Getting started with gratitude — a 30-day challenge for the new year

Bring GratitudeIt arrived. I opened the box and held it up to enjoy it. It was a new wireless speaker. It was solid black, a beautiful piece of technology. I couldn’t wait to listen to it.

I plugged it in and for some reason I couldn’t connect my phone to it. I googled it. I found out I needed to update the software. It took almost an hour to figure out the issue. When I updated the software, it worked!

I played “Stray Cat Blues” by The Rolling Stones. It sounded pretty good, but as the song played I felt a pang of regret. I had an older speaker that didn’t sound quite as good…but it was good enough. I didn’t really need the new speaker.

I’ve seen this habit surface again and again. I’ve gotten better, but it’s a daily struggle: Why can’t I be happy with what I have?

Bring Gratitude

A few years ago, I put myself on a mission to be more grateful for the small things in life. It’s done wonders for my mindset. As I continue to grow and improve my practice, I’m more aware of my internal dialog:

  • I “need” a new speaker.
  • I “need” a new bike.
  • I “need” a new jacket.

The reality is none of these are needs. My old speaker was fine. My old bike is okay. My old jacket can be cleaned.

As I listen to my internal dialog, I’ve noticed my desire to want more things and newer things. The awareness helps. This is not who I want to become. Besides, it costs me too much money.

I’m working on appreciating what I already have instead of wanting to buy something to replace it.

That’s why gratitude is so important. Gratitude helps us shift our mindset to enjoying what we have instead of wanting more. Do you ever struggle with the desire to get that new gadget or another pair of shoes?

Those are two of my main vices that I turn to when I’m feeling down. It’s why I wanted the new speaker. I wanted that feeling of having something new. I thought it would make me feel better.

I’m not perfect, but I’ve learned a lot over the past few years. I keep a daily gratitude journal and it’s done wonders for helping me appreciate what I have instead of focusing on buying that next thing on my list.

The Gratitude Journal

I’m always surprised that it took me so long to keep a gratitude journal. Perhaps the most powerful mindset tool that we have is gratitude!

I’m really big into self-help books and learning new things, but I always consumed instead of taking action. I think it’s this attitude that also encouraged me to collect new gadgets instead of appreciating what I had or knowing that I didn’t really need to buy anything new.

In one book, Why We Do What We Do, researcher Edward Deci explains that when someone has six positive interactions to one negative, they are 31% more productive.

When you have positive thoughts and interactions, it’s easier to focus on what matters. That may be spending time with your family, traveling, or writing. Positive interactions free you up to have the energy to do what matters to you.

One terrific way to foster positive thoughts and interactions is to deliberately and consciously bring gratitude into your daily life. For me, keeping a gratitude journal serves this purpose.

Great Questions

I believe everything starts with our internal dialog. If we let our negative inner voice dictate our happiness, then we’ll constantly feel like we’re not enough. That we don’t have enough.

Next time you are stuck in a difficult situation, watch how you talk to yourself.

Do you ask yourself things like:

  • “Can this person be more boring?”
  • “Why is this taking so long?”
  • “What do I have to do to get noticed?”

Try switching this inner dialog on its head. Try tapping into your curiosity to see if you can ask questions that help you see the interesting parts of the situation.

  • “What am I learning in this situation?”
  • “How did I get so lucky to be in this warm environment?”
  • “What do I notice about this situation that is interesting?”

Great questions help you focus your attention. They enable you to fuse gratitude onto your attitude. Exploring questions like these in your a gratitude journal can help you discover your mindset and motivations.

Keeping a gratitude journal

Start Small

If you’re like me and sometimes get jealous of what other people have, this envy can be a great place to start appreciating what you currently have. As you become better at appreciating what you have, move on to appreciating the people and situations in your life.

Explore these emotions in your gratitude journal. You can start by making gratitude entries about what you appreciate. You could start with looking around your home and being grateful for the kitchen table or your shoes that fit comfortably.

You’ll probably notice what entries energize you, and then you can continue down this path for a few days.

For seven days, try writing what you’re grateful for and why. Start small, and if it feels good then keeping going. I suggest something like this:

  • “I’m grateful for my shoes because they are so comfortable.”
  • “I’m lucky to have a phone that can call my mom, brother, friend, etc.”
  • “I’m grateful for my coworker because she is always willing to listen and help.”
  • “I’m grateful for my ability to dance in my car seat when I’m stuck at a traffic light because it allows me to release my stress.”
  • “I’m grateful for my pets because they make me feel loved and needed.”

