A few months ago, I was searching for more meaning in life. I have plenty in life, but I wanted more. During that search, I took things for granted and was ungrateful for all that I have. So I tried writing a gratitude journal, like many of my self-help books suggested. I wrote five things that I’m grateful for every day for a month. When I first started, I didn’t think I would be able to write down anything I’m grateful for, because I was constantly chasing for what’s next.
What I learned from writing my gratitude journal:
- My handwriting needs work.
- My discipline needs work. (only wrote 26 days).
- My spelling needs work.
- I am not a morning person. (Things I wrote in the morning often made little sense)
- My life is boring.
Jokes aside – though all were true — I learned that I care about five things in life:
- Health (mentioned 30 times): this category included sleeping well, working out, feeling healthy, losing 3 lbs, and eating one less cinnamon roll (Annie’s Organic Cinnamon Rolls are the best)!
- Boyfriend (mentioned 27 times): this category included having deep (and sometimes difficult) conversation with my boyfriend, making food for/with him, going on a walk, going on staycation, and him tucking me into bed at night.
- Work (mentioned 23 times): this included a lot about being productive, delivering a good presentation, wrapping up a meaningful project, meeting with important people, and celebrating intense virtual conferences being over.
- Friends & family (mentioned 22 times): this included a lot about spending time with my family and friends, appreciating that my friends trust me with their thoughts and secrets, and wishing them good health.
- Hobby (mentioned 22 times): this included a lot about my dance practice, delivering Toastmasters speeches, reading books, and watching TV shows.
The most repeated sentence I wrote for each category:
- Health: I’m grateful that I got a good night’s sleep.
- Lover: I’m grateful that I have someone to make coffee for.
- Work: I’m grateful that today is going to be a productive day.
- Friends & Family: I’m grateful that I’m spending time with ____.
- Hobby: I’m grateful that I’m going to practice today.
Those lines surprised me. Turns out I’m simpler than I think I am and I have much to be thankful for.
No Pain is a Blessing
I’m blessed with good health and I never thought that health would be the most mentioned in this gratitude journal. Sometimes I’d even mention health related gratitude a few times in the same entry. Perhaps I was heavily influenced by Why We Sleep; I am thankful for every good night’s sleep that I get. Many of my work friends reading this might still think I don’t sleep, getting my emails at 2am. Oh I sleep plenty 🙂 Everyday, I eat, walk, stand, type, and sleep to protect my mind, grow muscles, and prevent injury, so I can hopefully live another day with no pain. That’s a blessing.
Simple Actions is Love
I love my man, but I didn’t know that the most mentioned would be the simplest thing I do in the mornings for him – making a cup of coffee. By the way, I’m not a fancy barista type – making a latte, pouring in the steamed milk, and forming a heart at the top. I do the simplest thing by putting in an organic coffee compostable cup in the Keurig machine. Press the “large cup” button and pour the black coffee into his Zojirushi stainless steel vacuum insulated mug (the BEST mug ever! And no, this is not a product placement lol ). I’m glad he is a simple man. It’s not the action of doing it, but having a person to do it for is the joy I treasure.
Productivity is Strategically Doing Less
I’m known as a workaholic. One of the most repeated mantras is to be productive. My friends would tell you how excited I got when I first discovered Microsoft’s FindTime to help automate meeting scheduling – I became its ambassador and asked all of my colleagues to use it. Anything that could add to my output, I’d use it! That’s not surprising. What’s surprising is I thought I’d master productivity by multitasking. Obsession with productivity can be counterproductive. I ended up learning the hard way (experiencing burnt-out) that the most productive way is to do one thing at a time with no distraction.
Core Values in Relationships Are Key
As we get busier, time is one of the few luxuries we have. I don’t get to choose which family I was born into, but I get to choose what friends and family I surround myself with. This quarantined year gave me the quality time to ask and answer some hard questions. Do my “loved ones” share the same values on Black Lives Matter (BLM), vulnerability, honesty, gene editing, equality, racism, social civil war, consciousness, and democracy? I’m lucky to spend time with many who speak the truth, are not afraid of judgement, challenge the status quo, are brave enough to show vulnerability, and went above and beyond to see others succeed. Long lasting relationships aren’t just about the length of time spent together or built on shared hobbies, but on similar values as the core foundation.
Mastery is a Process, not Perfection
Competitive ballroom dancing is no longer just a hobby for me. It’s an exercise in developing clear thinking, deep understanding of how our bodies work, and patience of seeing the daily grind turn into something potentially beautiful and profound. When movement between two people doesn’t align, how we use words to describe what we feel work and doesn’t work to each other, and what tools we have to untangle the problem, and when it’s time to move on and save that question for our coach. Our awareness of our bodies’ movement often is not accurate; using a camera to record and rewatch to understand ground truth is important. Daily grind doesn’t necessarily turn into anything meaningful. Focusing on the wrong things or refusing to change can easily lead us astray. The mastery curve below by George Leonard sums it well. Working on something is a slow grid (horizontal line), then you see results in an exponential curve. Then you learn something new, it takes us back a few steps and start the slow grind process again. Mastery is not perfection, it’s a process. There’s no experts, only learners.
My gratitude journal taught me that my life is simple; it doesn’t take much to be happy; and I have plenty to be grateful for.
Happy New Years! Join us for our next Toastmasters meeting on Jan 6th 7-8:15pm PST.
Written By: Renee Yao, Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters President