Fog has kissed the long, winding driveway, wet from the dew. Yellow light saturates the giant oaks as the morning sun streaks across the low fog lingering atop the grass, making an eerie effect of yellow light hitting slightly lavender-colored fog. I’m wishing I had a camera about now because I know it won’t last long enough for me to run, get my easel, and set up to paint it. I’ll have to rely on my memory for another time. Mornings make for great paintings.

Normal Sunday mornings are quiet and filled with solitude, but this morning I sit on the front porch, having just said farewell to the last of the visiting family members who are getting an early start in hopes of beating the traffic on their long drive to a distant city.

A Big, Beaming Smile

Flashbacks of our time together bring a smile to my face … playing games around the table, sitting up late nights talking, laughter, meals together, and more laughter. And though it’s hard to see them go, knowing it may be another year before we connect, there is also a sense of relief that things will return to normal around home.

Earlier in the week I posted a challenge to friends on Facebook, suggesting they post six days of photos that represent things they are grateful for. I’m surprised at how many have done it, but most enlightening is how special it makes them feel.

Take a Turn Around

A wise mentor once told me that when you’re feeling a little down, a little like things are not going well, do an about face … turn around and look backward at where you are, compared to where you started. Suddenly things come into focus when you realize that our sometimes unsatisfied striving to do more is met with the realization that we’ve all done so much. Looking backward instead of forward is a great gratitude exercise.

Human nature, I suppose, is always wanting more, wanting to improve, to grow, to take things to the next level.

Not Good Enough

Take my art studio, for instance. It’s not good enough … or so I was thinking. After all, the dream is to one day have a tall room with giant north-facing windows and a space big enough to do 20-foot paintings, and room for more visiting painters on Wednesday nights when I paint figures. One day, I think, maybe I’ll have that ultimate studio.

Yet this week a visiting guest was telling me how wonderful my studio is and how fortunate I am to have it, and as I stopped and looked back, I realized they were right. Before moving here and converting an old pool cabana into a studio (the previous owners never built the pool), I thought back to the days when I had a small corner of the garage. I’d go out every night, winter or summer, and be either too hot or too cold, but I was grateful to have it. It was better than when I had no garage.

By the act of someone else pointing out how lucky I am, and by the act of looking in reverse, I came to the realization that I’m lucky to have what I have and that the ultimate studio isn’t necessary. Somehow this has made me feel so much more grateful.

Of course, this exercise isn’t about a studio, it’s about all things and all situations. By turning around and looking backward, I see there is so much to be grateful for. I highly recommend it.

Things Are So Much Better

I’m also grateful that when I look back, most of my circumstances have improved. I know that’s not true for all, which makes me even more grateful. And it drives me to want to help them find a way that they too can look back and see that their own circumstances have improved.

Mining for Gratitude

I’ve spoken about gratitude before. Life gets easier and is more pleasant when approached with the spirit of being grateful. Though I don’t always accomplish it, there is value in thinking about three things you’re grateful for each day before you fall asleep, and first thing when you awaken.

Since I started this process, I found I was less grumpy and stopped taking things, and people, for granted.

A Single Notification

I also, at the urging of a wise friend, started trying to find one great thing about someone I know and making a point of sending them a note to point it out to them. Not only does it make their day, it makes me feel better by making them feel better. Therefore I try to do this every day, and because of it, I start the day with the right tone … gratitude passed along.

The concept of Thanksgiving is truly a blessing. A little prayer, a little round robin around the table where people talk about what they are giving thanks for, can be powerful stuff. A chance to speak well of others, a chance to let them know how much we care, though it may not be said often enough.

I’ve realized that the gift of Thanksgiving is something I need to repeat more frequently, not just one time a year, not just on holidays.

On Friday after Thanksgiving we were all barraged with the pressure of buying gifts for others and the obligations of Christmas or Hanukkah. This will continue tomorrow on “Cyber Monday” and will be repeated constantly for the next four weeks. Yet the gift has already been given for many of us — the gift of being grateful for others and what they have done for us.

The Ghost of Thanksgiving Past

I think back to Thanksgivings past and pine for the people who once shared the table but who are no longer with us. Though I’m thankful for their too-brief time in my life, I know that one day my chair will sit empty, and it is my hope that people will one day look back on their times with me and regret that I’m no longer there.

I feel as though that won’t happen, though, unless I spend my life doing more for people and expecting nothing in return. What can I do to leave them happier, feeling better about themselves? What can I do to encourage others? What can I do to help them live their dreams? What can I do to share my gratitude for knowing them?

The secret to living is giving. It’s taken me decades of being self-centered and selfish to realize that self has nothing to do with a rich life.

How we each give is personal. And if we give to get something in return, it’s empty.

A Great Year in the Making

In the next few weeks I’ll go through my annual exercise of planning my year, setting my goals, evaluating this year and what I did well and where I failed. In that process I will set some lofty goals, but those goals are not all about financial progress. They will measure how well my team and I did in serving others. How many more homes can we build in the local rehabilitation center to help homeless people get on their feet? How many more meals can we serve? How many more people can we teach to paint, so they can find the soul of an artist? How many more can we encourage? How many can we train to market their art so they can accomplish their dreams? What can we invent, create, or get better at doing so we can amplify these efforts and touch more lives?

Though today marks the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, for me it marks the beginning of my month of planning before I enter a fresh start for a new year.

Doing More

I realize I’ve not done enough. I can do more, my team can do more, and I can be more giving, more encouraging, and find more things to be grateful for. I know I’m held to a high standard by my maker, not to earn anything, but to share what I’ve been given because I’m moved to do so.

I’d like to say that I give thanks to you because you’ve taken precious time that will never return in order to read this little note today.

I’d also like to encourage you to adopt the one thing that changed my life, which is living with a spirit of generosity and gratitude. Start by selecting ways you can remind yourself of the things you too can be grateful for. Sometimes we forget and get caught up in all of our wounds. Next, seek ways you can encourage others, and help them see how much they are appreciated. Then start focusing on what you can do for others and take baby steps every day, starting today.

You see, it all boils down to two words. Thanks and giving.

Have a great day … and relax. You deserve it.