How to Cultivate Gratitude

I am happy and blessed with my life, though it is not always free of challenges and trials.  As I have shared before, I have struggled with depression since I was a little girl.  Though this was not the cause of all of my depression, I found that when I realized what I actually had rather than focusing on what I lacked; I found that I was able to cultivate more joy and gratitude into my life.  Yes, cultivating gratitude can sometimes be a challenge, especially when you are facing something tough and personal. However, it still can be done. Gratitude should be cultivated even more during times of prosperity and peace.  Here is what I am learning and have learned about how to cultivate a grateful attitude:

  1. Focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t have: I believe that the number one barrier to being grateful is our focus. When we focus on all the things that we lack, we tend to develop an attitude of self-pity, which often leads to complaining and bitterness. When we focus on the things we do have, we realize just how much we are blessed. For instance, when I get frustrated at myself because I don’t know how to do something right, my focus is wrongly on the talents that I don’t have instead of my strengths. However, if I shift my focus on something I am better at—such as writing– I find that I can be much more encouraged and less upset at the thing in which I am struggling.  Many people who struggle with being grateful for what they have also struggle with envy because their focus is on getting (or wishing they had) something that someone else possesses, instead of what they have already been given.  For instance, I used to envy people who were happily married and had children, because, as a single, I did not have those for myself. However, when I instead focused on the relative freedom and time I had to help others, I realized the blessing that I had being single that these married people no longer had.
  2. Know that we are often given more than we deserve: Many people, including myself, at times, struggle with the fact that we get more than we deserve, because of our sense of entitlement. However, even though we have all hurt others, though maybe not all intentionally, most of us still have people that love and care for us, and we have some semblance of joy in our lives.  The fact that others still give us mercy even though we may have hurt them before should cause us to rejoice and be thankful!  If you drive, have you not gotten a ticket even though you were speeding through traffic? That is evidence of mercy!   Or you made a serious error at work, and your boss does not fire you? That, too, is evidence of grace and mercy!  Bring to mind the moments when you should have had to bear the consequences of your bad actions, but in God’s and others’ mercy, you didn’t have to.  Moreover, think of the times when you did something careless, but you were saved from disaster.
  3. Consider others who are in worse situations than you: Finally, a great way to cultivate gratitude is not to look at others who are doing better than you, but see the people around you who are in more difficult situations than you. For instance, some people I know have either a loved one struggling with a serious medical issue or are struggling themselves. This helps me to be grateful that my family and I are in good health, even though I may come home from work tired sometimes. Recently, at work, we had a celebration for the bonus that my co-workers and I were able to get on our last paycheck.   They served pizza. Though the pizza became cold after being out for several hours, I was grateful work provided pizza for us because of what I heard about the struggle of people in other countries to get any food at all. In particular, I was thinking about the people of Venezuela. I heard that since they have had an electrical shortage, meat cannot be adequately cooled in freezers, so eventually it becomes spoiled, but the stores sell them anyway because people need food. So, the people actually buy the spoiled meat, season it with some spices, and eat it!  Their dire situation helps me be grateful that we have so much food, electricity, and working cooling systems (freezers and refrigerators) in the U.S and that we can eat delicious, edible food that is not spoiled.

By focusing on all that God has blessed me with, by knowing that I am often being given more than I ultimately deserve and by considering people in worse situations than me, I am able to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for my life. When I do this, I find that I am not only able to be more thankful for what I have, but I am also to have more joy, even in the tough times. Even though we may face many challenges and struggles, we still can cherish and appreciate what we do have before it is too late.

