What a wonderful holiday concept: spending time focused on gratitude for what one has.
There are many good reasons for giving thanks. Psychologist Robert Emmons and other researchers working within the emergent field of positive psychology have looked intently at the psychological effects of gratitude and found it positively correlates with well-being and goal-attainment. For example, Emmons and McCullogh (2003) conducted a series of experiments comparing those with a grateful outlook to those who did not and found those who expressed gratitude more often reported higher levels of subjective wellbeing in some of those studies. (For those interested, Emmons’ 2007 book Thanks! is an accessible primer on the research on gratitude).
Giving thanks is a way of introducing a small disruption in the everyday and inspiring reflection on the present moment. Gratitude is a part of many meditiation and yoga practices, as well as mindfulness practice (PDF – example).
So in solidarity with my American friends who are giving thanks on this day and all of us who take time to express gratitude on any day, I offer a departure from the usual post and share some things I am thankful for (in no particular order):
- To Artists. Those who share their creative outputs with the world openly and encourage us to see and think differently. Artistry can be aesthetic, part of performance and innovation (says Hilary Austen), and something that Seth Godin believes we all are, when we listen to what is important. Its the writers, performers, teachers, journalists, and engaged audiences that are all part of the creative tapestry around us when they choose to make their art available.
- To those scientists and researchers who spur exploration and share what they learn widely and openly and make the world better through making their work accessible, including supporting open access of scientific knowledge. The world has too many hoarders. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants because they bent down to help us up.
- To everyone who is willing to fail, get up again, improve and work to succeed and tell others about their story so others can be inspired to fail and succeed in new ways.
- To teachers (and that doesn’t have to be the person at the front of the class). To those who take the time to help others to learn, really learn, and understand material. This could be trainers, classmates, or grandparents — anyone who cares that I learn something and tries to help myself and others toward that goal.
- To students of life. Those who are willing to be taught, to learn, to adapt and to innovate when necessary. This includes clinicians and scientists using the best evidence to make decisions and pointing out where it doesn’t exist (and taking action on filling the gaps). It’s people asking hard, but important questions — including those about their own closely held beliefs. It’s those who see learning as fun and seek to infect that sense of joy in their fellow knowledge travellers. It also includes all of those who work in knowledge translation and exchange to help the learning process along in professional and personal life.
- To the organizers, funders, sponsors and participants behind and in front of TED, Thinkr, the RSA, Google Zietgeist Minds and all the organizations and individuals out there sharing stories of success, creativity, and inspiring us all to think in new ways. It’s easy to take all this for granted so today, I am not.
- To every person that smiles freely and often (and at me!). Smiles are contagious (PDF – example)
- To everyone who takes the time to listen and seeks to understand . We all don’t agree, but if we try to truly understand each other by listening, cultivate empathy, and mindfully reflect on our impact on the world, those differences can be sources of learning and creativity than unproductive conflict, hatred and ignorance. Too much of that and in a world of the 140-character sound bite, it’s too easy to be seduced by quick outrage and self-supported misconceptions.
- To the individuals who work at inspiring others to be their best selves through compassion and creation. The diverse voices of people like Seth Godin, Jonathan Fields, Brene Brown, John Maeda, and Jon Kabat Zinn who all provide means of making sense of human life and inspiring a greater appreciation of what happens along its journey.
- To the Internet and every person and organization responsible for developing it, delivering it, and maintaining it and fighting for the rights, freedoms and responsibilities that come with having so much knowledge, information and entertainment at our fingertips. It’s easy to take this enormous treasure trove of knowledge and services for granted.
- To every administrator or department chair who marshalls power to change the structure of the workplace to make it more humane, by rewarding earnest effort while providing the space to slow time to pause and think, nurture the organization’s collective mental health, and allow everyone to genuinely learn and share their best with those they engage with. Work takes up a lot of our lifetime — imagine if it buoyed us and sustained us rather than trapped us?
- To every person who says, means and listens to the message that we are all enough. The rat race is for rats and the human race is intended for human beings, not human doings.
- To everyone who feeds us — from farm to market to fork to the earth. Most of us have little comprehension of where our food comes from, travels to, goes through, or ends up and if we did, we might act a little (or a lot) differently. We have the luxury of ignorance in North America, but should we? Spend time with a farmer and you’ll be amazed at what you don’t know about the very things that sustain us.
- To every blogger and Tweeter out there who takes the time to share their thoughts and promote positive, critical thinking about topics that inspire new thinking. Thanks to the amazing blogosphere and Twittersphere, I have made a lot of wonderful friends I’ve never met in person, but who inspire me every week.
Thanks to everyone out there making the world better. Today is the day I give thanks to all of you.
What are you grateful for?
Photo By Marjory Collins, photographer for Farm Security Administration. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Occasionally this blog departs from the usual discussion and offers to share something that I find amazing (or highly notable) that has come across my ‘e’ desk or captures the wonder of social media, networks and the Web as a whole. Here is the first Amazing Stuff of 2010 with a theme fitting for a new decade: inspiration.
