The perfect Valentine’s Day gift

Would you like to make someone you care about happy this Valentine’s Day?

Would you like to become happier in the process?

If so, write a gratitude letter to someone special in your life.

Your letter can leave you and the recipient feeling happier for months. 

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Gratitude Letters

A few years ago I wrote and shared my first gratitude letter; I wrote my first to my Dad. I was a bit shy about doing it, but it turned out to be a wonderful experience for both of us, and since my Dad passed away a few years after I wrote his letter, the experience holds a special place in my heart.

I’ve been writing thank you notes for decades. I sent cards not just for gifts, but for experiences, past and present. I’ve written dozens of notes and cards to my aunts and to friends of my parents for their special acts of kindness to me as a child. One of my younger brother’s godmothers always had extra treats for us when she brought him a gift. Another of my aunts hosted weekly gatherings at her and my uncle’s farm each Sunday in the summer allowing my eight siblings and me to swim, dive, jump, ride, row, fish, and enjoy all sorts of other summer fun because they were willing to put-up with an ongoing stream of guests – our family and many others. Those Sundays were magic to me as a kid, and I wanted them to know.

Those letters and the memories they evoked are wonderful, but a gratitude letter is an even richer, more touching way to say thank you. Here’s why:

  • It’s longer – approximately 300 words.
  • It’s read in-person to its intended recipient, making it more of a gratitude visit with the letter as a hostess gift of sorts. The true magic of the visit comes from sharing your letter out loud and face-to-face with its recipient. (If you can’t meet in person, Skype or a phone call will work, but if at all possible go the in-person route.)
  • Dr. Martin P. Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology and one of the first and strongest proponents of gratitude visits notes the ritual is powerful, ”Everyone cries when you do a gratitude visit,” he says. ”It’s very moving for both people.”

Tips for making it work:

  • Write to someone, who holds a special place in your heart or who did something nice or kind for you, but you’ve never thanked, or thanked as much as you would have liked to.
  • Be detailed. Write the particulars of what you are thankful for. Let them know how their actions affected you. Include the whats, the whens, the hows, and the whys.
  • Let your recipient know you are up to something good! A funny thing happened when I read my letter to my Dad. When I finished, he made a joke about how I must have the wrong “Dad”, and then he told me he thought I was going to share something about what he’d done wrong – not right. (I was nervous about sharing my letter, and he interpreted that as seriousness or sadness. When I began reading from a sheet of paper he was sure there was bad news ahead.) We laughed about that, but to prevent any confusion, letting your host or hostess know the visit is well-intentioned is probably a good idea.
  • Leave a copy of your letter with your recipient. Don’t worry about making it too fancy, but using special paper can’t hurt. Laminating or a frame might be appreciated, or to others, seem a bit too much – go with your guts. Just don’t make the visit too much about what happens next with the letter; leave that up to your receiver.

The Ripple Effect

Another interesting facet of this simple and effective gesture is that it tends to grow and reproduce on its own. Recipients often end-up writing and sharing letters with folks they want to thank, and writers tend to write more letters to share with others.

Positive psychology studies show the good feelings can last for weeks, even months. I know firsthand that years later I’m still happy I shared a gratitude letter with my father. It is a sweet and happy memory, and one I can relive any time I want. Gratitude letters pack a huge dose of positive power!

Increased happiness for someone you care about is just a few pen strokes. Don’t let this free,  foolproof opportunity for joy pass you by – send a gratitude letter to someone special this Valentines Day!

PS This is my annual Valentine’s Day post . . . hope it inspires you to start writing to a special person in your life.

Your Pay-It-Forward Valentine’s Day Challenge

heart-1077724__180Want to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a new and different way?

Step 1

To join you have to pledge to pay-it-forward by doing something nice for someone before Valentine’s.

Your act can be simple or grand – it is up to you.  It can be for family and friends or a random act of kindness for a stranger.  The act can also be an apology to someone who you know you owe one to or the ask for a “do-over” in the coming days, when you say something you wish you hadn’t and ask for a do-over to make it better.

Or, you can write and present a gratitude letter to someone who has made a positive difference in your life, for more on how to do that, click here.

You can even send Valentine’s cards and/or notes to those who matter, and who you have never sent a Valentine’s before. (One year, when I was out of the country with Peace Corps, I sent Valentine’s emails to all the women who had made a difference in my life. It was great and so much fun to write and then read their response.)

Your act must be something different, heartfelt and if it is a bit out of your comfort zone, all the better. And, the most important part is you do it without expecting anything in return!  To read about one of my favorite Valentine’s pay-it-forwards click here.