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Ways You Can Encourage Others

In order to celebrate the National Day of Encouragement, which is officially September 12, I think it is important to make those around us feel loved and encouraged, especially that day.  Sometimes, we may be at a loss as to what to say to someone who is feeling especially discouraged today, or we may not feel especially motivated to be encouraging, especially if the people around you keep berating you in some way, or they are pressuring you into being someone who you are not or cannot be.  However, tough as it may be, the difference we make in others’ lives just by encouraging them can be life-changing. Here are some ways I have found that we can encourage others:

Through words of validation:

My online friend Holly is the best at this, even though she has been invalidated far too often.  When I was upset, she always respected my right to vent and feel what I was feeling.  She offered me words of encouragement that let me know that she was on my side and would support me through it all.  So, how can you validate someone?  A) Refrain from judging or condemning the person, even if you disagree with some of the choices the person has made.  Just listen to them, and offer words of hope. You don’t have to agree with everything the person is saying, but you don’t have to insult them or be judgmental either.   For instance, if someone you know is struggling with an addiction, don’t tell them they “should” do this or that. A.) They may not be prepared to hear advice yet, and will just shut down if you try to tell them “shoulds.” B) A better way to approach this person is to tell them that you will support them when they are ready to stop the addiction and will be there for them even now.   Another way to validate someone is to affirm their best qualities. This validation will especially boost a person who struggles with low self-esteem.  Of course, do not just “flatter” them to get something you want, but do it in a genuine, heartfelt way. 

When someone is going through a tough time:

I just had a really bad day yesterday when I was just feeling down on myself and was very stressed.  However, several people who were really close to me encouraged me by reminding me of the good that I had accomplished in my life and told me how I was doing the best I could.  Telling someone who is struggling with depression that they are doing the best they can for the situation that they are in expresses both empathy and validation for their struggle.  While other people may wrongly think that they are just being “lazy” or “negative” in some way, you can be the beacon of hope and encouragement in their lives by validating their struggle. You can also encourage people going through a tough time by just spending quality time with them.  When one of the congregants at my church was very sick, many people visited and encouraged her. She was very happy to see us, and thus she was able to not feel so alone in her pain. 

Through words and actions of appreciation:

There are only a few things worse, in my opinion, than having the good that you have done on earth or for someone go unappreciated or rejected.  However, some people feel that the good that they do is either in vain, or that no one appreciates them. I am trying to change that mindset in my sphere of influence by making sure that the good that people have done for me does not go unappreciated.  I want the people in my life to know that they matter and that they are loved.  You can also make sure the good that the people in your life have done for you is appreciated and valued. Some of the ways you can show your appreciation for others is by writing them a heartfelt thank-you note, by telling them how much you appreciate them  (It is better if you can point to specific instances where you felt loved and cared for by them.) , and by caring for them in their time of need.

These are some of the ways I have found that you can encourage others today.  Many people around you are facing stressors of different kinds, and some are even feeling overwhelmed or discouraged by life’s circumstances.  However, with your words of encouragement, you can help boost their whole outlook on life and give them hope in whatever they are facing.  Let’s be encouraging to those around us, starting today and see the world change for the better!

Don’t Waste Your Life- a poem

poem written on:  9/4/2018

Don’t waste your life

On the trivial

Don’t waste your life

On bitterness

Don’t waste your life

On not trying

Don’t waste your life

On the fleeting

 

Embrace each day

As the last one

Know you have done

The best you could

Forgive others

And show mercy

Be kind always

And most of all

Be a bright light

And show the love

From up above

5 Convictions I Strive To Live By Everyday

On this Labor Day (a holiday celebrating resting from work in the U.S, though, ironically I’m working that day!) Weekend, I have been thinking a lot about what my future may be, what I’m doing with my life now, and how I can improve myself and help others. What I keep coming back to, in pondering all this, are these following convictions on which I base my life.  These convictions have developed both by my growing relationship with God, and all the things that I have been learning from those that God has put in my life.  Here are these convictions, how I plan to continue to implement them into my life, and some of the people who inspire me to live these:

  1. Be authentic.—There is little else that angers me more than someone who lives to lie and deceive others, or who claim to have a life of truth and love, but their actions tell others, otherwise. On the other hand, I appreciate those who are able to be honest and vulnerable, even at the risk of their own reputations. I aim to be someone who appreciates, encourages, and lives authenticity.  I want people to be able to be real with me. I do not appreciate when people lie because they are too afraid to tell the truth. When people share their hearts with me without hesitation and with all honesty, I always strive to value that. One person that I believe had an authentic soul was Rachel Joy Scott, one of my faith heroes, who was murdered in a school shooting, almost 20 years ago.  She didn’t hesitate to write about and discuss her struggles with her faith, and she lived her faith in Christ well–loving others as she had been loved by God and others through caring about the new people in her school, the disabled, and the hurting.
  2. Do your best.—My dad always encourages me to do my best, even when doing so, may not always produce desirable results. My dad does not expect perfection of my brother and me, but he does expect our very best.  However, I did not fully heed this practice until an incident in fourth or fifth grade, when I refused to read a book about the Gold Rush because it bored me to death. However, when I had to do a presentation about it, I had to read (or at least, skim) the book in order to do well on it. I ended up passing this portion by the skin of my teeth. Since then, I have almost always strived to do my best with what I could. This has led me to try my best to achieve what I can in many areas of my life, including my job and my relationships with others.
  3. Never stop caring about other people.—I wrote once, as my Facebook status, that we become monsters when we stop caring about others. I have seen that monstrous part come out in even myself when I stop caring about other people. Too many times, I have seen or heard about it coming out in others who stopped caring, even if only for a moment, too.  Thus, I aim to never stop caring about others, as much as possible.  Yes, sometimes constantly caring about those around me can be exhausting and even overwhelming, but I think it is still worth it.  When you genuinely care about others, you can change lives for the better.  When I try to encourage those who need it, I find that they are more joyful and have at least some of the needed boost to their day.  We care about others mainly by assigning value to them.  One way you can do this today is to write a heartfelt note to someone who has made a positive difference in your life or by verbally and sincerely thanking them.  Sometimes we all need the encouragement that our good deeds and efforts matter in this life, and that someone cares about us.  My favorite aunt has always striven to care about others.  I have written in a previous post, that when she offered to host us during our trip to see her and the rest of our relatives, she became very ill. Despite this, she continued doing what she could to care for and accommodate us.  I aim to be like her in caring about the people in my life.
  4. Live with passion.—For many years, I have lived with little passion. Sure, I had, what I would call, “bursts of passion,” but they never lasted more than a couple of weeks. However, since getting my current job and being part of my current church, I have had renewed passion for life. I aim to be passionate about everything I do.  For instance, at my job, I do not just want to do enough to “get by,” but I want to do my very best, with a positive and energetic attitude. Yes, sometimes I will fail at this, but this is my goal every single day.  I do not want to delve into a depressed or passionless life anymore, but I want to do everything with meaning, purpose, and/or joy.  My friend Veronica* (*=not her real name) lives with passion.  Not only does she aim to care about those around her, but she aims to live with passion and joy in everything she does.  Her smile and her infectiously joyful spirit are the attitudes I want to possess also for myself.
  5. Look for the best in people always.—With all the negativity in the world and in social media, I want to “upset the apple cart,” so to speak, by looking for the best in humanity, rather than dwelling on the worst in humanity. I aim to watch more positive videos, both on YouTube and elsewhere, about people doing kind and uplifting things for others. I aim to try to remove myself from conversations where people are speaking negatively and gossiping about someone else.  In my aim to encourage people, I want to be able to look to the best in the people who I surround myself, and help the light in them shine and grow.

These are the five convictions I strive to live by, not only to be successful in my own life, but, more importantly, to share the love I found in God and others, with those in my life.  We should always be authentic, so we can give others the chance to love us for who we really are, not just an image we project to outsiders.  We should always do our best so we can be satisfied that we did all we could in life, and have no regrets about what we did or didn’t do.  We should care about others, so that we can make a positive difference in this world and bring love to others.  We should live with passion, so that we always have hope and purpose in our lives.  Finally, when we look for the best in others, we can help the sunshine in them grow and thrive.

Why Love is Worth It

Too many times I hear on the news, stories like these: a man kills his pregnant wife and two children, because he had an affair with another woman; people in the government spewing words of hatred and vitriol at each other because they can’t stand the others’ criticism,  several teenagers beating up a man because they believed he was Muslim. The man beaten up, as it turns out, wasn’t a Muslim at all. He was Sikh, but no matter. The point is, news stories like these reflect the problem of apathy and hatred in our society.  Moreover, hate is ultimately not worth it—not for those around you, and also not for you either.

