As 2012 has recently been ushered in, now is the time when we reflect upon new beginnings, new adventures, and new learning, as well as those things in our lives that we plan to change or eliminate—in other words, our list of New Year’s Resolutions.  Fueled with enthusiasm and a sense of optimism, we compile that list with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, we sometimes waver along the way, and our desired results become almost predictability fleeting and our efforts short-lived.

There can be many reasons for that outcome.  Perhaps the items on the list are too grandiose, or beyond our ability to accomplish.  Maybe our list is based on what we should and ought to do, or wanna’ want to achieve, meaning that we haven’t really owned or embraced those behavioral changes.  It could be that we are a tiny bit lazy.  However, I would like to suggest another possible reason for our waning commitment, and that has to do with our choice of words.

In my own experience, I’ve noticed that my “making a list of resolutions” is not nearly as strong as “I resolve to do this….”  “I will” is more forceful than “I want to,” in the same way that “I know” carries a bit more strength than “I believe.”  That extra weight I’m carrying is much more likely to disappear if I say, “I’m determined to lose ten pounds,” rather than “I need to go on a diet.”  Thus, for myself, when my language is concrete and assertive, my commitment is more powerful.

This year, I will practice what I preach by embracing three of the more difficult behavioral changes—for me, anyway—about which I wrote in my book—Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude and Attitude for a Polite Planet.  Since I sometimes have a slight proclivity to be an Eeyore, I will “Cultivate Optimism,” so that I more cheerfully and effectively manage my thoughts.  This journey is certainly going to be easier if I remember to “Laugh At Least Once A Day,” guaranteed to lighten anyone’s perspective.  My toughest challenge, however, is to “Practice Gratitude,” which is actually a life-long path, helping me to not only learn greater appreciation, but acceptance.  Therefore, I hereby resolve…and by the way, I really need to lose ten pounds.

 

T’is the season for giving gifts, and whether you observe Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, or mark other occasions, there is a good chance that you have—or will have—received a present or two, or were treated to a holiday party or celebration.  If that is the case, now is the time to put ink to paper—yes, I mean actual paper—and pen a thank you note to the person who graciously remembered and included you.  It matters little what you might really think about the choice of the gift; what matters is how you make the giver feel, showing your appreciation for their thoughtfulness and effort, rather than taking them for granted.

Inscribing thank you notes is becoming a lost art in our culture with the prevalence of technology, which is rendering our communication increasingly impersonal.  By contrast, a hand-written note makes a statement, standing out among the clutter of e-mails and texts, distinguishing and illuminating your gratitude.  The note does not have to be long; three or four sentences, in fact, can do the trick, which does not require extraordinary effort or time on your part.

It is never too soon to begin this practice, which is why it is important to teach your children at an early age to thank individuals for the gifts they receive; it is an admirable lifelong habit.  From the time our daughter was three, I would sit with her, spelling out a word letter by letter:  “D-e-a-r  G-r-a-n-d-m-a,  T-h-a-n-k  y-o-u  f-o-r ….”  Admittedly, the process—which took hours—could be absolutely agonizing and exhausting, for both of us; however, it was an investment that reaped enormous benefits.  Today, my twenty-year-old daughter writes notes that make the recipient feel like a million dollars, even if the gift was a ten-dollar bill within a card.  Contrast that to a recipient in my own life, to whom I sent birthday and Christmas presents for twenty years, for which I received only one thank you note.  My gifts, it seemed, descended into a black hole.  Had it not been for wanting to preserve the friendship that I had with his mother—who actually believed that notes were unnecessary—I would have curtailed the gifts long ago.

No one wants to be ignored or made to feel like he’s chopped liver.  Writing a small thank you note is a very big gesture that goes a long way toward preventing that occurrence, which is a very nice thing to do.

Human beings can be a wily bunch, with an uncanny ability to readily identify the faults of others while justifying or ignoring our own.  Before pointing fingers, it behooves us to take stock of our own behavior.  This being the final count down week before Santa determines whether we’ve been naughty or nice, perhaps it would be a good idea to think about where we fall on his list.

Looking online, I found a “Santa meter” with the following categories:  very naughty, kind of naughty, not too bad, pretty nice, and very nice.  Obviously, these labels must be based on an “average score” of sorts, as it’s likely that we’re not totally “very naughty” or “very nice” in all areas.  Therefore, I’ve come up with a just-in-time mini-quiz, assigning the following numerical values, so you can see how you score in your behavior self-assessment before Santa makes his own judgment: (more…)

Civility is all about how we can live in community together, treating one another with respect and courtesy.  As the population density of our planet increases, civility becomes an even more essential component to our getting along.  While we’re sometimes tempted to ignore the madding crowds, our awareness and consideration of those in our midst can make life a lot more enjoyable.

