Crazy Big Thing…

In last week’s comments (or somewhere), I referenced this video by Soul Pancake, in which researchers concluded that experiencing and expressing gratitude has the ability to increase our happiness. The less happy we are (according to some empirical measure of happiness I’d really like to see), the more thinking about somebody we owe sistersa lot to, and expressing a sense of appreciation for that person, will give us a boost.

The methodology was simple:

1) Give the subject a happiness test (and don’t tell them what it is).

2) Ask the subject to talk about, then write about, somebody who has really made a positive difference in their lives.

mother daughter3) Have the subject call that person,and read the essay explaining their gratitude.

4) Measure the subject’s happiness again (again, unbeknownst to the subject).

The video is short, touching, and has an encouraging message. I’m reminded of the Twelve-Step slogan, “You have to have the attitude of gratitude!” that so many people find useful. And yet, I think the researchers missed the point. (Or maybe they packaged it for more effective marketing?)

teacherIt isn’t gratitude that makes us happier, it’s proof that we’re loved. The people to whom the subjects were indebted loved them–whether it’s the love of a teacher for a struggling student, the love between sisters, the love of a grandma for her grandson. Writing about who loves ya and then telling that person how much their love has meant will of course leave us feeling more supported, more worthy, more courageous, and…. happier.

And, I’m struck by a connection: Just as anger often sits on top of fear, loneliness, bewilderment, powerlessness, and other more complicated negative emotions, gratitude is probably a fig leaf providing a modest presentation for more intimate positive emotions–love, vulnerability, wonderment, empowerment. I will think on this connection, and probably use it in a book.

kissIn any case, the notion that love is what gives us meaning is the happily in Happily Ever After: We’re loved, and we love.

So your mission, folks, should you decide to accept it, is to tell somebody you love them. Tell the cat, tell the pastor, tell your kids, tell YOURSELF. Dress it up as a compliment to somebody’s tie, sneak it in as appreciation for a plate of cookies, or be really stealthy about it, and listen to somebody’s recounting of their bad day. Ruling the world isn’t complicated. It happens one “I love you,” at a time.

To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card. Christmas is coming, and we’ve been good!

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46 comments on “Crazy Big Thing…

  1. I tell my kids and grandkids I love them all the time and even though they rarely say it back (kids are funny that way…LOL), it still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside just knowing that they know how I feel!

  2. It was my post that you put the video on. My husband had left me a letter telling me how much he loves me and why he loves me so much. It brightened up a pretty bad day. I thought it was a great video! My husband and I say “I love you” a couple of times a day and we have for almost 37 years. We do that to remind each other why we are here, through the bad times as well as the good times. When you have been with someone for so long it is so easy to forget why you picked this person to spend your life with. Thanks for another great post!

  3. This is so true. It stands to reason that if we’re thinking about others, then we have less time to focus on ourselves and the dissatisfaction in our own lives. By keeping busy you go outside of yourself to bring joy to others and in doing so, bring joy to yourself. Thanks for the giveaway offer!

    • I’m not particularly busy, Maria, but when I start my day off focusing on one thing–one, small, sincere thing–I’m grateful for, the thought usually expands to include people I’m grateful for too. And that exercise also makes me away of how blessed I am, how much others are struggling with things I take for granted, and so forth.

  4. A wonderful blog post, as usual. I would like to think I do this on a daily basis and not just with my boys. I love to love on people and at this point in my life I think a lot of times it is just second nature for me to do this. I have so much to be thankful for and so many people in my life and my boys’ lives that truly make a difference everyday. I am off to church in a hour and surprisingly this is one place it is hard for me to express my love and gratitude to others as I am usually wrangling boys from one place to the other. I do always thank Seth’s Sunday School teacher for all the work she does, but I will try my best to take a moment from chasing and rounding up boys to love on someone that I usually don’t get to.

    • Church can be complicated. The last congregation I attended seemed to hit compassion fatigue with my single parent issues fairly quickly, but then, they had no experience with the shoes I was living in. I eventually realized my situation scared them. There I was, reasonably well educated, hard working, sober, reliable and so forth, but I’d become an unwed mother. That baffled them, and upset their craving for cause-and-effect orderliness.
      Your situation is different from mine: You did nothing to tilt the odds in the direction of four special needs children in the same family. And yet, there you are…
      Hang in there, Sarah, and may there be people to love up on you and yours.

  5. My husband and I say I love you every time we talk on the phone. I tell my son all the time, even though he will rarely say it back. It does make my day when he curls up in my lap and says he loves me before I say it to him. I believe that your family needs to hear the words, no matter how many times a day you tell them.

    • The words are nice, but the power behind the words–to explain binomial equations one more time, to watch a princess movie when the taxes are overdue, to let the dishes soak because soon it will too dark to take a walk around the back yard–is the real magic.

