Thursday, March 4, 2010

OK I give up

My last blog post was re-shaped because of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. I didn't think I should write about a book called The Happiness Project in the face of such terrible suffering. So I was getting all geared up to write about it last week, and then BOOM, earthquake in Chile. So I give up. It's the season of Lent. A time for reflection and for some people a time of depriving oneself in order to draw more deeply into a life of faith and apparently it's a season for terrible natural disasters so I give up. I'm going to write about the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. If I wait for there to be no terrible news in the know the rest of that sentence!

Since it is the season of Lent, and a GREAT time for confession, let me start by saying I have no where near studied this book! For that matter I haven't even finished it. There is no way I could pass a test over this book. Gulp. O wait, I don't have to take a test over this book. Whew! I have, however, strolled around in it. I am so intrigued by this young woman's early statement, "the days are long, but the years are short", that I find myself reading the book in little bites, thinking on those bites, and then laying the book down (alongside the dozens of other books and magazines by my bed! A pile created in part by a touch of ADD and a bigger touch of TSTR---too sleepy to read).

In Ms. Rubin's year long quest to find what would bring her lasting and sustainable happiness she reads, writes, complains, talks, and keeps journals. There is science behind happiness in some cases. I skipped over the science and philosophy part! And there is good ol' AA (alcoholics anonymous) kind of philosophy, "fake it til you make it' although she calls that "Act the way I want to feel".

In the August portion of her book she tries keeping a gratitude journal. I too have tried to keep such a thing and am some years more successful at that than others. A gratitude journal is VERY Oprah! And I do love Oprah, but like this author I too found that sometimes a daily entry felt contrived and burdensome. Rubin states that sometimes she felt just plain ol' annoyed by the task. She discovered a way to make a conscious mental shift that did not always include writing down that for which she was grateful. She learned to state either out loud or in her head, "I feel grateful for...." She finished the sentence with whatever task she was doing at the time that did not start out originally as a thing for which she was grateful. "I feel grateful that I am awake at 4am and not able to go back to sleep" (I hate when I have nights like that, but I will try this idea now.) So instead of tossing and turning, she made that statement (quietly), went to another room in the house, lit a candle and sat in the quiet (what some might then call contemplative prayer). And, as Rubin states, "a complaint turned into thankfulness."

Eureka! Something so simple but so profound. Inspired not just by this book, but by other books and teachers I have had over the years I am working to develop a way of moving through the world that has at its heart, gratitude. I do sometimes write down what I am grateful for, but I, like Gretchen Rubin, tend to feel constrained by that if I do it every day. I had a terrific priest friend who early in my career advised me to end each day writing a thank you note to someone in the parish. I must confess (again, it's Lent) that I don't do that. But I do write a fair number of thank you notes, and it is a powerful way to end the day.

There's an interesting balance to be struck I suppose between re-framing a situation and just being in complete denial! Rubin probably talks about that in a part of the book I haven't read! While I am not literally grateful for the traffic I will face on my way home today I am indeed so grateful to have a car, be able to afford gasoline, have a job and home to travel between, and have great music to listen to while I'm stuck behind people who CANNOT DRIVE..O..wait...that's a post for another day.

Just as forgiveness does not mean there are no consequences and no restitution to be made, gratitude does not mean there's nothing bad in a situation. Gratitude is not a synonym for denial! I can cry and mourn my sweet friend's death, wish that he had not been felled by disease, and be really grateful that I knew him at all, and be reminded yet again that life is short and I need to treasure every opportunity to be with people I love. Like almost everything, gratitude is yet another one of those "both and" situations. It is so sad to bury a friend and it is so great to have had the friend. It is so frustrating to be in traffic and it is so great to be alive and in traffic.

The world will have news every second of every of suffering and earthquakes and war, and I am so grateful to be here. Blessings on your journey in and out of Lent! Rhoda

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