It’s the first Amazing Stuff issue of the second decade of the 2000′s and depending on how last week went, you might be thinking 2010 is really the start of something new and exciting (all New Year’s Resolutions aside) or that you’re in for the same thing, maybe worse. In the case that your 2010 has not started out as well as you wanted it to, I present a list of Amazing Stuff on video that just might help remind you how good the world is and what the power of a dream, an open mind, a kind heart or all of those things might do for you. And if you’re already in that space, then recommend something to 1000 Awesome Things to show it off to the world.
If you’ve seen these before, perhaps its time to view them again.
1. Free Hugs. The Free Hugs Campaign was started by Juan Mann in Sydney, Australia and began with the simple premise that everyone could use a hug now and again and why not spread a little cheer by offering them for free, at near random, to anyone who walked by and would accept one or ask for it. The story was captured in a great music video by Sick Puppies that is not only inspirational, but a great rocking song too.
2. High Fives Project. If hugs aren’t your thing, how about a high five? Colleen Smith has embarked a journey similar to Juan Mann and has decided that a good old high five is a pretty good way to get people smiling and thinking differently. And you know what? It does (at least according to the video of Colleen in action).
3. Benjamin Zander on TED. Benjamin Zander is part conductor, part motivational speaker and all enlightening or entertaining (or both). In his TED talk a few years ago he outlines the way to listen to classical music in a manner that inspires creative thinking. If you’re even marginally interested in classical music, you’re likely to get a lot out of your next listen after seeing this. If you’re not a classical music fan, you just might be after seeing this.
4. Fun Theory. Imagine Richard Simmons meets Tom Hanks (as the “boy” in Big, jumping on the piano in F.A.O. Schwartz) or consider health promotion if it were designed by an 8-year old. That’s what you get here. Seeing is believing and believing means that you’ll start to wonder why the stairs in your subways, malls and buildings aren’t a little more entertaining to take.
5. Anvil: The Story of Anvil. This isn’t a video in the same sense as the others, rather it is a full-fledged documentary. And a very good one at that. The touching, funny and curious story of one of the legends of heavy metal music, Canadian rockers Anvil and their unusual persistence in the face of rock obscurity and erstwhile fame. You don’t even have to like heavy metal to find something in this connection between music and video something inspiring and showing the power of positive thinking (and perhaps reasons to have a good manager) in pursuing your dreams.
I hope that there is some inspiration found in some of these.
And if not, one bonus video is Warren Miller’s 2008 movie “Children of Winter“. It is a visual masterpiece and something that, when the weather outside gets frightful, is a delight to watch indoors to make you enjoy those moments outside even more.
Simple, straightforward and predictable things are pretty boring, but they at least can be understood without much effort. And sometimes that simplicity provides comfort that we can’t find in complicated, complex or chaotic events. As we find ourselves working long hours eating badly and sleeping less hours than our body would like its no surprise that we find a lot of organizations trying to make complex change using simple processes (that won’t work). It’s tiring thinking about complexity and simplicity is, well, simple. We don’t need to consider the pushback that could come from making our morning coffee, we need not worry about the unintended consequences of ironing our shirts, or contemplate the emergent patterns that come from picking a green M&M out of the holiday party bowl over the red one. After a long day at the office or an emotional conversation with a loved one, these ‘simple pleasures’ as they are often referred to provide us comfort that can’t be found in complexity.
But change is rarely a pleasure, but always an adventure; When it comes we need to be ready and have the energy to tackle it.
It is perhaps for that reason that people try to deny it or over-simplify problems. Its the very reason why the self-help book section of a store is so big, why New Year’s resolutions are so popular (do you have yours yet?), and why late night infomercials and daytime talkshows still persist in their efforts to sell us the quick and easy change. Change your life in three, five, seven, 10 or 12 easy steps!
It is never that easy. If it was, I could teach my students health behaviour change in an evening seminar at a hotel airport instead of a semester-long graduate course that is, at best, showing the ice floating above the waterline. However, in that proverbial sea of self-help resources one of the few ideas that stands out comes from The Power of Full Engagement. In the book, authors Jim Loehr and and Tony Schwartz point out that a key to change is managing energy as much as it is our cognitions, emotions and behaviour. It is the energy we bring to situations that is the necessary precondition to becoming fully engaged and able to change. It’s why its so hard to pay attention in class or a meeting when you’re tired. Or why you tune out when the message itself is tired; the same old stuff trotted out again and again.
Change in human systems is complex.
Tired individuals and organizations tend to opt for those solutions to complex problems that are simple and, as H.L. Menken said, wrong, — see my last post. Ever seen profound change take root in an exhausted environment? Not me. It’s one of the reasons why effective leaders are those that aim to spark emotion and raise the energy level of those that follow them as much as instill new ideas. Indeed, if you look at many of the best leaders out there, they tend to create environments where new ideas come from introducing new ways to see the complex and make it exciting. A terrific example of this is Benjamin Zander’s talk at TED looking at how the complicated structure and complexity of classical music can enliven the spirit.
So perhaps our first strategy to change is to take a nap, play some Chopin and watch an inspirational movie than try and solve it otherwise we might end up with simple and wrong solutions to complex problems and be no better off for it.