To join, just note in “Comments” that you are in.

Step 2

After you have done your act(s); post your act in the comments of this post. You can give as many or as few details as you wish, but include how it made you feel!valentine-candy-626447_960_720

Step 3

Make sure your act is heartfelt and comes for a warm and happy place. (You can tell if you are smiling inside or out, or feeling cozy all over after you do it!)

Heartfelt participation is guaranteed to make you and someone else feel happier. Sharing your act with all of us, allows us to share a bit of the sweetness, too. (If you do it with an open heart, research supports guaranteed results, but you have to make it happen.)

I truly believe we should all be feeling the love on Valentine’s Day.

With love,

Patrice


Learning to check your expectations with your luggage!

Chaska, Macedonia 2013 Mountain Road

An unplanned journey, and a day I will remember always – near Chaska, Macedonia.

I’m finishing-up my third Peace Corps assignment, and will be heading back to the States on Valentine’s Day – a sweet treat for sure. I served with the Peace Corps from 2006-2009 in the Republic of Macedonia, 3.5 months in the Republic of Georgia, 2011-2012, and I’m now finishing a 3.5 month assignment in Macedonia.

A big part of the joy I have experienced in my work here and in Georgia has to do with being open to exploring and understanding different cultures. So, earlier this week, when I opened my email and read an e-newsletter about “Cultural Intelligence”, I started thinking about what I’ve learned by living and traveling abroad and how those lessons have shaped my life.

My favorite line in the article is . . . “The last part of cultural intelligence relates to how you behave, and, in particular, how well you adapt when things don’t go according to plan.”

While living abroad I quickly learned that some of my richest and most rewarding moments were dependent on how well I adapted when things turned out differently than I expected, which led to an even more valuable lesson – to be truly happy abroad – it’s best to check your expectations with your luggage!

And, guess what? The amazing part of that lesson is it works just as well at home as it does abroad! Letting go of your expectations, is one of the keys to being truly happy – anywhere, anytime. When we let go of what we expect to happen and how we expect others to act and react, the happier and more fulfilling our lives become.

Expectations take-up a great deal of room in our hearts and in our heads and require loads of effort to maintain, which leaves very little space and energy for understanding, communication,  growth, and happiness.

Think about it.

  • How many times a day do you get frustrated with the actions or non-actions of yourself or others?
  • How many times in your life have you look backward or forward through a very narrow lens, shaped almost entirely by your or other’s expectations, and felt embarrassed, sad or stressed?
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to leave all that behind?

Why not give yourself a special gift this Valentine’s Day and lessen your expectations for yourself and others (past, present and future) and increase the likelihood that happiness will find a special place in your heart and grow to become the sweetest part of your life?

“Sreken pat” or happy journey, as they say to travelers in Macedonia, and may your happiest journey be your life.

Enjoying “The Joy Diet”

Have you ever thought you might need a little more joy in your life?

I did, so way back in 2003, I read author and life coach Martha Beck’s book “The Joy Diet” and it changed my life. Big time.

Beck’s approach is simple and methodical. I like that. She shares clear-cut steps and tells you how to combine them for the biggest impact, and then she sort-of kicks you out of the nest, trusting you will figure it all out, and, you will.

The first step was the toughest, and she won’t let you move on until you get it right. I will be eternally thankful to her for that. Her words led me to step back and slow down at a time when I truly needed it. Her light and breezy way of writing kept me interested, and as silly as this may sound, the short length and size of her book, immediately put me at ease – I knew I wouldn’t have to wade through hundreds of pages to get to the good stuff. (I truly am lazy at heart.)

“The Joy Diet” is all good – Step 6 is a real treat, and each of the steps makes a great OTAT.

Here is an Amazon overview of Beck’s 10 steps. Don’t let the number of or the descriptions intimidate you, she walks you through them and into a joy filled life.

Martha Beck’s Joy Diet:

