March Grateful & A Guide To Starting Your Own Gratitude Project

"Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can."

-Dalai Lama XIV

The first part of this quote from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has guided my grateful project. Each morning for the past three months, I've woken up feeling fortunate to be alive and filled with purpose to express my gratitude throughout the day. This month, as I compile my graphic calendar for the month of March, I can't believe that I'm already and only a quarter of the way through my project. I say already because it amazes me how fast the time has gone and how habitual this project has become. I say only because I am humbled when I think of how much I have benefitted from this project in such a short amount of time, and can't help but anticipate what the future holds.

The end of this quote, paired with the thrill I feel from this project, inspires me to pay it forward by encouraging others to participate in their own gratitude project. To do so, I've come up with six steps that I believe will act as a guide. I hope you'll read them and consider starting a project of your own, for as I've experienced firsthand, the more you give gratitude, the more the universe will send good things your way. So, without further ado, I give you:

A Guide To Starting Your Own Gratitude Project

1.) Make a plan. Make a commitment.

While documenting gratitude through daily photographs works wonders for me, maybe you'd rather make a weekly phone call to tell someone you're grateful for them or write a few sentences in a journal three days a week. However you decide to express your gratitude, take the time to make a clear plan. Equally as important, take a moment to make a commitment to yourself and your project. You may also want to mark your calendar, ask a friend or partner to hold you accountable, or set a reminder on your phone to be sure to carry out your actions. A little outside help never hurts.

2.) Begin.

This step, though seemingly obvious, may just be the most difficult. No more "I'll start eating healthy tomorrow" or "I'll put money into the savings account next month" excuses. As soon as you finish your plan and make the commitment, start your project. And start right away! Let the gratitude begin.

3.) Be present. Be aware. Be open.

Once you've started your gratitude project, you'll probably notice that you don't feel gratitude only on the days or times your plan dictates. Instead, the feeling of gratitude will strike when the bus pulls up right as you get to the stop, when the earthy scent of fresh vegetables overwhelms you at the market, or as you're drying off with a clean, warm towel. Be aware of these moments. Be present in these moments. The more you acknowledge gratitude, the more the universe gives you things to be grateful for. Open yourself up to the possibilities.

4.) Stick with it.

I guarantee that, especially at the beginning of your project, there will be days you don't want to do it and moments you feel like you're forcing it. Do it anyways. Maybe you're feeling crabby (you are human after all). That's fine. Give yourself time to pout, and then move on and give some gratitude. You'll find that you're glad you did it, and it will probably lift your spirits as well.

Also important is to not give up once you start seeing and feeling results. Instead of stopping when the going gets good, keep pushing forward and let it get better.

5.) Share your gratitude.

One of the many rewarding aspects of my project is all the positive feedback I receive from sharing it. I can't imagine that any harm will come from connecting with others over gratitude, so give it a try and spread the gratitude. If your plan is to personally express your gratitude for others, well then you have the opportunity to share built right into your project. If your plan is to write in a gratitude journal, you could read it aloud to a friend or partner. Or if you're sitting next to a stranger on a park bench when you find yourself overcome with gratitude for the beautiful day you're enjoying, take a minute to connect with them and comment on how grateful you are for the wonderful weather. I suppose there's a chance they'll think you're crazy, but my guess is that they'll agree and smile along with you. You'll feel even more gratitude for having made them smile, and there's a chance you just spread gratitude to someone who really needs the reminder.

6.) Reflect

Once you've gotten into a rhythm, add a little reflection to the mix. I know you're already reflecting each time you give gratitude, but also take the time to look back on your project as a whole. I do this by compiling my calendar graphic at the end of each month. In doing so, I once again give gratitude for all the wonderful things that happened that month. And on days when I'm feeling down, I look back through my photos to remind myself just how many things I have to be grateful for. So, after you've made your gratitude phone call, take a minute to think about it, write about it, or just soak it up. If you're keeping a journal, flip back through the pages and re-read your entries. Giving gratitude is a process, and the more time you devote to your project, the more benefits you will receive.

Good luck, and keep giving!

Previous installments:


The Stolen Bike: A Rite of Passage

The expatriate life can be a tricky, emotional journey. If you're like me, with strong family and friend ties to the land from which you came, it often feels as if you're caught between two worlds. I seem to go back and forth between being ecstatic to live in Amsterdam and missing Minnesota to the point where my heart aches.

You see, on one hand, Amsterdam is most certainly my home. In late August 2013, I became an registered Amsterdammer (you may recall the post written excitedly after mijn verblijfsvergunning is ingewilligd). I've since planted roots by personalizing our flat, starting a job, and paying taxes here among other things. All the signs point to the fact that Amsterdam is my home, and most days I feel this way too.

On the other hand, I have moments when I wonder what exactly I'm doing here, and why I chose to move an ocean away from so many that I love (I'm pretty sure that just returning from a week in Florida with my family has something to do with these feelings rising to the surface). While I have become accustomed to the many differences between my old home and my new home, I don't necessarily feel that I fit in with Dutch culture and have realized that I'll never fully feel like a Dutch woman

Yes, being an expatriate has its ups and downs. And yesterday, I experienced a combination of both feelings in the event I'm now referring to as "The Stolen Bike: A Rite of Passage." As I'm sure you know, Amsterdam is full of bicycles. In fact, the data I find tells me that there are as many bikes as people, if not more, in Amsterdam proper. That said, I'm not sure why bicycle theft is such a problem since the research indicates everyone already has a bike, but unfortunately it is, and unfortunately I'm not immune to it.

My first bike in Amsterdam got me safely to my first wedding,
but ended up costing more money and causing more trouble than it was worth.

About two months ago, I purchased a brand new, shiny bike to replace the used bike that was starting to give me more trouble than it was worth. My goodness, how I loved my new ride. It was an omafiets (direct translation: grandma bicycle) which means that it had pedal brakes and no gears ... just an average yet beautiful street bike like the one your grandmother rode when she was young (or something like that). 

This empty space on the sidewalk is where my bike should be.

Imagine my disappointment when the husband and I walked down the stairs with a picnic in tow to find an empty sidewalk where my bike should have been. I was incredibly bummed. Not only were we no longer going to be able to ride to the Amstelpark and enjoy a picnic in the sun surrounded by budding flowers, but my beloved bicycle was gone. And probably forever.

It was then, well actually it was after a few tears were shed, that the husband tried to spin the event in a positive light (I think my gratitude project is having an effect on him as well). He shared the story of when his bike was stolen a few years back, he reminded me of our other friend's bike that was stolen a few months ago, and both stories then caused me to remember another friend who had her bike stolen this week. He helped me realize that as much as a stolen bike really, truly sucks, I have now gone through the Amsterdam rite of passage to become a true Amsterdammer. It's just too bad that I'm now an Amsterdammer without a bicycle.

So here I am, about to spend my afternoon looking for a new bike and reflecting to see if there is a lesson I can take away from this (a lesson besides the fact that it's probably a good idea to lock my bike to a rack instead of just to itself). What I'm finding is that no matter how comfortable I may feel some days, there are bound to be other days when I feel out of place. As happy as I am to be starting a marriage with the love of my life, there will always be part of me that misses my other loves across the ocean. The lows will continue to accompany the highs, but what matters most is how I choose to view the events that happen to me. So today, I choose to feel like a true Amsterdammer, to find a new set of wheels to take me where I need to go, and to enjoy my life as an expatriate.