Compliments: Specific Details Help Us Frame Our Gratitude

February 20, 2010

Thinking about compliments and gratitude.

Wednesday I received a very kind note from Alex Zonis over at Pencil Scribbles. She told me she was an avid reader of my blog and was giving me a Sunshine Award.

It's always gratifying to hear from readers that they think you are doing a great job, that what you're writing about is interesting, helpful, and perhaps even both.

The thing is I like an uncluttered blog, though that seems to be more and more difficult these days. In my thank you note to Alex I had to explain I don't add blog award buttons to my already cramped left-hand column (her kind note had already anticipated I wouldn't). (Have you noticed the fun Fake Journal button there that will take you to The Official International Fake Journal Blog? Or the button which links you to the Urban Sketchers Network—Twin Cities blog I participate in?) There just isn't enough real estate for all the things I have planned!

But I did go to the link Alex provided to view the button. There I found out that Alex had actually left off the most important bit about her award process—she didn't tell me the link was to a post where she listed a baker's dozen of artists and bloggers whom she felt had helped or inspired her in some way—and her husband for his help. You can see this list here.

Now to the cynical amongst us (and people who know me know I'm cynical) you might wonder why I'm posting about a pastime that could be categorized as a chain letter of sorts, designed to get more hits on the blogs involved. Certainly if everyone receiving the award (assuming that everyone plays) lists 12 people and so on that's an awful lot of awards flying around. I have to admit I'm not much interested in that.

But what I am interested in are the statements Alex makes about each of her award recipients. One is a Chicago artist who invited her to her sketch group. (A simple act of kindness and friendship.) Another is an artist who helped her find some books. Several others have mentored her in one way or another.

What the list adds up to is a lot of specific acts of kindness resulting in some very specific gratitude on Alex's part. And I am interested in that. 

I think it is important that everyday we give some thought to those things, people, animals, events—whatever—that make our lives better in some specific way, even if it seems a very small way indeed. When we recall those specific details that matter to us, our resultant gratitude reminds us how we want to live our lives, treat other people, and work in the world.

I'm not going to advocate that people start sending awards all over the place. If you feel moved to do that and it works for you, the internet will allow you to do that with a lot more ease. And if you take the time, as Alex has to specify your compliments then you are focusing your gratitude, thanking people, and also helping spread the inspiration that they supplied you out to others. I try to do this in my own way with Profile Friday (an occasional feature here on my blog.)

I would like, however, to advocate yet again, that you spend some time focusing on the specific details of your life—the small things you might take for granted—the odd little happenstance that seems unobtrusive and unimportant. These are different in each life—ranging from small courtesies to large, grace-packed favors that only seem small if we don't bother to examine what they cost the doer. Be specific in your reflection, whether you write a note or speak a thank you, or simply catalog another awareness in your journal. Be specific. Acknowledge what it did for you, what it means to you.

I have a little motto that friends know, borrowed from The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer. Cary Grant plays playboy artist Richard Nugent. He accepts a trophy at a games-packed family picnic saying:

I don't know how this happened to me. I guess I owe it all to clean living, proper outlook, and the help of my friends.

It's a doubly ironic statement. Nugent is speaking ironically with an urbane nonchalance which succeeds as wit. He actually doesn't live clean or have a proper outlook—at least not in the eyes of some of the other characters who are at great pains throughout the movie to tell him how much they disapprove of him. Even he likes to think he's a bit of an outlaw. But additionally, though he doesn't know it, he did only win with the help of his friends. And that's also the point.

We all owe a lot. How we detail that list of debts determines where we put our focus and efforts. Thank a couple people today—maybe it's a sibling who took the time to help you understand geometry, maybe it's the check-out girl at the grocery store who always smiles at you even though she's been on her feet for 12 hours and her back is killing her.

In my case that sibling made it possible for me to grow up loving mysteries (and theorems) and to give my heart to a scientist; and that check-out girl reminds me what it's like to be young, full of hope, and hungry in the best possible way—as well as constantly courteous in extreme situations.

