Gratitude and Dolly

Looking back over my posts from the past several months, it seems there are two topics that I tend to write about most: gratitude and Dolly. Last Thursday’s post was about the former. This one is about the latter. And for good reason. Those of you who’ve enjoyed the companionship of long-term pets understand how they become fixtures in both your life and your heart.

Dolly’s nearly fourteen-year presence in our home has created many of such attachments and although she adores all of her human family—greeting them lovingly and eagerly with butt-shaking tail wags—she and I share a special bond. Over the years, she has become my dog and I have become her person. The one she tends to gravitate toward even after I’ve instigated vet visits, haircuts, baths, ear cleanings, and other necessary (but, in her mind, torturous) means of care.

She keeps me company during long and solitary writing days, serenading me with her sweet snores from her bed right outside my office door, and sometimes, on the rug inside my office. She keeps me on schedule by reminding me when it’s time to take a break to eat or go outside or just slow down long enough to play or give her ears a little scratch. True to her name, she really is a doll. Her pleasant demeanor has brought more joy to my life than I can even recount and makes imagining life without her incredibly difficult.

But last Saturday, the image of a Dolly-less house was abruptly implanted in the forefront of my mind. After a scary episode, that according to two different vets, was either a stroke or something called idiopathic vestibular disease (aka old-dog syndrome), I was socked with a sobering dose of reality regarding Dolly’s advanced age and the diminishing number of “good” years (months? days?) we have left with her. And although she has fully recovered, I really haven’t.

I find myself watching her more closely, looking for signs of anything amiss, and worrying that she will suffer another occurrence of a similar nature. I wake in the middle of the night and listen for her breathing, get her up in the morning and wonder if it will be her last. While these may be morbid thoughts, they are also powerful reminders that time is fleeting. That the precious moments and purposeful minutes we have to spend with those we cherish and doing the things we enjoy, are limited.

So, as Dolly’s incident has prompted me to define and appreciate and incorporate into my daily life those certain people and specific experiences that incite joy and activate my gratitude receptors (like morning snuggles with Dolly), I encourage you to do the same. Don’t put off ‘til tomorrow the gifts of time and presence and appreciation that you can offer today. Because things can change without warning, life can throw us off balance in a blink, and we don’t get to decide when that happens.

A Purposeful WIP Thinks Thankful Thoughts

Today’s writing update comes with its own hashtag: #stillediting. As I mentioned last week, the editing process continues to get a little easier because I’m noticing the same grammar and punctuation mistakes throughout the entire manuscript, which make them easy to identify and correct. What’s becoming more difficult, though, is deflecting the urge to turn this into another rewrite. Obviously when I come across sentences that are poorly written or words that I stumble over as I’m reading, those require an adjustment. But I’m finding myself adding and changing more and more as I go.

It’s a bit maddening because I know I could rewrite and re-edit and re-do forever and ever and probably never be fully satisfied. But I also know that I’m going to have to let it go at some point. I’m going to have to call it good enough and take that next step. Doing so may be simply a matter of reaching a level of emotional exhaustion from writing and tweaking the same story for the last three years. Maybe that’s what it really comes down to. Maybe there exists no writer who is actually ready to let go of her work, but she just becomes so tired of it that her only choices are to bury it in the backyard (Good riddance!) or throw her chips into the slush pile along with thousands of other wannabe authors and pray for representation/publication. (Pick me! Pick me!)

It’s all progress, though—getting this far along in the editing process and getting closer to being ready to let go—and for that, I am extremely grateful. And gratitude plays an important role in making purposeful progress. Thinking Thankful Thoughts on a regular basis can give us a tremendous boost toward reaching our goals, being our best selves, living our best lives, and even helping others to be their best. (Imagine the collective elevation of goodness we could create by not only thinking of the reasons we are thankful for those around us, but then also TELLING them!)

I know what a tall order this can be. Given the natural negativity bias of humans, most of us are more inclined to focus on the bad rather than the good, so retraining our minds to think differently takes a lot of energy and determination and practice. Believe me, that consistency is a struggle I greatly understand and likely the main reason I talk (and write) about gratitude so often. I need the reminders because it’s too easy to fall back into old routines and mindsets. But I’m finding that the more effort I put into building a routine of daily thankfulness, the less time I waste getting stuck in unhealthy and unhelpful patterns.

One thing I’ve recently realized on my own journey toward increased positivity is that specificity is huge. Rather than getting caught up in large-scale vagueness—I’m thankful for my house, my spouse, my kids, etc. If we pinpoint detailed activities, situations, things, or traits and/or kindnesses that we associate with certain people for which we are grateful, we not only get in the habit of seeking out the good, but we also become more intent on focusing our often divided time and attention on those specific good things.

For example, instead of saying “I’m grateful for Dolly (my super sweet canine companion),” I would say: I’m grateful for the early morning minutes I get to spend with Dolly. She’s an older dog now, preferring ample personal space over cuddling with her humans. But in the morning, when she’s still groggy with sleep, she lets me nuzzle her. I rest my cheek against the soft fur on her head, scratch her ears, and delight in her contented sighs and snorts. It’s a little thing, but it often turns out that the little things are the big things. And now that I’ve identified it as something for which I am particularly grateful, I’m both more likely to start my day with those Dolly snuggles and also more likely to call up memories of those warm and fuzzy moments anytime her behavior doesn’t necessarily elicit feelings of gratitude. (Like when she whines to go outside every fifteen minutes just to play in the snow.)

So what about you? What are you grateful for? I challenge you today to devote some time to narrowing your scope in order to define at least one specific reason to be thankful and if you can, try incorporating both that thing and the practice of gratitude into your life on a daily basis. You just might be surprised how much an attitude of gratitude can uplift your outlook, refocus your attention, and better align you to more fully experience and embrace progress, contentment, joy, and love.

What If?

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Do you ever notice how easy it is to resort to “ –isms” when others don’t act or think as we do? You know: criticism, cynicism, pessimism, skepticism. We take offense when beliefs don’t align with our own, choices go against what we did or would do in a similar situation, viewpoints directly oppose that which we feel to be right.

I’ve been trying to understand my own tendency to do this and I gotta say I’m no closer to making sense of it. It’s not as though I consider my opinions or my way of doing things to be superior to anyone else’s. Nor do I wish to have a bazillion mini-me’s running around all lemming-like, mirroring my behavior and parroting my thoughts, because to be honest, there are many days I don’t even like myself.

Nevertheless, I am still often motivated to strong-arm others into adopting my same mindset. Maybe it’s because I don’t like conflict. Maybe it’s just become a reflexive reaction. Or maybe it’s simply human nature. An instinctual need to gravitate toward that which is safe, familiar, and comfortable. To favor similarities over differences. To listen to those who sound like us and speak over the top of those who don’t.

But what if, during these next few weeks of November—a month generally devoted to giving thanks—instead of settling for the human, we make a concerted effort to reach for the superhuman?

What if we turn those subconscious “—isms” into conscious “—nesses”?

What if we choose kindness and openness and goodness and tenderness?

What if we fill our vocabulary with kind words that we freely hand out to friends and strangers alike?

What if we open our minds and ears to those whose beliefs, opinions, and ideas challenge ours?

What if we search for the good in those who struggle to find it within themselves?

What if we offer tender hearts to those with labels that don’t fit society’s standards?

What if we learn to reprogram our minds to be grateful for the beauty and color and depth that our dissimilarities add to what would otherwise be a bland and boring world?

What if?