The key component here is your why. It’s important because it helps deepen the gratitude journal experience. Within just a few days you’ll probably notice an improvement in your attitude.

If you’re interested, you can join the free 30 Day Bring Gratitude Challenge (running January 1st thru 30th) to help you strengthen your mindset. Come join us and you’ll get email updates and a private Facebook group. If you have any questions, I (Karl Staib) am available seven days a week.

A postcard from Europe: A mid-journey update on my travels

Greetings from Prague! I’m just over halfway through my European vacation, so I thought it’d be fun to share some of my adventures and to take a glimpse at the financial side of this journey.

This trip is unusual for me because I’m traveling with a party of six. My cousin Duane has terminal cancer and wanted to see some more of the world while he still can. A few family members decided to join him. We’re exploring Christmas markets as a group.

The Roth boys in Vienna

For the most part, Duane’s health has been fine over the past two weeks. He tells me that he’s felt great lately, and he’s hopeful he has more life left in him than the doctors say. (Who knows? Maybe he and I can squeeze in another trip before his time on this Earth expires.) That said, he did have to take a short rest yesterday because he became dizzy and disoriented as we strolled the cobblestone streets of Prague. He’s obviously not feeling 100%.

Our group doesn’t have a set agenda. We’re merely moving from city to city, exploring the Christmas markets and other touristy delights. Often when I travel, I’m a traveler not a tourist. Right now, I’m a tourist. I wouldn’t want to do this every trip, but I’m fine with it at the moment.

General Impressions

So far, we’ve been we’ve been to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague. I liked Vienna. I loved Budapest. But after 24 hours here, I’m ambivalent about Prague. I didn’t like it at first, but the city is growing on me. I think one problem is our location.

In the first two cities, we were a mile or two outside the downtown core. We stayed in residential neighborhoods. (In both cases, we were relatively close to university areas too, but that was pure chance.) We were directly across from metro stations each time, so it was easy to get where we wanted to go.

Here in Prague, however, we’re staying in the downtown core, which means we’re immersed in the tourists. (Yes, I realize that we ourselves are tourists and thus part of the problem.) There’s no escaping the crowds and commercialism because of our location. This is an interesting lesson to learn for the future: Stay close to downtown in popular cities but not in the downtown. If you’re close to a transit station, it’s plenty convenient to get where you want.

The Christmas markets have been festive and fun. They remind me of Portland’s Saturday Market, a craft market held every weekend in my home city. Vendors erect small stalls where they sell either food or wares.

A lot of the stuff being sold at the Christmas markets is the same from stall to stall — ornaments, winter clothing, jewelry, souvenirs — but occasionally there are vendors with unusual items, such as cookie stamps, wooden toys, and hand-forged knives.

Shopping at a Christmas market in Prague

I’m more interested in the food stalls. In each individual city, these “huts” are similar to each other. But the food offered varies from city to city.

  • Vienna food stalls sold wieners (“wiener” literally means “Viennese”), wurst, spaetzle, baked potatoes, toast with cheese, and roasted chestnuts. The drink vendors sold hot punch and glühwein. (Glühwein is mulled wine. It’s very popular in Vienna.)
  • Budapest food stalls sold paprika sausages — Hungarians love their paprika! — and pig knuckles and delicious goulash. The drink vendors also sold mulled wine and a variety of punch.
  • Prague food stalls sell chimney cakes, fire-roasted ham, toasted cheese (with jam), and a sort of potato-onion dumpling dish. Here they sell mulled wine too, but they also sell hot mead and cold pilsner. (Pilsner comes from Bavaria, and it’s available everywhere. I like the Czech word for beer — “pivo” — and I enjoy asking for it at the market: “Pivo, prosím.”)

A food stall at a Christmas market in Budapest

The one factor our group failed to consider was the cold. Actually, we considered it…but not enough. We prepared for Oregon cold, not central European cold. (It didn’t help that Duane emailed us from Paris to say that the weather wasn’t as cold as we’d feared.)

We all brought warm clothes, but each of us has had a turn getting chilled to the bone. One night in Vienna, I was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. While the rest of the crew enjoyed ice skating, I made a brisk one-mile walk back to the flat so that I could take a hot bath. Everyone else has been equally cold at some point.

I’m a little worried about Switzerland. The forecast low for when Duane and I arrive in St Moritz tomorrow night is -25 celsius (-13 fahrenheit). Holy cats!

J.D. enjoying Christmas market food on a cold day in Prague Continue reading