This fall, during a catch up session with my mom, I found out that my grandfather told her that I wasn’t good at reaching out to him.
I had a lot of different reactions upon hearing that my 97-year-old grandfather didn’t consider me to be killing it as a granddaughter, ranging from anger and denial to guilt and shame. I live across the country from everyone on my side of the family, as well as a huge chunk of my friends. Like everyone else, I have a busy life, and it’s tough to keep up with everyone. As hectic as life gets, however, I’m tired of my own excuses and want to be better at communication with my loved ones, both near and far.
My Gratitude Plan
Inspired by my grandfather’s words, and my 31st birthday, I adopted a plan to kick start my communication. I embarked on 31 Days of Gratitude, during which I planned to reach out to one person per day, beginning the day after my 31st birthday.
I kept my approach pretty simple, following three rules:
1. Communication could be anything that felt appropriate to the recipient versus force fitting everyone into the same mold. In my project, a few people got emails, a few received gifts and most received hand-written cards.
2. I should stick to one person per day versus crossing multiple people off in one go. (Spoiler alert – I quickly broke this rule, and generally worked on the project once per week.)
3. I couldn’t expect anything in return – this was about paying it forward.
Embarking on the Experiment
The day after my birthday, I bought a stack of pretty but generic cards, and wrote my list of 31 people to shower with my gratitude. I was excited, optimistic and eager to get started on the project. The first few rounds were great – expressing love for family and friends brought me joy, and I was doubly blessed upon receiving texts of appreciation back from my loved ones. The love was flowing, and it was a wonderful way to start the holiday season.
As the weeks went on, however, blank cards started to stack up and my list stayed stagnant. I realized that maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew. As I write this, the 31 days have passed, and I still owe five messages of gratitude.
What I Learned
Even though this was a goal I set for myself, that I still did a decent job achieving, I’m still working on being okay with not doing “enough” this holiday. I still plan to finish what I started this year, and I’m looking at new appreciation accountability habits in 2018.
Regardless, my experiment confirmed that expressing gratitude to family, friends and colleagues is important to me, and that it makes all of us feel good. That warm glow wasn’t just coincidence (or bourbon), either – it’s proven that being kind makes us happy. In fact, research published in the Journal of Social Psychology found that acts of kindness towards others increase satisfaction in our own lives.
I also learned that I need to find a sustainable way to hold myself accountable so that I don’t let days and weeks go by without reaching out, without putting too much pressure on myself that leaves me wracked in guilt. I’m setting that as an intention for 2018.
Want to create your own?
Interested in appreciation accountability for yourself? It’s important that whatever you embark on works both for you and the people you love. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Say “yes” to invitations to celebrate others, and be intentional about expressing your congratulations
- Make a list of your snail mail recipients for the year. Address and stamp envelopes now, write and send cards at a later date – either when you’re feeling inspired by that person, or “just because”
- Vow to respond to personal emails, calls and texts within 24 hours
- Dedicate yourself to saying thank you to your team at work at least once per week, whether you’re at the bottom of the corporate ladder or way at the top
- Focus on sharing words of affirmation at birthdays, rather than shooting off a quick text or Facebook post
- Make a quarterly list of your long distance loved ones, and find time to reach out within those three months, and repeat (My friend uses this method, and it is always wonderful to hear from her!)
Ready to express more gratitude? The sooner you set out on your own challenge, the happier you’ll be.