When we think of densely populated areas, cities frequently come to mind, with high-rise apartment dwellers and sidewalks teeming with pedestrian traffic.  However, consider a stadium, concert auditorium, or movie theatre; compactly seated, side-by-side in outstretched rows, we find ourselves in pretty tight quarters, whether the venue is in New York, or Montana. (more…)

“Civility costs nothing but buys everything.”

                                                                        —Mary Wortley Montagu

 

When we think of holiday presents, we often think in terms of dollars and cents.  However, when we give of ourselves, the outcome is often priceless, particularly when we connect with others and deepen our interpersonal relationships.  So this season, particularly if your pocketbook is a few pennies short, think of how you might nurture those around you.

1.  Sometimes the gesture can be as simple as smiling at a shopper passing by on a sidewalk.   Smiling is not only the great connector, but can be that bit of holiday cheer that slices through stress and lifts someone’s day.

2.  At an office or neighborhood party, be inclusive.  Pay attention to a fellow guest who is standing alone, possibly because he doesn’t know anyone or is too shy to introduce himself.  Your showing interest by taking a few minutes to chat—and introduce him to others—might brighten an otherwise dull occasion.  Besides, you might find a new friend.

3.  Spend time with your children—baking cookies, decorating the house, reading stories, and playing games—creating memories that are precious, for them as well as yourself. These moments can be remembered and cherished by all, long after the gifts under tree have gone.

4.  Embrace a positive attitude when faced with extended family members or friends with whom you have had contentious relationships in the past.  Determine in advance how you can put an upbeat (and merrier!) spin during the gathering, rather than focusing on the negative.  Praise your brother-in-law for his sense of humor or his suggestion of a good book because “he’s such an avid reader”; hug your cousin for her contribution of her “out-of-this-world sweet potatoes,” even if the tablecloth might have been tastier.

5.  In this season of “peace on Earth and goodwill towards men,” think about repairing a relationship that has caused great suffering.  Consider how making an effective apology to someone that you have harmed might bring you together again.  Conversely, reflect on how you might forgive someone who has harmed you; the release of that burden might set you both free.

 

 

Increasingly, we are living in a culture with an “I’ll get mine” or “me first” mentality, whereby we position ourselves to run ahead of the pack, in competition with others.  Evidence of this attitude is mounting during “Black Friday” sales when, in 2010, customers and company associates alike were trampled by crowds of shoppers stampeding opening doors of stores in the pre-dawn hours.  While those incidents were deemed accidental, random incidents across the country during this season’s Black Friday were more calculated by perpetrators who were armed with pepper spray and loaded guns for what—an opportunity to save a few dollars on a TV or toy?

 

This outrageous hysteria obviously represents one extreme end of the spectrum—certainly not ourselves.  But how often do we fall prey to our own bad behavior, when driven by frustration and fueled by impatience?  Nerves frazzle and tempers flare as we jockey for space in parking lots and checkout lines or deal with disappointment when an item is out-of-stock.  The final straw that almost guarantees a meltdown is when we lose out to a fellow shopper who nabs that sole perfect handbag just as we are reaching for it.  So how can we preserve our sanity in the midst of such chaos? (more…)

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”  

                                                                                                                               –Aldous Huxley

“When eating bamboo sprouts, remember the man who planted them.”

                                                                                                                               –Chinese Proverb

Across our nation today, we gather to celebrate a universal American holiday—Thanksgiving.  In the midst of feasting and observing family traditions and customs, we are reminded that it is a special day set aside on our calendars when we are encouraged to not only reflect upon our blessings and the abundance in our lives, but to actually say “thank you,” in prayer and/or to each other.  Our focus shifts to gratitude, a virtue that is too often neglected, much less nurtured.

Unfortunately, that sense of appreciation often fades as our attention is diverted by the onslaught and hype of Black Friday, a shopping spree turned feeding frenzy that ushers in the high-pressured season where commerce is king.  We begin to think about what we don’t have rather than what we do have. When gratitude is absent, we will always feel lacking, wanting, and needy.  We forget to be grateful; we forget to say thank you.

Gratitude is a life-long practice that needs to be cultivated daily, not just on Thanksgiving.  If we could only realized how rich gratitude makes us feel, we might be compelled to devote more attention to that practice.  It is an antidote to that green-eyed monster, jealousy, curbing our inclination to make comparisons to those who have more than we do.  When we are grateful, we become conscious of the best parts of our lives, recognizing what is truly important and valuable, stabilizing and centering us.

Given that gratitude is life long, it is never too late nor too early to begin.  It is a value to be instilled in our children.  One of my friends, from the time her three children were small, would include—as a topic of discussion around the dinner table—what was the best part of their days.  Not only did that practice help them to be aware of what was positive and good in their lives—which were often the very small things—but to also be grateful for them.  Indeed, it is very often the small things that not only make us happy but the small acts of others which makes our world flow more fluidly.  So when giving thanks for the food on the table, be cognizant of the many hands that allowed that food to be there, beginning with the person who did the planting.