Gratitude. It’s November. Tomorrow, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in America. The idea of giving thanks is baked into our culture — along with the pies. Now is the time to count your blessings.

I remember a few decades ago — it must have been back in the 90s — when expressing gratitude and actually chronicling what you were grateful for in a formal journal could really aid in people feeling more satisfied with their daily lives. Also, it became a way to cultivate the mindset of looking for things to be grateful for in one’s life each and every day.

I’ll admit I drank the proverbial Kool Aid and bought that journal and for years — literally years — I wrote down five things I was grateful for each and every day. And, yes, it was a practice that had me looking and finding the good in each day. I filled reams of journals that could attest to the fact that I had a life that I should be grateful for.

I never thought I would get away from that perspective — and would keep it going all the days of my life. But, I think all of those gratitude journals set me up for living life with a certain bent toward being grateful in my life. I departed my town and went traveling and stepped away from all of the gratitude giving journaling, but I still kept the spirit alive in my heart and how I met life.

All this to say, gratitude, gratefulness, giving thanks is a spirit within not necessarily a practice that needs a gold star. If you are here reading my words, I am grateful you are here. It’s in the spirit of my writing right now. Let’s not forget, it’s not about the doing of writing down what we are grateful for, but rather an orientation toward life that sprouts from this that is important. The former can help cultivate the spirit, but should never be used to guilt or attack yourself if you aren’t keeping the practice.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving.

How to Show Love Now and Always

Presence is Key!

What’s the key to love?

Haven’t poets and authors and actors waxed and waned over the years as to how to show the person you love that you indeed love her?

There is always a laundry list of “ways to show love” and “things you can do to show love.” Ah, these lists are full of small and large gestures, words to use, and presents to give the other. So many good ideas, but I am also amazed at how often it is all about the doing and very little around being.

Being together and being present to the other seems to me to be the number one way to show your partner how much you love her. That’s right — no big money, no big outside gesture, no prescribed words – just you being with your partner. Completely.

This is so difficult to do that most of us are running to those lists for the big outer thing we can do to show it — anything to avoid actually being completely attuned to another.

And, yet, isn’t that what many of us yearn for on a day-to-day basis. Someone greeting us when we come home at night and listening deeply and intently to our words and responding in kind in ways that make us feel heard, understood, and cherished.

Or when we wake up in the morning. Someone asking us how we slept, did we dream, how are you feeling as the day begins?

Or midday, your partner calls you in the middle of it all and says, “How’s it going? and then waits to hear all about it. Then, lends a reassuring statement like, “Can’t wait to hear more tonight.”

Can you imagine having your partner’s presence throughout your day such as this? Talk about showing love and the other receiving and feeling it. Even better if both partners can strive for this type of presence with one another.

The number one way to show your love is being present to the other with all of your being.

Try it – it’s so significant and transformative.

Dear Therapist: Love Is In the Air

Love is in the Air!

Dear Therapist:

It’s one week until Valentine’s Day – to say that “love is in the air” is an understatement! Everyone is making plans, has plans, completely gaga over someone — ugh! I got no one! I’m not writing because I feel sorry for myself, although I do sometimes. More to the point, how do I get through this week when I feel completely left out.

Signed, One Lovely Heart

Yeah, I get it. Not only do I understand, I have been there myself. Haven’t we all had a year or two or three where everyone it seemed was completely in love and over the moon struck with the love bug — except you? It happens. Ugh is right!

However, these days, like all holidays, love is measured beyond only romantic love. Yes, Cupid was traditionally associated with romance between partners, but anymore love is celebrated among friends, family, and community. It is a time to bask in the glow of love — of all.

And does our world ever need this more thane ever? How to ease a heart that doesn’t have a special someone this week? Expand your thought of who a special someone is in your life?

Who is your best friend, who did something for you awhile ago that you completely appreciated, who is faithful and loyal to you, who makes you laugh, who can you call up and see the same shows you both adore — all of these people, and more, are special someones.

Celebrate them and your relationship with that person. Perhaps send a text, a note, an emoji, share a song, share a candy — whatever you have to celebrate these relationships in your life. I know it is not exactly the hot romantic dinner date that Valentine’s is supposed to promise with someone you over the moon for, but expanding out beyond this notion can really help engage you in the spirit of this loving holiday.

Celebrate LOVE with all whom you share it with this week.

Creativity Burst: Compliments

Yes you are all of those things and more. Let me be the first person to shower you with compliments today. It’s good for me and my spirit to do so — I definitely feel a burst of creativity when I see someone in his best light and share that thought with him.

For me, as people walk by me on any given day, I notice them. Do you? I see some amazing color they are wearing or their sweet dog they are walking or how good their hair looks and on and on. Even though these people are complete strangers to me, I share my thought with them, giving them a compliment.

I figure no matter what is going on in their day, hearing someone appreciate some part of them can only do good by that person and really all of humanity. How could one compliment get so big? Well, when that person feels good, he may pull his head up and notice someone else, extend a complement and the chain continues on. All of a sudden, you have a bunch of people – random strangers – connected to one another by appreciation and goodness.

And it does lead to creativity. Perhaps it is difficult to find something good about others who you see walking by. Perhaps there is a critical voice inside that thinks everyone walking by looks like an idiot, as an example. Well, then, noticing that this is how you view the other is a great moment to get creative and find something you like. That’s right, find something. Perhaps it’s too much to tell the other person, but finding something good creatively in the other person is a start.

