host of other life challenges.

This quote is one of the things that pulled me through some tough times. Even when I couldn’t possibly imagine how things would turn out ok…they eventually did.

The roughest waters seem to be behind us for the moment. I don’t know what lies around the next bend but I’m so grateful for everything we do have – each other, friends and family who stick around through thick and thin, enough money to pay the bills, and a warm, safe roof over our heads.

This Thanksgiving will be a quiet one. We won’t be participating in any of the traditional festivities. I’m not a fan of many of the foods one typically serves at Thanksgiving and neither of us feels the need to cook a big meal. Maybe we’ll start a new tradition instead?

My regular posting schedule resumes on Thursday. In the meantime Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian readers and happy Columbus Day to U.S. readers. May your day off include everything you like and nothing that you do not.

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The Gratitude Challenge: Part Two

Ok, time’s up. I hope you were able to find plenty of opportunities to express gratitude to all of the kind people in your life.

Now let’s take this a step further.

Think of someone in your life – a friend, family member, coworker, neighbour, or acquaintance – who really irritates you. This works better if it’s someone you see fairly regularly. (If you genuinely cannot think of anyone the rest of us will be happy to loan you one of ours. 😉 )

Once you have someone in mind, keep an eye on them. They will almost certainly once again do something that really pisses you off.

This is a good thing. Keep watching.

What are you looking for?

Something praise-worthy. Everyone has one of these moments sooner or later.

When you find it, thank them using as specific terms as possible. Don’t just say, “thanks.” Say something more like, “I really appreciated it when you ____. It means a lot to me when others do that. Thank you.”

Keep watching them. When it happens again, thank them again.

What I don’t expect you to do:

  • Like them.
  • Spend more time with them.
  • Feel like a bad person for finding X and Y so annoying.

All you need to do is genuinely thank them when they do something you appreciate. (It would be interesting to hear what their reactions are for those willing to share that sort of thing in public, though.)

I’m off to take my own advice. This is a much easier thing to preach than to practice, after all!


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The Gratitude Challenge: Part One

Your challenge today is to express gratitude.

I don’t think feeling gratitude is something most of us have to practice. Almost every time the topic has come up organically with friends or family everyone says that they’re grateful for all of the good stuff in their lives.

But I do think that we often have a problem expressing it. Why? I have no idea. If you have a theory I’d be interested in hearing it, though!

This is what I’d like us all to try: the next time someone does something you appreciate, thank them. Out loud.

The server at your favourite restaurant. The clerk at the hardware store who knew exactly what you needed. That amazing friend or family member who is always there for you. The dog or cat curled up next to you on the sofa.

Thank them.

There will be a part two to this post in a few weeks. In the meantime, practice this challenge.

You’re going to need it. 😉




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What a Heat Wave Taught Me About Gratitude

Several days ago the air conditioner broke in the house Drew and I are staying in. By Monday afternoon the combination of high temperatures and humidity made it feel like I was inhaling warm, bland soup instead of air. The combination of smog, a heat wave and being exposed to more outdoor allergens due to windows being left opened at night irritated my lungs and I broke into a long coughing fit after running to catch a bus.

To be honest I was not terribly patient or easygoing this week. Feeling hot and short of breath day after day wears on a person after a while. It’s embarrassing to admit this but before this week I’d never really thought about what it would be like to coast through a heat wave (much less an entire summer) without having home air conditioning even though the vast majority of the people on this planet do exactly this.

Today has been forecasted to be the hottest, most humid day of the week. We weren’t expecting the repair person to arrive until today but an unexpected cancellation yesterday lead to it being repaired sooner than expected.

That first breathe of cold air was delicious. Every so often I take a deep breathe and marvel at how much oxygen my lungs can hold. Before this week I took air conditioning for granted. I won’t be assuming it will always be around again in the near future. Every blast of cool air is a gift.


For what are you grateful for today? Have you recently realized you were taking anything for granted?

