Daily gratitude practice, updated.

The recommendation to make a daily gratitude list has become so common that your brain might be shutting down right now.  Yeah, yeah, you grumble.  The research is clear that sitting down each evening to list blessings in your life can increase happiness and well-being. And everyone older than three or younger than ninety knows it. “Lay off us, we’ve heard it before,” you may be thinking.

I struggle with it too. I know reciting my gratefulness can enrich my life, tempering the days I spend listening to woes galore. But do I do it? I’m just a lowly human being, and maybe this struggle is another way psychologists are just like you! When I’ve tried, I quickly get into a “CD on repeat”-type litany, writing about the same loved ones, health, strength, and security day after day. Starts to sound like blah, blah, blah in my head, and I doubt how that low level rumble can even make a dent in my psyche.

Doing my duty as a psychologist, making an effort to improve my skills, I was listening to an online seminar in my car. Selfishly, often: I want to improve my bag of tricks for clients and blog audience, but I also like to make my life easier. The name-escapes-me-today (see, I forget, just like you) speaker said that, in an effort to fulfill his own gratitude practice, he tries to find a new experience or moment to savor each day. This motivates him to move through his day mindfully, given that mindfulness also enhances our perception of living a good life. Throughout the day, he checks in routinely, keeping part of his brain attuned to new experiences or moments to appreciate.

I liked this. In even the worst days, there is at least one thing that lights me up, makes me smile. A kindness, a compliment, a hug. Often, there is one small item that makes me smile–or laugh out loud. I often text these ‘finds’ to my daughters, as a fun way to keep in touch.  I think I could do this. I set out to add this to my practice of bits of life to notice.

Meanwhile, the other challenge in my head lately is exactly how to jump into Twitter. The promise is that Twitter could increase my exposure, help me share my expertise, build my business. Since I announced my intention to do so, it’s been like learning to drive a car with a clutch.  Shift, stall, grind the gears. NOT quite as bad as sitting in the ’67 VW at the top of a hill with my dad alternately cajoling and yelling at me. But a struggle, to figure out what might shine even a tiny bit in the vast Twitter universe, making my comments worth a follow.

Grind, grind, go the gears in my head, chewing up gratitude ideas with tweets. The result that spewed out is my new daily gratitude practice. Each day*, my goal is to notice and tweet one event that made me smile. Since it appears that a clothing company already has a campaign linked to the hashtag #dailysmile, I’ll be using #dailysmiles.

Join me, won’t you? Follow and retweet–or let me inspire you to notice and tweet your own daily smile.


*(hey, I’m warning you, I’m only human.)

On sharing life’s longest path

Who learns how to push our buttons (and we theirs) at an earlier age than our siblings? Most of us have family tales like mine. My sister, 21 months older, hit me over the head with a book when she was three because I wouldn’t read to her. I angrily pushed her down the stairs when I was six; I jammed a stitch ripper in her leg when she was twelve after she’d locked me out of the house. These stories survive even while the underlying arguments are long lost to memory. For my daughters, similar rivalry fueled the early years. When friends arrived to ooh and ahh over the new arrival, the older shook the baby’s crib, screaming that she wished the baby had died already. This came after a milder insistence, ignored by me as new mom, that we take the baby back to the hospital.

Time heals, and the bond grows. The older sister I assaulted is the one I’ll jump in the car for at the least provocation, driving five hours to share heartfelt conversation and dinner over a bottle of wine, and breakfast the next day before reversing my route on I-35. Ten hours invested in order to share six. At my younger daughter’s senior recital celebration this month, my older daughter offered a tear-inspiring toast full of praise and love for her sister’s talents.

Siblings, our first chance to learn to relate to others, are the peers we don’t pick to inhabit our lives, unlike spouses and friends. We define ourselves by seizing the open spaces in the family. She’s the cute one? Then I’ll be the smart one. You can’t play the French horn, because I’ve already picked that and want to defend my musical territory. I’ll be the good kid, since you’re the rebel. Degrees of freedom for decisions diminish with number of siblings.

Growing up with three sisters was immersed in camaraderie as well as competition. Melded by moving and month-long family vacations, we had no one but each other. Today, these three women are as important to me as anyone in my life. I live the research that cites the contribution of sisterly conversations to our happiness. During my early years of parenting, I yearned to live closer to my parents, needing their practical support. Now, facing the real permanence of the empty nest as my baby nears college graduation, all I think about is living closer to my sisters. A tough task, given that we’re scattered from Texas to Pennsylvania to Minnesota.

I never missed having a brother, until I realized recently that one dear friend talks daily to her brother who lives several states away. Perhaps I’d understand the opposite sex better if I had a brother to help unravel the curiosities of men (and vice versa, I’m sure.) The male-female relationship of siblings is free of the mess incurred with lovers, the never-ending question of whether men and women can be true friends. What an enviable wonder that would be.

A dear friend lost his brother this week, suddenly, leaving this friend as the sole family survivor. This unexpected death reminded me again of how precious siblings are, and what a hole there will be in my life if I survive my sisters. They are the human beings with whom our lives overlap the most: neither your spouse/partner nor your children share more years of your life. So I was glad to see that a national “Sibling Day” is in the works. The first was celebrated, unbeknownst to me, on April 10. I’m marking my calendar for next year, but meanwhile:

THANKS, SISTERS, FOR ENRICHING MY LIFE–then and now. I’d be lost without you all.