Wouldn’t you rather hear stories like these, anyway:  a.) A caring police officer saves the life of a little girl trapped in a hot car for twelve hours.   b) A teenage girl touches many lives by seeking and encouraging the new in her school, the hurting, and the disabled.  After she is martyred, many people share with her parents what an impact she had made on their lives.  c.) Many people band together on social media and volunteer to return a lost dog to its owners.

While hate ultimately destroys everyone and everything in its path, love restores, renews, and redeems. Love, as I define it, is not simply a romantic gesture, but the real life, gritty, lavish, life-changing, joy-filled sacrifice and life that both believes the best in others and seeks their best.

This love, though it may be tough to live out sometimes, is always worth it. Here is why:

  1. Love positively changes others’ lives: – Love can influence people’s hearts. Heart, as defined here, is the soul of someone—with all their emotions, thoughts, and passions. True love can soften someone who previously was callous and cold.  When you show sacrificial and genuine love to someone, their spirit is lifted up. We all want to be loved, and when someone shows us a deep, genuine love, we instinctively know we have value in their eyes. For instance, I know my family loves me because they have often sacrificed time, money, and their own interests to help me through something or because they know I would be impacted positively because of their sacrifices. When my friends and I show love to each other at work, I see our eyes light up and people’s hearts generally soften, even if they have a “tough guy or gal” mentality on the outside. Love also can cause a chain reaction. When Rachel Joy Scott touched many lives in her community by her kindness and generosity, after she passed away, many people have been inspired to touch lives the way Rachel did, including this writer.  Naturally, if a leader leads with kindness, their people are likely to follow their example. Love can also heal brokenness. For example, in my own life, there were several people at work I did not get along with for one reason or another. However, when I intentionally tried to be  kind and loving to them, I found that not only did these people softened towards me, but I also began to heal from the bitterness and anger I had felt for them. Also, when a survivor of abuse, bullying and other hurts is finally, truly loved, with no strings attached, they begin to heal from their pains dramatically.
  2. Love positively changes your life: When you truly demonstrate sacrificial love for someone else, your character will be built. For instance, when I was a young child, I was extremely rigid and self-centered. However, as I began to learn how to love and care for others, these tendencies began to become less and less. No, I am still not perfect, and I still do struggle occasionally with these self-centered and inflexible tendencies, but I can tell you that I am a much better person now than when I was ten years old! Love also helps you gain confidence in yourself and others. As you love others, and see the positive effects of genuine love in your life, you will see yourself and the world in a much brighter light. No wonder many counselors suggest that people who are depressed do something to love another person! Because of this confidence, love will help you have more joy in your life.
  3. Finally, love is worth it, because there is always hope in love: True love always perseveres, even when everything else has given up. For instance, some people were telling me to give up on someone that I had harbored a grudge against. Ultimately, though, my love for them didn’t allow me to give up, and I was able to forgive them.  There is always forgiveness in love. True love never holds grudges. Once you hold a grudge against someone for more than a day, you no longer love them.  True love also looks positively to the future and to the other person who is being loved.  A person who truly loves someone else never gets jealous, but truly wants the best for the other person, even if it doesn’t always include the lover.

Yes, it is tough to truly love sometimes, but it is certainly worth it. Not only will true love positively impact those around you, but it will also positively change your own life as well.  Also, if you don’t give up loving, even in the difficult times, there will be much hope for you and your loved ones in the future. So never give up on love, because it is always worth it!