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3 Reasons Why You Should Keep Track of Compliments

An announcement before we dig into the marrow of today’s topic:

This is the one hundredth post at On the Other Hand! I’m so proud to have reached this milestone. Thank you all for reading and leaving comments over the last seven months.

The next issue of my newsletter comes out Friday, March 18. It includes a top-5 list of my favourite posts to date. Fill out the form on the right hand side of this page if you haven’t signed up for the newsletter yet. It’s free, your personal information is never shared and you’ll receive exclusive content.

Ok, onto today’s topic:

Why You Should Keep Track of Compliments

A friend mentioned recently how much easier it is for her to remember negative thoughts and experiences than it is positive ones. My brain works the same way. Compliments and happy memories seem to fade more quickly than criticism or painful or embarrassing experiences.

Years ago I read a book about joy written by a woman who over a short course of time buried one son and had another son come out of the closet (who was subsequently disowned by their church, community and extended family) while she struggled with a stubborn, years-long bout of depression.*

At a certain point she ran out of things in this world to feel happy about. For this I can’t blame her. Any one of these events would be a challenge. To live through all three simultaneously must have been incredibly difficult! Her response to this chapter in her life was to create something called a joy box: a box filled with cartoons, jokes, encouraging notes from friends and anything else that made her smile.

*It’s been many years since I’ve read this book. Hopefully I’m remembering the details correctly!

About a decade ago I adapted this idea and began sporadically keeping track of compliments. I stopped doing it for several years but recently took the practice up again. Here are three reasons why you should do the same:

  1. It helps you remember the nice things others have said about you. There’s nothing like going back and re-reading a list of compliments at the end of a hard day.
  2. It highlights your strengths. Once the compliments begin to accumulate you’ll probably begin to notice that the same traits or abilities are mentioned over and over again. What is even better, though, is when one or two people pick up on something that you didn’t realize was so deeply appreciated.
  3. It reminds you to pass compliments on. Complaining about a person, institution or situation is easy. Noticing the good they bring into your life takes more practice but it’s even more important than pointing out where and when they’ve made mistakes.

I keep my list of compliments in a Word file. Artistically-inclined people may be interested in decorating a cardboard box, manila folder or some other container. If you do end up making something to store your compliments in I’m interested in seeing pictures of it!

Either way, give this a try. It’s enriched my life and I think it will do the same for yours.

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Cultivating Gratitude

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. – Aldous Huxley

“It’s all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it’s not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?” – Anne Shirley

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians!

Celebrating this holiday in October was a bit of an adjustment for me when I first moved up here. Growing up in the US I had always just assumed that everyone observed it at the end of November with us and so at first it was sort of strange to have Thanksgiving a few weeks before Halloween.

Traditionally this has been a time to reflect on everything in life for which we are grateful. I loved being with my maternal grandparents at Thanksgiving as a child and young adult. Not only was the table laden with all sorts of good things to eat, my grandfather was always almost painfully grateful to be surrounded by happy, healthy family members each year. He grew up in rural Ohio during the Great Depression and World War II. As a young boy he was in an awful accident when a wagon he was riding in collided with a train. Many of the other children on that hay ride died that day. One family buried all four of their children.

I don’t think we will ever truly know what deep impressions those experiences left in him, any more than I could step into your shoes or you could try on someone else’s life experiences for a time.

It makes me wonder how we can be grateful for what we cannot imagine happening. I’ve always had a roof over my head, a loving family, a warm place to sleep, a belly full of food, and medical care when ill. Intellectually I know that a day could come when I don’t have access to some or all of these things but it’s hard to imagine a life without any of it.

Gratitude seems to me to be a process of realizing that not everyone has these things and that we could easily be one of those people if it hasn’t happened already. It isn’t an easy task and definitely cannot take the place of actual life experiences, but it does stretch one’s mind and help us (or at least me!) not to slump into assuming everything good in life will always be there.

Once again I will end this post with a few questions. What are you taking for granted today? For what are you grateful?


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