Bags of Gratitude


Last night I went to my first ever business networking meet-up in Manhattan.

I almost ran out in the first 5 minutes, panicking about out how I was going to keep chatting with perfect strangers all night.

But I met a lot of nice, down to earth small business owners and we had a motivational speaker, Kevin Touhey, who was a very pleasant surprise.

“Pleasant surprise”, I guess, because I tend to wrinkle my nose at titles like “Motivational Speaker” and the blurb I read seemed like a lot of internet sales hype I’ve seen before. But he was warm, honest and real. And now that I’ve met him, I know he means it all.

And while a lot of what he said wasn’t new to me, it was a great reminder. And he shared two experiences that lingered especially in my mind after the talk was over.

Bags and Bags

One was that he has grocery bags in his office filled with scraps of paper with different thoughts of gratitude and appreciation written on each one. Bags–plural.

He pulls out an appreciation or two when he needs to counteract a negative belief or experience.

He holds his hand over his heart and breathes into it as he reads these thoughts of gratitude and appreciation to himself in order to blunt the effect of the negative belief pattern and stop the spiral of indulging familiar demons.

I really like the idea of physically creating and keeping actual bags of gratitude around me–it’s so concrete and poetic at the same time.

Insight on the 159 Local to Cliffside Park

While I’ve created gratitude lists before, the image of grocery bags stuffed with gratitude and appreciation so intrigued me that I pulled out my notebook on the bus ride home and started a fresh stream-of-consciousness gratitude list of my own.

I kept writing without picking up my pen until I got to my stop–gratitude after gratitude–it really changed the quality of my bus ride home.

It also provided me with a clearer insight about the positive affect that attention-to-gratitude could offer me by disrupting a myriad of subtle negative attitudes I’ve got socked away that barely register in my consciousness.

For instance, the bus I was riding on is new and has a new feature of automatically announcing its destination every time the driver has to stop and open the door. The mechanical voice was delivering its garbled announcement over and over, stop after stop in my 30 minute ride.

I’m pretty sound sensitive and this kind of thing generally drives me batty. As  I was writing my gratitude list, my intolerance for these announcements was feeling a bit, oh, ironical.

I thought about how I could turn my irritation around with appreciation and wrote ” I’m grateful that NJ Transit does its best to keep its equipment updated with the latest technology.”

This made me smile.

And it did change how I felt.

I imagined NJ Transit staff sitting through lots of meetings discussing how to improve service for an ever-dissatisfied public. I imagined them brainstorming different solutions and realized that a lot of somebodies did this to make things better for me, and I appreciated their effort.

Even if I wasn’t loving the end result. And as I appreciated their effort, the repetition of the mechanical voice was much less grating.

This glimpse made me wonder about how many other little things like that I could potentially turn around and experience differently–joyfully even.

Gratitude for Yourself?

Including negative thoughts about myself.

Could I turn around everything I experience as a personal deficit and experience it with appreciation? Or take a moment to appreciate my talents and strengths that I usually take for granted as I give myself a hard time for things I’m not so good at?

What if I even just tried to match every negative thought with a positive one? Do I even know how many I have? I’m a little scared to find out, but I’ve decided to try.

(But I’m going to start small to keep it doable–maybe noticing and matching my negative thoughts with a positive thought for an hour or a morning at first.)

I think this is important to do for your art-making and creativity as well. If you’re busy beating yourself up for not making things or are judging yourself for making something you’ve deemed mediocre, how could you turn it around?

What would you say to your dearest friend? Could you consider being your own dearest friend?

I know it’s hard and awkward. It feels easier and more familiar to tread the well worn grooves of  self-criticism and judgment–sometimes those grooves are so familiar and well worn we don’t even know we’re thinking them. So just noticing these grooves might be a start.

Or maybe a bag of gratitude might help.

I’m thinking a pretty basket rather than a grocery bag for mine. How about you?

What do you think about Kevin Touhey’s bags of gratitude? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m going to discuss the second thing he shared that stayed with me–an experience of not giving up–in my next blog post.

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  1. [...] my last post, Bags of Gratitude, I mentioned two big takeaways I got from a talk I heard from motivational speaker Kevin Touhey, [...]

  2. Judy says:

    Sarah, you do amazing things in the guise of helping people be better crafters!

  3. Judy says:

    Here’s something that I have done to combat what I call “negative mind” – when you feel that negative thinking is seeping into your life without your awareness. Before you go to sleep, instead of counting sheep or letting your brain buzz with thoughts of your day and fears about tomorrow, try to list 10 things you are grateful for. I usually get to 6 before falling asleep. Then when you wake up, do the same thing before getting out of bed.

  4. Sarah says:

    @Judy, Yes! That is a great ritual/technique! When i remember to do it, I find myself lying there with my eyes closed smiling–so nice. (I also do it when I’m flying and the plane is landing–I’m not such a great flyer, and it really helps me thru any turbulence as well.) Thanks for sharing that!

  5. Sara says:

    Reading this makes me wish I had gone to the Connecting to Greatness event. I hope to see him speak somewhere else.

    Great meeting you at the “Powerful Ladies” dinner the other night. Great blog too!

  6. [...] events got me thinking again about appreciation. I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago called Bags of Gratitude, and I realized this morning that appreciation is a great additional element to the 20 Minute Club [...]

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