Gratitude project

Thanksgiving can get buried in feasts, football and even rote thankfulness. But to be truly grateful can be transformative, as this writer's two-week experiment with her "status updates" revealed.
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Himanee Gupta-Carlson

Thanksgiving can get buried in feasts, football and even rote thankfulness. But to be truly grateful can be transformative, as this writer's two-week experiment with her "status updates" revealed.

I learned about the gratitude challenge on Nov. 9, my birthday, from a childhood friend with whom I had reconnected via Facebook. The goal was to identify something for which one was grateful every day through Thanksgiving — it had to be something different each day — and to post that note of gratitude as the status update.

I decided to give it a try, and posted my first 'ꀜgratitude note'ꀝ the next day. On my birthday, greetings from friends had filled four computer screens even as an email from the division chair at Tacoma Community College, where I teach as an adjunct instructor, informed me that budget cuts had trimmed my course load from two classes to one.

Stunned by how quickly the reality of a net monthly income dropping to about $880 could diminish happiness, I was curious to see what it might be like to search out gratitude in daily life.

I made 25 gratitude posts between Nov. 10 and Tuesday, roughly two a day. What follows is a compilation.

Tuesday, Nov. 10, 7:08 a.m.: Himanee is jumping on the FB "gratitude" wagon and expresses gratitude today for a dry morning, fast bus to Tacoma, and a lovely sunrise.

Wednesday, Nov. 11, 8:50 a.m.: Himanee is grateful for her good health.

Thursday, Nov. 12, 7 a.m.: Himanee is grateful for the tai chi ch'uan she learned from Lao Shih Patricia Leong in 1995; doing the set keeps me warm at bus stops in this frigid November weather.

Thursday, Nov. 12, 5:34 p.m.: Himanee so grateful she didn't get soup at Subway before the bus arrived because it meant she had the wild mushroom bisque at Cornish instead which rocked!

Friday, Nov. 13, 5:39 a.m.: Himanee is grateful for leg warmers, gelly roll pens, and college ruled, 70-page, one-subject notebooks.

Friday, Nov. 13, 11:31 p.m.: Himanee is grateful for friends who say "yay" when she says "yay." She's also grateful to the Nagy family for their support, inspiration, and gift of Hunny-Bunny.

Saturday, Nov. 14, 1:04 p.m.: Himanee is grateful on this cold November afternoon for conveyor belt sushi, hot sake, and cream puffs that remind her of the Liliha Bakery.

Sunday, Nov. 15, 8:50 a.m.: Himanee is grateful for the weekends and the chance to sleep.

Sunday, Nov. 15, 8:49 p.m.: Himanee is grateful for the odd life that a PhD has brought — bike riding at 5 a.m., creativity in class, chances to do life different, writing, research, teaching.

Monday, Nov. 16, 6:38 a.m.: Himanee is thankful for the warmer temperatures which made getting back on the bike-bus commute trail after a week off much easier.

Monday, Nov. 16, 8:37 p.m.: Himanee is grateful the rain didn't come between her and the bike today. When you can dismiss numb fingers, 3 layers of wet clothes, and rude retailers, you know it's love.

Tuesday, Nov. 17, 5:45 a.m.: Himanee is grateful for eight hours sleep and awesome MSG-free yakisoba in the lunchbox today!

Tuesday, Nov. 17, 5:20 p.m.: Himanee: Gratitude tough to maintain when I'm behind on grading, students are complaining and new work is scarce. But I'm grateful for the skills and work I do have.

Wednesday, Nov. 18, 11:06 a.m.: Himanee is grateful for the sun and views of Mt Rainier on her bike ride today.

Thursday, Nov. 19, 6:17 a.m.: Himanee is grateful for Muhammad Yunus's social business concept. She just read through a stack of really cool ideas her students at TCC prepared based on the model.

Friday, Nov. 20, 7:02 a.m.: Himanee is thankful for bus drivers (and her car-driving husband) whose labors let her snooze for an extra hour en route to Tacoma this morning.

Friday, Nov. 20, 11 p.m.: Himanee grateful for the generosity of Olsen Farms in Colville, WA, and their gift of 175 pounds of potatoes to the Vineyard Thanksgiving.

Saturday, Nov 21, 10:40 a.m.: Himanee is amazed and grateful for what a $3 rice cooker can do — steel cut oats, pinto beans, and even rice.

Saturday, Nov. 21, 12:25 a.m.: Himanee is grateful to her PhD advisors. When you can look at a chapter three years after writing it and say, "submit it, it's damn good," you know you weren't goin'ꀙ it alone.

Sunday, Nov. 22, 4:58 p.m.: Himanee is grateful for the spare change lying around her house and for a sudden sweet little writing gig that materialized.

Sunday, Nov. 22, 9 p.m.: Himanee is grateful for her cooking skills, which means she'ꀙs grateful for her mother and how she taught her how to combine color and flavors into shoestring gourmet.

Monday, Nov. 23, 4:29 a.m.: Himanee is 39 hours from Thanksgiving break!

Monday, Nov. 23, 4:07 p.m.: Himanee is thankful for rain that drizzled and did not drench her on today'ꀙs bike ride and for the time she had for tai chi.

Tuesday, Nov. 24, 4:20 a.m.: Himanee is grateful for her students and for the five-day break in routine that begins in 15 hours.

Tuesday, Nov. 24, 4 p.m.: Himanee is signing off the gratitude wagon and heading into TG with a last note: I'ꀙm thankful for doing these posts; they showed me life is rich when we remember it is.

Can giving thanks make a difference? I'ꀙm not sure it can, if you'ꀙre not really thankful. So how does one become thankful? I think I learned that you can become thankful if you work at finding ways that you'ꀙre truly thankful.

I like to be positive, but I also like to be honest. So when Facebook friends started expressing gratitude for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, for the love they feel for their parents, and for their jobs, I started to feel a little queasy. Not because I devalue soldiers, family, and work. Rather because I can'ꀙt give thanks with all honesty for what I am not thankful for — nationalism, patriarchy, the deadening realities of being on the job.

Right now, my life is difficult — economically.

My Facebook universe includes about 400 friends. I don'ꀙt know them all real well, but I want them to take my status updates seriously. To know my life as it exists now. Without sugarcoating. But also without cynicism or pity.

As I read over my posts, I realized that many of them have a truth inside them that if bluntly revealed could contradict the pleasant aura I sought to create. I get up at 4 a.m. and I am not a morning person. So commenting on the loveliness of a sunrise gives me a way to be thankful for a work situation I cannot ignore.

November means less daylight and more rain, neither of which make a bike-bus commute pleasurable. But what happens if I shelve the bike until spring? Will I regain the 12 pounds the rides have helped me lose? Will I get on it again? Realizing that a decidedly uncomfortable experience of being rain-soaked and cold for three hours could kill the bike commute forever, I forced myself to think about how pumped up riding in a driving rain and bracing wind over the Tacoma Narrows bridge had made me feel a few hours earlier.

'ꀜIt'ꀙs all in the attitude,'ꀝ one friend observed, shortly after I admitted that gratitude was at times 'ꀜtough to maintain.'ꀝ With her point in mind, I spent the next 5:30 a.m. bus ride planning how I would spend my Christmas break — daily visit to the library, daily walk along Elliott Bay, a swim and time in the downtown YMCA sauna, hot tub, and steam room, bus ride home.


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