Obligatory Ode to St. Valentine

As we approach a holiday embracing love, is it not fitting to dedicate this evening’s post to just that (and more)—love and gratitude.  Over the last few weeks, I have been fascinated by the power of gratitude and cannot help but think its byproduct, on many levels, must be love.

Gratitude can manifest itself in many forms, from a simple “thank you” to a stranger holding a door to reminding a loved one how grateful you are for their love and support.   There are movements to journalize your gratitude, take gratitude walks and even write thank-you notes on a regular basis—but do they really have a lasting effect—and better yet, can they transform into something like love?

In order to pay homage to the a holiday dedicated to love and appreciation—I have sought to find ways to say thank you in a manner that did not include extravagant bouquets, elaborate date nights, or expensive gifts—but rather simple ways to find opportunities to spend more time with those I care for and remind myself what I am most grateful for each day.

The Power of Bringing People Together

This Workaholic works with a great team of extroverted characters who have lived in the shadow of long nights, complex issues and a similar level of stress over the last few weeks.  While I would love to be hailed as the boss-of-the-year and provide cash bonuses and an extra week of time off for these efforts, like others in the corporate space, I’m confined to inventing ways to energize the team and boost morale in non-monetary ways.

Valentine’s Day happens to fall at the tail end of this hectic span and what a better way to bring tired and weary folks together than a non-work task, preferably one that flexes a different set of intellectual muscles.  Disclaimer: I will say I borrowed this idea from a former company after seeing the sheer joy it created among my coworkers—the brown-paper bag Valentine’s Day mailbox.

Valentine's Day Mailbox for those who don't participate...

I know many of you are out there rolling your eyes and scoffing at the idea of reliving third-grade via these mailboxes and depositing candy/cards in them, but until you see a table full of adults overjoyed with adorning these simple bags with stickers, glitter, and paper cut-outs you won’t understand just how positive an impact it had on our team.  Altogether, a bag of red and white paper bags, stickers, glue sticks, glitter and markers, cost a mere $30 (for 15 adults)—but the sight of everyone smiling, laughing and looking relaxed was truly priceless.

The power of spending time together decorating and laughing helped our worn down team rekindle our gratitude for one another’s humor, artistic abilities, quirky jokes and presence.   I am already antsy thinking about tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day mailbox unveiling and watching everyone marvel at the candies, pencils and even dental floss in their mailboxes.  The power of bringing people together this afternoon filled this Workaholic with something a lot like joy.

The Power of Gratitude

Even despite this week’s long hours and rushed dinners, I still found 5 minutes a day to reflect on the people and experiences I am grateful for and found the effects to be surprising.  I found some interesting outlets for reinforcing your gratitude for the world around you via Deepak Chopra’s website (http://www.chopra.com/ccl/cultivate-the-healing-power-of-gratitude).  Its promises of better sleep, increased optimism and experiencing greater joy and happiness was enough to persuade this quasi-skeptic to give it a whirl—at least for a week.  Some of my daily reflections were written in a notepad on my iPhone, on piece of paper by the side of my bed, and a few consisted of only inner monologue.

Some of the things I took note of this week as part of my daily gratitude reflections—

  1. My parents: for being an amazing sounding board during a hectic and demanding week—my mom always knows how to insert a funny story into a heavy conversation to bring a breath of reality back into any situation;
  2. My dogs – I’ve said this many times before, but who else on earth gets that excited to see you every time you return home—this type of love and affection has lifted me up and kept a smile on my face each day I return home—even if it is at 12:30 am;
  3. A warm cup of tea—this has been my refuge during a busy day at work—a warm cup of lemon tea sitting by the sunny windows on our floor has provided an element of quiet to my swirling thoughts;
  4. The value of a picture—my sister and brother-in-law provide countless pictures of my niece and goddaughter that literally give me wings when the world feels so heavy. Seeing her smiling face or hearing her giggle uncontrollably reminds me to stop and treasure time;
  5. A good distraction—I am entirely grateful for the opportunity to unplug from all things work and enjoy cooking classes, coffee dates, and even funny emails—without great friends who inspire me to be a better-rounded person, I wouldn’t have taken this leap into the blog universe…


The Proof is in the Pudding

Don’t relate to my ideas, anecdotes or experiences?  Perhaps you are a person rooted in cold hard facts to convince you—I have done a great deal of reading over the last few weeks and found many credible experts who have analyzed the scientific effects of gratitude and love.  So for the skeptics there, here are facts and science to reinforce the power of gratitude and love:

  • The Science:
    • Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have studied the effects of a hormone called oxytocin—this hormone is secreted by the brain when we are in close contact with our loved ones, including pets. In addition to producing happy thoughts, this hormone also lowers levels of those pesky stress hormones, which contribute to a host of physical aliments (i.e. high blood pressure, insomnia, etc.).  For additional details, I strongly recommend taking a read through the study here: http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2007/February/docs/01features_01.htm
  • The Benefits—research has shown those who adopt what’s referred to as an “attitude of gratitude” have:
    • The ability to cope better with stress
    • A more robust immune system and as a result, are sick less frequently
    • Build and maintain stronger relationships with loved ones
    • A better night’s sleep—just check out the 2011 study published by Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being

Regardless if your perspective on Valentine’s Day is dictated by your head or heart, I think we all can agree that the world could generally stand for some additional positively—why not start by saying thank  you?

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