What I learned in Five Years

Five years ago today, I had just been employed at my previous job for a few months.   Also, I was five years into membership at my previous church.  I had just met my mentor J, maybe a year back.  All in all, I could have never known the adventures in my life that awaited me, even a year or two later.  Five years later, I can honestly say that I have learned so much. Here are some of the things I learned:

First and foremost, I learned how to relate better to other people.  The one thing that I will always appreciate about my former place of employment is that they taught me so much about how to relate successfully to customers that I also apply to the job that I have now.  For instance, I learned how to cater to the customer’s needs, even when it may have been inconvenient or difficult to do so. Thus, I learned just how valuable the customers are to the business.  More recently, I have also learned the power of forgiveness. I can think of several people that I currently work with or for that I had misgivings about in the past, with whom I now get along great!  One important thing that I learned from those experiences that helped me to be able to forgive these people is to put myself in their shoes.  I know it may seem very difficult to do, especially since they hurt you! It was tough for me too, but when I was able to do this, I found that I was able to see, not just the person that hurt and damaged me, but maybe a hurting, vulnerable soul inside. I was able to see them through eyes of compassion and love, instead of through eyes of hate and disgust. Thus, I also learned how to love people better. Though being angry is still a struggle for me, I have learned so much about understanding others better and being a living sacrifice both for God and others.

Secondly, I learned some secrets to be content. Overall, I can say, five years later, I am more content with my life than I had been before.  One secret of contentment that I learned is gratitude.  In 2014, a year after 2013 (which was five years ago), I became very ill and had to be rushed to the E.R one day. (For the full story on this, go to this link.).  To make a long story short, I had an inflamed gallbladder that was twice the size it should have been, and it had to be removed. However, it was only three years after the surgery that I realized that I could have died had the surgery not occurred when it did! So, realizing that, I have learned to value my life more.  Also, many people around me have either gotten sick or died, and experiencing these trials alongside them has helped me to appreciate my good health more and also the value of making a positive difference in others’ lives.  Very recently, I have also learned to worry less. Though I still struggle with worry sometimes, I can happily say it is less than before. I have learned to trust God’s plan for me and also to let certain things that used to worry and aggravate me, go. For instance, I used to get really upset when traffic was really bad and people cut in front of me.  However, ever since my recent vacation where I learned how to tolerate traffic that was BEYOND horrible (even though I did not drive), I learned to be more patient and grateful for the comparatively smoother traffic I have where I live!

Finally, I also learned how to stay motivated and passionate in life.  One of the things I learned was to widen my interests. I learned this primarily by reading others’ blogs, as part of the blogging community I am part of online. Reading blogs covering a variety of topics, has piqued my interests in things that I didn’t care about or focus much on before, such as cooking and travel.  I also met diverse groups of people at work and at church. Meeting these people has also helped me discover new interests and things to learn about that I have never explored before.  I also have learned how to look to the life beyond the grave. Because of what I have learned in church and in life, I have learned to focus on a.) eternal rewards (i.e heaven) and b.) leaving a positive legacy for future generations more. This focus has motivated me to do the best I can in almost every aspect of my life. I want to leave this world knowing that I contributed something of value to it, and that I loved others as the valuable beings they are.

Overall, though these past five years have gone by so fast, I have learned so much. I can honestly say that I am a different person than the one five years ago. In the future, I want to continue to grow as a person and continue to live a positive legacy for those around me.

On Loss and Love: Lessons Learned 

-in memory of all my loved ones and friends who have passed away

This past week, for me, has been a week of both contemplation and mourning.  The day when I was to attend a memorial service for my friend’s sister, I found out that a dear congregant of my church, who I was just starting to know, had just passed away.  Meanwhile, I heard on the T.V broadcast, more sobering news about the problems of violence in Chicago. Also, I heard on the broadcast that white nationalists and anti-racist protestors where planning marches all across the country. The last time this happened (i.e  last year), there was widespread violence—especially in Charlottesville.  While I have heard that both my friend’s sister and the dear congregant valued people and life, sadly much of society is turning the other way.  I believe that one of the roots of most of society’s ills is the fact that they don’t really value people.

