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With Thanksgiving just ending and Christmas quickly approaching, it probably makes sense that I’ve been thinking about appreciation.
Appreciation is a close cousin to gratitude or thankfulness but not quite the same thing. Appreciation is the recognition of goodness in someone or something. Gratitude is being thankful for that goodness, articulating it through thought, words, or deeds. Appreciation an attitude, a path that leads us to gratitude’s door. And it’s important.
I think most of us are aware of the science (as well as the good old common sense) that has proven the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of gratitude. If you need a review, check out this article overviewing studies showing that people who make gratitude a habit are happier, more resilient, and have better relationships. But the first step toward gratitude is appreciation, taking notice of the goodness around you.
APPRECIATION ISN’T ALWAYS EASY
A couple of people have reminded me of the importance of appreciation recently. The first is my mother.
A little over a month ago, Mom totally upended her life. She left the home she loved in the town where she has lived happily for years in order to move into an independent living community near me. Mom is still mentally sharp and physically capable, but at this stage of her life, she needs the support and security that comes from having family close by.
The community where she moved is brand new and very posh. It has two excellent restaurants, a bar, a pool, a fitness center, a salon, a yoga studio, an art studio, a theater, and amazing programs to go along. She has been to water aerobics, painting classes, plays, lectures, cooking classes, and philosophical discussion groups. Basically, it’s a cruise ship that doesn’t move.
In spite of all that, she wasn’t very happy there. I couldn’t really blame her for that. Change, even when it is good or necessary, is hard. Acknowledging a new stage of life and the need for even a little more support is very hard. My mom wasn’t the only one feeling that way. The building only opened at the end of September, so every person there is new, and many of them are going through the same experience. In a sense, they’re grieving, mourning the loss of what they once had and now don’t.
But things started to change last week when Mom attended a presentation called, Aging Gracefully. It was billed as “an interactive discussion of the aging process and how we can navigate through the multitude of issues faced during the ‘Golden Years’. The concepts and creativity we will discuss, and the connections we will make will become fuel for personal growth and enrichment.”
Honestly, it sounded a little dry to me but, apparently, it was anything but. According to Mom, the presenter was insightful, funny, and wise. She told the audience that appreciation is the key to aging gracefully, successfully, and happily (which also happens to be the key at any age, doesn’t it?). At one point, the presenter said, with apparently well-received humor, “Enough whining! You people are living in paradise!”
The presenter had a point. As I said before, Mom has basically moved into a stationary cruise ship. But let’s face it, not everyone is so lucky. All of us have real problems and struggles to deal with; I’m not suggesting that you simply whistle a happy tune and pretend they don’t exist. But even in times of change and struggle, there is so much good around us. And, compared to so many others in so many parts of the world, most of us really are living in paradise. The trick to seeing that is, well…to start seeing it, to look about yourself and take note of the goodness in life, to appreciate.
My mom has started doing that. Yes, she still had a couple of rough moments last week. That’s okay. But something has changed for her. She’s started to spend more of her energy appreciating what she has than on mourning what she has lost. I can already see the difference. She’s more herself again, happier and more energetic. Appreciation has helped her turn the corner.
APPRECIATION IS AN ART
Another reminder about the importance and power of appreciation came to me from my friend, Jamie Fingal. Jamie is an extraordinary artist, quilter, and fabric designer. We met through our quilting connections but I got to know Jamie better through her website and blog, Twisted Sister. I always look forward to reading Jamie’s posts about her life and artistic journey. The way she expresses herself through her art is unique and inspiring.
Her recent posts about her recovery after a painful hip surgery that has left her unable to walk without help for 6 weeks have been doubly inspiring. Given the circumstances, Jamie could be forgiven for feeling sorry for herself, and she definitely went through some of that. But after a while, she started looking for the goodness around her and documented her appreciation in an unusual way – by drawing.
Here are some of Jamie’s recent sketchbook drawings.
She definitely has challenges to face and healing to do, but she also has a lot to appreciate. Making a visual journal to share with the world has helped Jamie but also inspired others, including me. Her sketches really make me smile. I guess you could say that I appreciate them and her!
APPRECIATE EVERY MOMENT
Appreciation is important. It’s also as old as time. Even before there was gratitude, there was appreciation.
The Book of Genesis says that God created the light and declared it good. Next, God created the sky and declared it good. Then God created day and night, seas and land, plants and animals, men and women, and time itself and declared them each good. And after looking that the totality of all creation, God declared it, “very good.”
And so it is.
As we move into this week devoted to gratitude, let’s pause to appreciate, to notice, to savor the small wonders that surround us.
Let’s stop to appreciate the song of birds, the blessing of silence, the warmth of a fire, the tart taste of cranberries, the adventurous possibilities of full gas tank, the joy of a baby’s laughter, the perfume of pine trees or dinner in the oven, the bliss of a good night’s sleep, or the company of a good book when sleep won’t come.
This week, let’s choose to appreciate all we have and be mindless of what we have not. When we do this, we’ll realize that our lives are good, very good indeed.
Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.