Life Boiled Down to Two Words


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.


  1. Linda Krupp November 26, 2017 at 5:09 am - Reply

    I truly enjoyed reading this post, so much so that I reread it immediately. Your words are quite insightful and can help all of us be more aware of how blessed we are. I like your suggestions of thinking positively about a person and sharing it, as well as expressing thankfulness for three things at the end of a day.

    Thank YOU for taking the time to write and share a very thoughtful essay!

  2. Lois Black November 26, 2017 at 5:20 am - Reply

    Thank you Eric…I love reading your Sunday coffe posts!

  3. Lois Black November 26, 2017 at 5:20 am - Reply


  4. Sandy Reese November 26, 2017 at 5:31 am - Reply

    I really enjoy your Sunday Coffee post. It was especially poignant today. Yesterday the citizens of Rockport were once again treated to a wonderful free meal. Ever since Hurricane Harvey struck in August, the outpouring of generosity has been astounding. Those of us who experienced the devastation of losing homes and businesses have been uplifted by the generosity of others. Not a day in the last 3 months has gone by without evidence of people helping people. I love your line “The secret to living is giving”. The art community here took a very hard hit, but we have all pitched in and helped and the artbeat goes on.

  5. Charlotte Mertz November 26, 2017 at 5:36 am - Reply

    Eric, thank you for this great post. I do enjoy reading your Sunday Coffee every week, often amazed at how closely our thinking aligns or how your comments parallel something I’ve just been thinking about or have written for an upcoming blog or newsletter article. It’s great affirmation to me that those reflections are of a broader view than of just my own limited experience and situation.

    Once again, you have painted the universal by depicting a scene and situation specific to you that my mind can transliterate into a view particular to my own experience. Whether we do it with paint or words, that in itself is a good reminder of how to touch our audience. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and encouragement. You’ve challenged me to broaden my goals and to maintain that spirit and blessing of thanks-giving through the coming year.

  6. Linda Graves November 26, 2017 at 5:54 am - Reply

    Ahh you must be up very early on Texas time to send this already. I do enjoy reading you in the early morning quiet with first coffee, from Ithaca, NY

    This is a new career for me as a fine art gallery owner (formerly a manager and lawyer doing energy efficiency projects in DC at the Dept of Energy, so you bet I use dimmable warm light LED track lighting that does not fade paintings.). Early days as a child my daddy was a salesman and he told me only sell what you believe in. So I sell mostly the art of Brian Keeler since I fell in love with the artist and his art at the same time. When the gallery representing him downtown ended due to death of the owner, I took on creating a destination gallery on the edge of town in a beautiful rural setting in an 1865 Italianate that required a years worth of construction to convert a structurally unsound 2-story wing of our home into a beautiful gallery.
    There is always so much more I must do as a new business start up. And so much to learn. How do you get people to come out into th countryside? I change the exhibition monthly so always something new the first Saturday of the month and being on the Greater Ithaca Art Trail puts us in the news. And that means learning to create a website and loading 30 plus paintings in the upcoming show with images and captions etc. and getting help from all kinds of consultants and entities like our brilliant Visit Ithaca:Chamber of Commerce.

    I bemoan all the data “systems” I still need to set up and have th least aptitude for doing. The database of images saved at different resolutions, inventory cross referenced a zillion ways and the financial systems. Ugh.
    But then I think how far this gallery has come just since opening in May. How much I love meeting people and watching when they totally connect with a painting and know that is the one. Another kindred spirit who will be Living with Beauty.
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I am grateful for you being part of the art world. And my partner came back from Miami over flowing with all he learned and people he met at your fabulous Miami event
    Cheers, Linda

  7. Vimala Arunachalam November 26, 2017 at 6:00 am - Reply

    Thank you for the wonderful Sunday coffee article about Thanks and giving. It made me think how fortunate I am.

  8. Betty DiBartolomeo November 26, 2017 at 6:05 am - Reply

    You are an amazing writer! What a wonderful gift you gave to me this morning, reading your Sunday Coffee note! Thank you, you touched my soul. You write from yours, that truly is a gift!

  9. Louanne Stenger November 26, 2017 at 6:09 am - Reply

    I really appreciate your Sunday blog. It reminds me that there are other artists out there feeling like I do. Thank you for writing your feelings.

  10. Fred Gregory November 26, 2017 at 6:23 am - Reply

    Eric….once again I broke down and started reading emails early in the morning…Another email that pulls me in another direction that I wasn’t ready to go in today.
    You hit the nail on the head again. Great email that pulled my sense of gratitude to the forefront.
    “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.”
    This was a powerful email that had quite an effect. Thank You

  11. Margaret Cutter November 26, 2017 at 6:29 am - Reply

    Eric, your post this morning covers a lot of important ground. Those that read it will benefit from the holidays with the right frame of mind. Then, after the holidays, they will have developed a positive habit, hopefully for life. Thank you.

  12. Brenda Staresnick November 26, 2017 at 6:37 am - Reply

    Eric..please come to Rockport TX..see how a small community (8,000 +) is surviving Harvey. There is such a vibrant art vibe here even if the art center was taken in the storm. Out artists are still painting AND rebuilding in the same process. Awesome population! Thanks for your words.