If we stop and think about those specific details we know exactly what happened to us and how to pass that gratitude along in actions.

Also take a moment to go and look at the links Alex provided to her inspirations. You might find artists and bloggers who also provide you with inspiration. And if they do, by all means drop them a note detailing what specifically they inspired.

    • Christina Trevino.
    • February 20, 2010

    “…to pass that gratitude along in actions.”
    You never fail to shake my thoughts!
    A different outlook from just “be grateful.”
    Many times we stop there…but to do something born from that feeling, is so much better.

    • velma
    • February 21, 2010

    roz–you’ve hit the nail on the head exactly! a reminder i need today, when i got up too early, grumpy and selfish. maybe the rest of the day will be better if i make it so!

    • dave
    • February 21, 2010

    Roz: I agree with you that a simple and FAST loading page is my focus these days. (I’m even thinking of removing the flickr badge since all my images come from there anyway.) But I digress. As far as your blog layout goes, had you thought about a “stretchy” format for your main column. This would allow your page to expand to the visitor’s browser’s page width. Just a thought.

    Great blog, good stories. Keep ’em comin’.


    • Roz
    • February 21, 2010

    Velma, I hope you made your day better!

    • Roz
    • February 21, 2010

    Dave, that sounds interesting. I hadn’t thought of that. I like things to show up the way I see them because it’s that old “print” thing. I only like a text line to be so long and no longer because of, well that old “print” thing.

    I will have to look into changing things, but it will be awhile. I’m frankly always worried I’ll trash the whole thing! EEEK.

    But thank you for the suggestion.

  1. Reply

    Roz! What a post! And what a commotion it created on my blog! I received hundreds of visitors coming from your links, way above my regular traffic of family and friends. And visits still continue. I was lucky to have a reasonably decent painting up front, so I wasn’t too embarrassed (my blog is a documentary of my journey, so I post failures as well as successes). My only regret is that people who visited have not said anything, so I don’t have a chance to meet them and look at their work.

    Your description of my “award” process is absolutely right. It was meant as a way to focus my gratitude. A computer professional in my “day” job, I despise chain letters, internet meme’s and other such junk that only clogs communication pipes. You did so much better than just “receive” the award and post another button on a page – you articulated the notion of being thankful as a way of life and promulgated it much further than I was able to do. The world has become a slightly better place because of what you did. Thank you!

    • Roz
    • February 22, 2010

    Alex, I’m glad people visited to check out your links to those who inspire you. It’s always fun to find people doing interesting work. Thank you for your kind comments. And thank you for adding me to your list and making me pause and think about this.

  2. Reply

    Hi Roz,

    I visit you often during the week. You are like a friend—crazy online world. Your creative generosity and artistic knowledge is amazing, not to mention your love of dogs! From your recommendation, I ordered from Wet Paint. They are so nice and so accommodating. You are lucky you live near them, but then again maybe not…

    Best always—Jennifer

    I’m thinking about IFG month…maybe…scary

    • Roz
    • February 22, 2010

    Thank you Jennifer! I’m so glad you ordered from Wet Paint. I am lucky to live near them. It does make a dent in my bank account, but I would so much rather have it go there—and it is so fun to go in and check out all the new things in the shop, and all the old things too! It’s restful! Then I can go home and get back to work.

    I hope some day you get to visit the Twin Cities and see them in person. They are are great group of people—and they understand dogs and cats!

    • Roz
    • February 22, 2010

    Jennifer, I clicked send before I mentioned International Fake Journal month—Don’t be scared, it can be very, very fun. You just have to approach it with a little bit of planning and some limits to keep it manageable (and not scary!).

    check out my post at OIFJMB
    That’s got some thoughts on keeping it manageable.

    This post
    talks about keeping things “normal.”

    When we do things like that we have a greater opportunity for success.

    But the main thing is it is supposed to be fun. A chance to learn something about ourselves and how we journal and how we can jostle things about a bit.

    So whether you do 3 entries or 53 entries I hope you’ll give it a go!

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