Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Be Grateful for the Good and the Bad

Grandpa and Greg Thanksgiving 67

Grandpa and Greg, Thanksgiving 67

It was easy for me to be grateful last Thanksgiving.  There was good food, a nap, football, and time with family and dear friends.

But as a viral Facebook post showed, the holidays can be particularly difficult for some people. It read: “Some of us have problems during the holidays and sometimes are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us. And, many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness.”

Is there a place for gratitude in those situations where the glass is only a quarter full? My spiritual practice has taught me to be grateful even for the bad things. Sometimes it takes work, but I have yet to find something I could not be grateful for.

Someone close to me once said – “How can I be grateful after all the tough things that have happened to me in my life?” And he did have many challenges in his life, like an unwanted divorce. My answer:

If those things had not happened, you would not be married to the person you are today.

I was met by stunned silence. He is happier in his second marriage than he ever was in his first.

The practice of gratitude was and is new to me.  And it is a practice – every day I try to remind myself of something that I am grateful for, even on the crappy days. It isn’t always easy, but when I do it often points to a way out of the mess.

And how about those times when the glass is 3/4 full – does that guarantee happiness, or even gratitude?

In his book “Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis points out that the world is full of an infinite number of things we’ll never have.  The question is, where do we focus our attention, on what we have, or what we don’t have?  Morinis doubts that all those rich celebrities in drug rehab are feeling like money and fame have solved their life’s problems.

A friend of mine, a VP in Silicon Valley told me how stressful it is to live in a big house in a wealthy neighborhood   It takes a lot of work to keep up on the clothing fashions, to be seen at the right places, and to keep the car ultra clean.  He has recently downsized to a smaller home in a quiet neighborhood and is loving life.  It’s not the small house per se, it is the attitude of appreciating what he has.  Once he started thinking about what was important to him, it became obvious that he had more house than he needed.

Being grateful for what you have is a guarantee to make you feel at least a little better.  This does not mean that you have to be satisfied with a bad situation, but looking to what makes you grateful is a clue to where to spend your energy to make things better.  One popular approach is a gratitude journal, to write down things you are grateful for every day to help turn your consciousness to the good that is already in your life.

Gratitude is a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it will become.  If things are going well for you, practice gratitude to  strengthen the muscle to help you through the tough times.  And if you’re in the tough times now, a dose of gratitude can be that ray of hope.

My model for gratitude is my late grandfather.  He graduated high school in 1932 – the height of the Great Depression, and he was not able to go to college.  Grandpa was a brilliant man, who knew as much history as some college professors I’ve met.  But never once did he complain to me about not being able to go to college.  He worked for the toll system of Connecticut, and I was always waiting form him to lament the missed opportunities in his life.  It never happened.

“As long as I get to be here with your grandmother, I’ll be happy Greg.”

Grandpa died two weeks after my first child was born thirteen years ago. In our last conversation , he said to me “Lots of people live to be grandparents, but very few get to be great-grandparents.”  Not a peep about his failing health.

I miss my grandfather, but I am so very grateful he was and is such a big part of my life.

Since When Is Frenzy Desirable? From Black Friday To Brown Saturday.

It’s cyber Monday, three days after Black Friday and two days after Brown Saturday. Brown Saturday, you ask? Brown Saturday is the day you wash your underwear, after it has been soiled in a moment of excitement on Black Friday, about that previously unimaginable deal on that particularly unattainable item.

Seriously, every day last week my eleven year old got more and more excited about Black Friday – the hype was everywhere. “I’d like to experience it,” she’d say with an earnestness that only a precocious eleven year old can deliver. My eleven year old is my great barometer of the cultural vibe. She only gets a few hours of TV a week, but reads the paper every day, and she wanted IN. I just wanted to relax.

For a lot of people, those Black Friday deals are a necessity in these difficult times. For businesses, Black Friday is a critical linchpin of a successful holiday season, which in turn is responsible for a considerable amount of yearly revenue and profit.  I have a small business myself, a vacation condo rental, and we make half our money for the year in just three months. For the media, it’s a great story – Frenzy sells. I can’t really begrudge them for doing their job.

I begrudge myself, for reading it, because my attraction to the frenzy is a form of back sliding.

Up until a few years ago, when I first cut back and ultimately left the corporate world, my life was very frenzied. I was in meetings all day, on email at night, and on the phone more than twelve hundred minutes a month, most of it during my commute, plus five AM calls to Europe and nine PM calls to Asia. The weekends were jammed with family activities, grocery shopping, and whatever catch up was required for home or work.

When I was in that work/life vortex, it was a constant adrenaline high. And when I started to come down, I was attracted to things to bring the high back. Hence Black Friday. I didn’t usually shop, but I didn’t need to. Ever try to drive somewhere? It’s not just the traffic, it’s the frenzy on the roads.

The Friday after Thanksgiving has long been the busiest shopping day of the year. It was something people just did. Then some cleaver marketer put a name on it – Black Friday. Now things are worse, and frenzy is a virtue.

It is ok to take it easy, and enjoy your time shopping.  Let the frenzied energy go, and in that moment of calm, you will give the people in your life a gift far more valuable than any prize from Black Friday: your full attention.