For those of us whom it comes naturally to give away compliments, take that energy and give some compliments to yourself. Another problem we sometimes have is noticing the good in everyone else and actively calling it out to others, but then denying ourselves those kind thoughts from ourselves to ourselves. It is a wonderfully creative idea to think about what you are wearing or how you are feeling and give yourself the compliment. This may also not be easy, but it’s another way to cultivate creativity within.

Now, who will I compliment next?

Who Are You Living For Anyway?

Life Your Way

I often hear people say they are living life for others. It’s so common that people say it without even giving it a second thought. It’s also something people say in plain, clear language:

  • It’s the kids I live for.
  • It’s work that gives my whole life meaning.
  • My spouse/partner makes my life worthwhile.
  • My parents need me.

It’s so common in American society — and actually this is true in most parts of the world – to live for anyone but yourself.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I live life for me.”

If you have, what was your first thought? I can think of many first thoughts in response to this little phrase, including:

  • Gee, that’s selfish.
  • How does he do that?
  • What’s wrong with him?
  • How shallow – no wonder he is alone.

Somewhere along the way living life for ourselves in our unique way became a problem for most people. Perhaps it was our parents who taught us and modeled for us being responsible and adjusting ourselves to please others? Perhaps it is easier to give one’s life over to some outside force, such as work, to not have to make decisions about one’s life? Perhaps we have experience with handing our power over to our partners and living for them rather than ourselves?

There are any number of reasons we live for everyone else and thing rather than ourselves. To put ourselves first is risky as we may be seen as selfish and unable to handle the responsibility called life.

So, how do we live for ourselves while also not being seen as “bad” or a “lone wolf?” Well, it’s all about you. We can never control how another will think of us, but we can control how we think of ourselves. Living life for you doesn’t mean you are selfish, but rather that you are embracing the highest form of you to contribute to the world, your community, and relationships. By being true to yourself, you aid the world in moving one step closer to authenticity. You also serve as a role model for others who are striving to do the same, i.e. to live an authentic life.

It is all in how we frame it for ourselves. Next time we are asked what or who we are living for, pause for a moment before you reply.

Who are you living for today?

Leaning In

Lean In – What do you have to lose?

Have you ever had something come up in your relationship with your partner and you get this funny little feeling that the person is not exactly pleased with whatever it is you are or are not doing? Often when this happens, the person getting the hint clams up and begins to judge or criticize one’s self regarding what the partner wants the person to do.

All of a sudden you have one person secretly hinting at something he is upset about and the other feeling bad about one’s self and trying to move to “fix it.”

Guess what’s missing?

Communication of course. However, if someone feels like she is being criticized, it’s often easier to judge self, criticize self, vow to do better, and then try. However, the whole thing sounds arduous and doesn’t leave two people feeling closer, but rather passive in how things are communicated and then, without even knowing it, resentments can build.

What’s an alternative? Lean in!

The idea is simple. When you get that feeling that your partner is displeased, naming it rather than taking it on and figuring it out on your own is the first step.

When you bring it up, do so in the spirit of curiosity. What is your partner trying to tell you? Perhaps it’s that she wants you to help out with housework around the house without being asked. Noticing that is the issue and then naming it with the other, and then asking, “How does it feel to do all of the chores and not have any help?” or “Why does this matter to you?”

Ask questions that open your partner up to telling you more about what she is experiencing in the here and now moment, as well as how this evolved to matter for her. This is also an opportunity for you to let your partner know your side of the story as well. By listening to one another, you can learn a whole lot more about one another and then strive to find a solution that works for both of you.

It won’t be perfect, but in leaning in and opening up the conversation, both parties will have a better sense of what is going on around the topic and who we are in regard to it. From there, compromises can be made and solutions found. More importantly, you will not have taken something on that may or may not be yours and your relationship may gain a further depth of understanding.

Maintaining a curious stance about your partner is key throughout the journey.

Dear Therapist…

Dear Therapist,

My partner doesn’t listen to me, or at least it doesn’t feel like she does. She is there in the room, I am talking, and I think she is hearing every word I am saying and then, a few moments later, she asks me all about what I have just told her. When I tell her I just told you all about that, she disagrees. Why doesn’t she listen to me — more importantly, why does she think she is listening to me?


Listening Muses

An all too familiar complaint in our relationships: a lack of listening! Take heart, this is common.

However, the reason someone may not be listening can vary greatly.

  • Perhaps your partner is doing something else at the same time and is not good at multitasking and, although she thinks she is listening, she is actually not wholly present to everything being communicated.
  • Perhaps although she wants to listen, she actually has something on her mind she wants to tell you about and so her mind is naturally more on her topic than yours.
  • Perhaps she is hearing you, but filtering in a way that is unique to her and so is experiencing your words and what you are communicating in a way that is about her and less about you and your experience.

It’s a very good question you pose — not only why is she not listening, but why does she think she actually is listening. And only she can answer this question.

So, this begs the next step. Sitting down and discussing the mechanics of how you communicate. This sounds almost like a business meeting of sorts and it kind of is – a meeting about the business of your communicating.

You can cover topics in this meeting, inlcuding:

  • What are the best conditions by which she can listen and hear you. Does she need quiet? Does she need to be fully focused on you and your words?
  • Does she have anything on her mind that she wants to talk to you about that she is distracted by?
  • Is something you are saying disturbing her or causing her anxiety? If so, how can she communicate this to you in the moment?

A series of questions like this can help you both better define the optimal conditions for communicating. Also, in the moment of speaking, you may want to check in with her to see what she is hearing you say so she can follow what you are saying and you can have confidence that she is with you.

Although we often think that communication is natural and easy, two people must open up in these ways to optimize the experience of not only speaking, but feeling heard by the other.

May attuned listening be the prize!