Two months before my 29th birthday, I started to have a revelation that I was almost 30. Was I really about to start the last year of my twenties? I began reflecting on what I wanted to accomplish before I hit the big 3-0. After some thought (which was really a combination of happy tears, sad tears, laughs, and frustration), I came to an interesting point — I didn’t need to complete a pre-30 bucket list or identify the things I didn’t do by 30, but instead be grateful for the things I had accomplished.
With that shift, it became even more clear that my first 29 years on this planet were quite purposeful, and most importantly, I didn’t do it all by myself! I started to identify the people along the way that helped me, guided me, loved me, pushed me, and never gave up on me. I wanted them to know how critical they were to my past and how they helped to shape my future…but I wanted to do it in a fun, lively way.
And so, #AshleysBirthdayLetterProject was born on February 12th. Each day for 29 days, I wrote a note/letter/email to various family members, friends, people I have lost touch with, and mentors — all of whom made a mark on my life to date. I was so glad to connect with these influential people in this manner because, to be honest, I wasn’t sure many of them knew the true impact they had made in my life. (It’s funny…we are taught to say thank you at such a young age, but to truly express gratitude takes thoughtful effort.) Each day, I would identify the recipient of my letter and write. Some letters were funny and some emotional. Some people never wrote back, while some people wrote back the most sincere notes, making me cry instantly because we had mutual feelings about our destiny to be part of each other’s’ lives. While my act of writing was selfless, I surprisingly gained so much from it: greater perspective, greater appreciation, and a want to keep expressing gratitude.
After the 29 days of #AshleysBirthdayLetterProject, while I didn’t continue the ‘once-a-day’ letter habit, I have tried to continue the effort of sharing my gratitude in the moment; not 15 years later. Whether it is a big or small thank you, it has become abundantly clear (now that I have begun to research the topic) that these moments are necessary to continue to grow as people and as communities, including having scientific benefits. Understanding these benefits, I have been trying to vary up how and why I show gratitude. Want to join me? Here are a few ideas to get you started on your gratitude journey:
WRITE IT DOWN
If you aren’t ready to go public quite yet, start a gratitude journal. This is a fairly common way to capture something you are grateful for each day quickly and privately.
FOCUS ON AN AREA OF YOUR LIFE IN WHICH GRATITUDE IS LACKING
There are so many people to thank on a daily basis and it can feel really overwhelming. Take time and think about a grouping of people that you may forget to thank as often as you should. Maybe it is your co-workers or maybe your neighbors. Focus on this set of people and be thoughtful about expressing your gratitude. As with many things in life, quality is greater than quantity.
BE CREATIVE IN HOW YOU SAY THANK YOU
Sometimes it is great to give praise in public or on social media. Sometimes it is more appropriate to do so in private. Regardless, you can make saying thank you fun! Write a handwritten note. Write it on a balloon and have them blow it up to see what it says. Do one of those quirky Pinterest ideas (which I love by the way… “have I told you “reese”ntly how much I appreciate you?” goes great with peanut butter and chocolate). Record a video of yourself expressing your gratitude. The important thing here is to be sincere.
THINK ABOUT THE NON-OBVIOUS
It is often easier to thank the people that help you or serve you; a nice server at a restaurant, your best friend for helping you move. But there is also a need to thank the non-obvious. For example, consider thanking those who challenge you. These people are adding significant value to your professional and/or personal growth. These are also likely to be the people most surprised and appreciative of your remarks.
Gratitude doesn’t always have to be in words. Are you thankful for your community? Volunteer and continue to pay it forward. Have a rock-star significant other who is pitching in times-two during a busy week at work? Plan a special date night or activity. Thankful to still have your aging grandmother in your life? Spend quality time helping her garden or sew or whatever hobby makes her smile. Your actions have power, just like your words.
GIVE YOURSELF A PAT ON THE BACK
Don’t forget to add your name to the list. Be grateful that today you had a kickass day. Be grateful for just showing up when it felt like the world was against you. Take time for yourself and to be grateful for the work you are putting in each day to make life better for those around you.
So here I am, less than 365 days away from turning 30 and feeling much better about the milestone ahead. It may take many forms in the future, forms much different from the letter project, but gratitude will undoubtedly be a permanent fixture in my next 30 years. I hope you join the #GratitudeMovement, too!