Many of us are holding on by our fingernails at the end of this year so I wanted to offer you something simple that will help put the ground beneath your feet again anytime you feel wobbly or like the world is continuing to spin out of control.
Can you guess the three words everyone needs? It’s NOT ‘I love you,’ even though that’s a good guess and also important. Recently, I came across a book by author Anne Lamott called, Help. Thanks. Wow. She says that’s it–that’s all you need in life to be content and at peace. After reading her book, I thought she’d hit the proverbial nail on the head.
Let’s start with Thanks which is squarely about the importance and power of gratitude. There is scientific evidence that focusing on something you are grateful for, even something small or something we’d normally take for granted creates changes in the brain toward a more peaceful, less anxious state and even reduces the perception of pain.
In fact, in working with myself and my clients, I can easily reduce or eliminate anxiety without medication in about 30 seconds of a gratitude exercise. This, like any muscle you want to build, is a practice, something that has to honed and cared for and attended frequently. Writing down a few gratitudes consistently every day has immense power—writing them down, not just saying or thinking of them. That’s because the act of writing them down slows us down a little bit—hopefully long enough to truly focus on the small but important stuff we can be grateful for and to let our brains shift into that space for a while.
Ever broke a toe? If you have, you know how important all 10 toes are and how grateful you can feel for every one of those toes working for you on a daily basis. If you are having a bad day, or week or year and are having a hard time thinking of something, you can always use my go-to gratitude of indoor plumbing. I am REALLY grateful for that. My life would be SOOOO much harder without it and indeed, many people in this world are hauling drinking water on their heads or shoulders for miles every single day, let alone having water to bathe in or use of a toilet. I am amazed at the state of gratitude I can just bask in for a long time just thinking about how much I love indoor plumbing and how lucky I really am.
The next word, and it really doesn’t matter what order you say them in, is Help! Oh my how we all must have said this word a few times in the last year and may continue to say it in 2021. No one gets along on this planet without help. It is not humanly possible, nor is it possible among most other mammals, or even most life in general. It is actually pretty much a death sentence among certain mammals like Cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) and great apes and others to not have community or family. It is also essential to our survival as a whole. Whether you are an introvert and don’t care if you don’t see or talk to anyone for days, you still need help. Drove in a car to the store? You were helped. All the people, companies and governments involved in making that car, paving those roads and running those stores helped you find what you need. You can be grateful for it and add it to your list.
Think about your world. We all need help from each other and/or a higher power if that is your belief. Help, asking for it and getting it, is a source of comfort, security and inspiration that helps us live a better life. Paradoxically, being vulnerable and needing help are actually the best sources of real connection. When we reach out and ask for what we need, and keep asking until we get it or change it, we create connection with ourselves, with others and with the wider universe.
I was able to finally get a client who was terrified of her vulnerability to reach out and tell someone in her day to day life of her current struggle. The person was so touched by my client’s sharing her story that she thanked my client over and over for the gift of being included and feeling important. Did you ever think asking for help could be the gift someone has always needed to receive? Not asking for help or not being vulnerable robs you and those around you of a chance to connect and relate in ways you may have never dreamed possible.
I challenge you to ask one person around you for help. Picking the right person and the right request often takes a bit of practice and a skill called discernment. If you need help with this, reach out to a therapist or coach like me or a minister or another wise person in your life. Oops! Asking for help from a professional or wise one to better learn how to ask for help means you’ll get two points in the challenge for the price of one!
Last but not least is the word Wow! This is the most fun one. Finding awe and wonder in life, whether it be big or small Wow, is also essential to well-being and contentment. Whether it’s when you reach a mountaintop, seeing whales or dolphins in their natural habitat, or in the smile of a baby, awe is a feeling that everything is connected and we are a part of that web of life. Awe is what makes us take a breath, slow down and say ‘Wow!’.
Feeling ourselves to be a tiny part of something so much bigger than ourselves brings that feeling of awe, wonder and gratitude and makes us say Wow! So really, cultivating and seeking out experiences of awe lead directly to one of the other essential words, gratitude.
Standing on that mountain top or looking deeply into the eye of a free whale who has chosen to come up to look at you can fill you with such joy and wonder that you may be surprised at its power. Forevermore, you can hold that experience in your body as a source of inspiration in hard times. And of course, be grateful for it. And ask for help from ourselves in remembering it when we need it.
What people, places, things, and experiences bring you a sense of wonder and make you say ‘Wow!’? What can you explore right now, this day, this week, this month to find and cultivate your ‘Wow’ frequently? How can you incorporate your memories of your Wow!-moments into your day to day life to bring you more joy and contentment? How do you think your life would change if you had more Awe-mazing experiences?
Finding where you experience awe is like grown up play time and, as more and more research demonstrates, adults need to play A LOT more. I would love to hear from you about your experiences with finding your Wow! If you don’t have any idea where to start you can contact me too and we can work on it together—and you get points for asking for help!
Start by going outside, finding something you are curious about and just watching it. That is the first step toward wonder, then thanks, then Wow! Enjoy!