In fact, one lesson that I learned on loss and love is not to take others for granted.  Unfortunately, all of us (including me, of course), have been guilty of taking for granted someone’s presence, at one time or another.  For instance, for many years, I had not taken much of an effort to really help or get to know my aunt. Yes, I appreciated all that she had done for my family and me, but it didn’t register in my head just how much she had done, until she got very sick when I saw her about a month ago.  Fortunately, I still can get to know her now. Also, I was very fortunate that I was able to visit my dear congregant before she passed away and realize what a beautiful and joyous soul she was, even in the midst of her pain and suffering!   Had I not realized how much my aunt had done for me now, and had I not taken the time to see and get to know my dear congregant friend before she had passed away, I would have been filled with regret and deep sadness about missing opportunities to see such beautiful souls.  One practical way not to take others for granted is to thank the people in your life who have had a positive impact on you.  Don’t just assume that they will be with you forever, because even tomorrow is not guaranteed for us—or them either.  Don’t assume they will be able to provide their help or impact you in the way you want them to, because sickness or death may take them.

Another lesson that I have learned on loss and love is to value the time that I have on this earth. Strive not to waste time. I know waiting in line or in traffic may seem like “time-wasters,” but I don’t mean those. The more dangerous time-wasters in our life, I believe, are being jealous of someone, chasing material wealth, and obsessing over our outer appearance.  I am beginning to learn more and more that being jealous of someone (for more on jealousy, or envy, please see this post.)  is so much a waste of time, primarily because it does not work to improve oneself, only to destroy another person.  Also, thinking in your head ways to destroy a person ultimately not only hardens your heart, but also ultimately destroys you, if this envy is left unchecked.  Chasing material wealth is a waste of time because it does not last forever. When you die, you cannot take your wealth or even your car with you.  Being generous and leaving a positive mark on this world will last longer than trying to hold on to something that ultimately will be destroyed or lost.  Obsessing over outer beauty is also a waste of time because ultimately it won’t last. We get older, and eventually our body decomposes after we die.   Yes, we should strive to look and smell decent whenever we can, since this is a gesture of politeness. However, we should not have to spend hours looking good every day just to impress others.  So, how do we save time? I would attest that the best uses of our time are to spend it joyfully with those you love and/or care about, by serving others in need, and by doing what you can to benefit others.

Thirdly, another lesson that I learned in love and loss is to forgive, forgive, and forgive.  Even when a family member hurt my friend and her sister, they still took care of and loved this person when they became sick.  Had they had still held on to their bitterness and resentment, things would have probably turned out much differently.  When we die, knowing we forgave those who had hurt us, I believe we will leave this earth much more joyfully and at peace than if we hold on to bitterness and anger against someone else.  This is one reason that I am glad that I was able to forgive some of the people that I worked with that had hurt me emotionally.   I know I have forgiven one of them, because now I feel closer to them and actually care about them more deeply than I have ever had before.

Finally, but not least, another important lesson in loss and love I learned is to strive to enjoy life.  My dear congregant friend, even though she could barely get out of bed and was in immense pain, still was able to greet my other friend and me with a joyous demeanor when we saw her.  From her, I learned that one is still able to have joy even in the midst of life’s trials. I can have confidence that either or both God and my loved ones will always be with me in the midst of my pain, and in that I can rejoice.  I can look to the positive aspects of my life that are still intact, and focus on those, instead of my pain. I am still struggling to apply this to my life, but I do see some improvements.  My congregant friend, even though she is no longer with us, still inspires me with her infectious smile that was present even in the midst of her illness and suffering.  I also have learned to enjoy every moment of my life.  Even in waiting in line to pay for groceries, for example, one still can enjoy it by striking up conversation with the other people waiting in line for you. This can be an opportunity to see the beauty in the souls with you.   Learn to enjoy life even in the mundane tasks that you may have to do at work or at school.  I see too many people just going through the motions, and then wondering why life is so hard and depressing.  Find joy in the people you are with. Don’t assume that everyone you are going to meet is a jerk. Yes, some of them are, but there are also others who may be very considerate and loving of you.  Try not to focus on the tasks and the people that make us miserable, but on those that help you get through the day.

Both my friend’s sister and my dear congregant friend embraced life and others in a way that allowed them to both enjoy life and value others.  This is the legacy they will leave to me, and this is the same way I strive to live my life. Sometimes, death makes us ponder what our purpose in life is and where we are going.  This pondering is vital so that we can fulfill our life’s purpose and be more focused on what’s most important in our lives. We have only a limited time on this earth. Let’s make it count!