  13. Jeanne November 26, 2017 at 6:37 am - Reply

    Very Good Rick.
    Love you and appreciate you.

  14. LAWRENCE MASLOWSKI November 26, 2017 at 7:22 am - Reply

    Thank you for your inspirational emails! Best to you and yours in your continued endeavors to make the world we live in a much better place.

  15. Beth Cooper November 26, 2017 at 8:18 am - Reply

    Thank you for the reminder of gratitude. Your blog brought tears to my eyes this morning. Grateful for your vision and your words.

  16. Carolyn Wilkinson November 26, 2017 at 8:54 am - Reply

    My favorite holiday–and the only day of the year when we see all our rather small family. I am especially glad that the young adults say it is a very special time for them. They are the ones who will carry on the tradition.
    It is a challenge to have dinner for 20 in a small house but when I think of not doing it again(I am 80) I know I don’t have a choice.
    And Eric—has your team looked at San Antonio for the plein air convention? I live in Kerrville and would love to see it there.
    Carolyn Wilkinson

  17. Louise November 26, 2017 at 9:17 am - Reply

    Beautifully written and a great reminder to us all!

  18. Dee Martella November 26, 2017 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Thanks for the reminder! Heard the same thing at Mass this morning…So many people in our parish are experiencing troubled times. We don’t have to look far to find someone to help. Thank you again!

  19. john pototschnik November 26, 2017 at 10:02 am - Reply

    An uplifting, kind exhortation, from a humble soul. Thanks, Eric.

  20. Maureen Wallace November 26, 2017 at 11:06 am - Reply

    Thank you Eric for your insightful message of Thanks & giving. I made a decision in my church service today, that coupled with this message and one a few weeks ago of giving a painting away, has prodded me to give some of my small paintings away to any that are
    laid on my heart Thank you.

  21. Ceci Lam November 26, 2017 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Fine words to read at the start of my day. An “attitude of gratitude” is indeed the recipe for a more satisfying and joyous life. I am one of thousands of artists with hundreds of paintings stacked in closets and on racks. I recently had a four day showing and sent paintings home with dear friends who ventured out in the cold Vancouver rain to support me. Gifting those pieces gave me as much, if not more, pleasure than all the sales combined. Driving a disabled friend, caring for an aged parent, supporting efforts in poor neighbourhoods…opportunities abound.

  22. Dagmar Kau November 26, 2017 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    Dear Eric
    I try to read your newsletter every week and look forward to what you have to say. I live on the island of Oahu and belong to a group of painters who meet every Wednesday and find a spot on the Windward side of the island to paint. We have so much fun doing this and sharing the results of our efforts. We have a one month exhibit of our paintings each February at the Ho’omaluhia artists, it what the hey. Painting is what keeps us in the loop and makes life wonderful.
    I am not good at taking pictures of my wor, so I have never entered any of your invites. I love Plein Ait magazine and look forward to each issue.
    Aloha from Hawaii
    Dagmar KU

  23. Dagmar Kau November 26, 2017 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    I cannot believe all those errors in the comment I sent you, need to do some proof reading before clicking on send. Sorry if you might question some of what I wrote.
    Our exhibit is held at the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens in Kaneohe Hawaii. My painters group goes by the name
    ‘Windward Wanderers “

  24. Pauline Nichols November 26, 2017 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    I wonder Eric if you realize how many gifts you are giving so many every SUNDAY with your Sunday coffee ! Your insight to life is such a gift ! Like many others I am so inspired to be a better person just by reading it ! Keep writing Eric ! thank you ! and blessings to you !

  25. William McCarthy November 26, 2017 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Eric. I love your Sunday Coffee blog, not only are you a good writer, you also speak from the heart. All of which I appreciate very much

  26. Mary Erickson November 26, 2017 at 5:04 pm - Reply

    Wonderful Sunday morning blog Eric. Thank you.
     “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” -Winston Churchill
    “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” (Rabindranath Tagore)

  27. Bertrand Dr. Suzanne November 26, 2017 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    Thanks a lot for this post, Eric. I spent this weekend caring for my 1 year old grand son while the parents enjoyed their first weekend alone in a year. I was planning some plein air painting in the gorgeous Gatineau park in Quebec. But… who would have a full hour of time with a daring toddler? So I came back home with no painting, not even a sketch or a watercolour. But looking back ( as you suggested) at the weekend, it gave the parents, who lives an extremely busy life, the opportunity to recharge their batteries until the holidays at Christmas. And while living far away from him, I now have those gorgeous memories of a little boy suddenly eager to talk.

  28. Regina Jacobson November 27, 2017 at 9:38 am - Reply

    Thank you for making me mindful of inspiration, elevation and observation. Such a blessing to read your comments that help to set my feet in the right direction and focusses my thoughts upward and forward.

  29. Barbara Kelling November 27, 2017 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Simply beautiful! What a wonderful world it would be if we all follow your lead.

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