  1. Nothing: Do nothing for fifteen minutes a day. Stop mindlessly chasing goals and figure out which goals are worth going after. (Yup, absolutely nothing, you can do it. It’s not meditation-but it could be, it’s more like simply sitting still.)
  2. Truth: Create a moment of truth to help you unmask what you’re hiding—from others and from yourself. (Scary, but she holds your hand and you come out much happier on the other side.)
  3. Desire: Identify, articulate, and explore at least one of your heart’s desires—and learn how to let yourself want what you want. (Wishful Thinking at work.)
  4. Creativity: Learn six new ways to develop at least one new idea to help you obtain your heart’s desire. (Good way to brainstorm yourself into your new life.)
  5. Risk: Take one baby step toward reaching your goal. The only rule is it has to scare the pants off you. (It will, but it also gets you where you want to go, and afterward you will feel quite proud of yourself.)
  6. Treats: Give yourself a treat for every risk you take and two treats just because you’re you. No exceptions. No excuses. (Can you imagine, a diet that encourages treats?)
  7. Play: Take a moment to remember your real life’s work and differentiate it from the games you play to achieve it. Then play wholeheartedly. (Adults at play – pick me, pick me!)
  8. Laughter: Laugh at least thirty times a day. Props encouraged. (Yes, yes, you get to be silly or simply enjoy life a bit more.)
  9. Connection: Use your Joy Diet skills to interact with someone who matters to you. (Solid social connections are the number one  indicator of overall happiness.)
  10. Feasting: Enjoy at least three square feasts a day, with or without food. (Feasts? It sounds so primitive, and adventurous, and well, interesting.)”

I suggest you treat yourself right and pick-up a copy of “The Joy Diet” today. By Valentine’s Day, your life and everything around you could look a bit sweeter.

No commissions - I just really love the book!

Enjoy.

Valentine’s Day 2011

 

A good friend of mine, Heather, who is still serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the same city I did, Bitola, Macedonia, posted a comment after reading my recent Valentine’s Day post  . . .

“Patrice, this sounds really wonderful. Do you remember last Valentine’s Day? We spent it facilitating an exciting workshop for Roma women in Skopje, and it was such an empowering thing for all of us as well. Maybe a nice Valentine’s tradition is forming?”

The workshop was part of our work as Peace Corps Volunteers in Macedonia and one of my favorite Peace Corps memories.  (Please note: In many parts of the world, the Romani people are known as Roma, and also unfortunately as “gypsies” or “travelers.” Terms which are often used in a derogatory manner.)

The focus of the weekend workshop was domestic abuse: identifying and addressing it. Heather and I were asked to participate on Saturday to provide more support for the women involved.

We decided to focus our sessions and activities on building self-esteem and helping the women realize their personal and collective value. My most vivid memories of the workshop are not what we taught them, but what I learned from them.

I learned about courage and the deep, rich bravery a mother or grandmother must develop to find a better life for her children while living in a tiny shack open to the elements on a dusty, dirty road ascending a garbage-covered hill, knowing her children’s educational and economic outlooks are as bleak as their neighborhood and physical and emotional abuse and cultural alienation are common.

I will never forget the message the Romani women shared with me that day: courage and happiness are choices.  Somehow, they had found ways to be happy, if even for fleeting moments, and to bloom in an environment that did little, if anything, to encourage their growth.

The one exception to their negative neighborhood environment was Sumnal, one of the sponsors of the workshop and a local non-governmental organization (similar to a not-for-profit in the States). Sumnal offered classes, programs and much more; it was a safe and supportive place for the women and their children.

The Sumnal coordinator of the workshop, a young, intelligent and very professional Romani woman arranged a pre-planning meeting with Heather and me to make sure our presentations matched their needs and the spirit of their workshop. At her request, I explained what my plans were for my session. After listening intently to what I thought was really good information (mine), she leaned forward and said to me (in perfect English – I could not explain my plans in the Macedonian I knew and did not speak Romani at all):

“Patrice, I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about or why you think that it will work.” Her eyes met mine when she said, “We have never done anything like this before, I do not understand.”

I felt a bit deflated (understatement), paused, lowered my eyes and was mentally preparing my response, when she put her hand on mine and said,

“I do not understand, but I am going to trust you. It will be fine, I am sure.”

I was stunned. How many people, after just meeting someone, are open and confident enough to leap across a cultural divide as wide as ours was in that moment, and respond with such grace and trust?

I realized immediately it wasn’t me she trusted, but rather Jessica, her colleague and the wonderful Peace Corps volunteer she worked with, who had invited us to participate. She respected Jessica, and therefore, Jessica’s choices. It was Jessica, who had built the cultural bridge I was being allowed to cross.

Thankfully, the workshop was a huge success, and the women really enjoyed our sessions. After that amazing Valentine’s Day experience and the one I had this year “Exciting, healthy day”, I decided Heather was right, it is time to start a new tradition. I want to celebrate every Valentine’s Day working with and learning from other women.

To make sure that happens, if you or your not-for-profit organization would like to plan a Valentine’s Day workshop for women – especially women, who might not get to attend workshops very often, I am in. My services are free. I know my rewards will be priceless.

If you are interested, contact me at wishfulthinkingworks@gmail.com, it is never too early to get started planning a good thing.

(I will repeat this offer annually.  And, Heather you are always invited!)

 

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