  6. My husband and I have just celebrated our 24 anniversary on the 11th. My husband has been ill and I have had to take over all of the chores he did. We never find out how much the other person does till we have to do it. I realized even though I say love you, thank you and that I appreciate all he does..sometimes the feeling behind the words doesn’t get transferred as you would wish it to. My husband tells me he loves me all the time, thanks me for taking care of him and that I am appreciated. I have been overwhelmed with all the nursing duties, household chores, house and yard maintence, and animal care. He has had to spend a large part of the days in bed away from me. I was snarky this morning when he was cooing at the dog. I said something snippy. He knew right away what was up even though I didn’t. He said “Are you feeling unloved?”. When he said that tears automatically came to my eyes. I am ashamed of feeling so. He gently put his hand on my arm, squeezed it and that’s all it took for his love to be transmitted. I knew what he meant and I felt it through a touch and the tone in his voice. Verbally said is nice but a touch can say I love you just as well!! So don’t only say it show it with a kindly touch of love.

    • Hard days, Oakley. I hope you weather them together, and can look back and see the love. And I think there’s a place worse than unloved, and that’s unlovable–unworthy of being loved. What a prince your spouse must be, if in his illness, he can see that you’re suffering too, and that whatever else has been taken from him, he still has the power to comfort you.

  7. We say “I love you” to each other all day long in this house. MY 5 year loves to let everyone know how much she loves you and often. My hubby and I never leave the house/each other without saying those 3 important words.

  8. I tell my husband and kids every day that I love them. And every time I see my mom. I lost my brother when he was 38 to cancer. That sure helps put many things in your life into better priorities!

    • Grief, or death is the most brutal teacher. When you smack up against it, you either learn how precious each moment is, or you learn that you can’t cope with how much life can hurt, and you start die a little too. Glad you’re choosing the love–your brother would be proud of you!

  9. It does make me feel better to tell someone what they meant to my life. Thank you Miss Grace for your words of encouragement I always feel good when I read one of your books. Thank you for sharing your wonderful books with not just me but with everyone.

  10. That’s a great message. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I tell my kids that I love them all the time. I want them to feel loved all the time. It’s always wonderful when they tell me that they love me too.

    It’s harder for me to tell my husband though… although I am trying…

    • Now that’s interesting, May, that you can tell the kids but their dad. Maybe you need to set the example for Dad, and eventually, maybe not in words, but eventually, he’ll say it back?

  11. Great insight into what is truly at the “heart” of this study ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I am so lucky that my husband tells me how much he loves me many times each and every day. I respond in kind of course, but need to try to initiate it more often. I guess I show my love in other unspoken ways; like fresh baked treats, picking up something I know he would like at the store, making his coffee in the morning…these are my little “I love you’s.” Lately I have been more vocal in my appreciation, telling him how thankful I am that his hard work allows me to stay home, focus on my writing and raise our daughters (who are enjoying a very happy childhood secure in their parents’ love for each other and for them!)

    • I don’t think you can tell your partner too often, or in too many ways, that they’re appreciated, and the kids pick up on it too. If Mom and Dad are copacetic, nothing else can rock their world for long.

      • Melonie, In my opinion I would rather be loved in actions than in words. Someone can say “I love you” a dozen times a day and not really mean it, at least in my experience. I guess it’s no surprise that my Love Language is Acts of Service.

  12. I’ve got an old dog and he sort of reminds me of my dad when he was real old, too. Still aware, but had to think about it first. This old pup fell out of the sky and landed on the side of a road I happened to be on one day so I know he was a gift from above – an angel, really. And no matter what the future brings, I am very grateful that he showed up at exactly the right time.

    • Trudy, I went to the pound, asked for oldest, biggest, blackest dog they had, and they rolled their eyes. Nobody adopts big dogs, old dogs, or black dogs. The place was full of ’em. So I wandered around until I spotted the dog who was not even barking. Dude barely looked up when I came by, as if he’d given up on people.
      “You’re coming with me,” got me one of those doggy eyebrow twitches, but he didn’t even lift his head from his paws.
      Sarge has been THE BEST dog in the universe. I’m not a dog person, but I’m definitely a Sarge person. Knights come in all sorts of shining armor.

  13. I’ll definitely accept that mission, I’ll have all day tomorrow at work to express my appreciation to my wonderful coworkers. I told my sister yesterday how proud I was of her, she has been swimming to try to get some exercise so she will lose weight faster in order to have surgery on her bad knees. I’ve been encouraging her to do whatever exercise she can, and she’s doing it. Every time she tells me she’s lost a pound or exercised, I give her my encouragement. I know it helps and it makes me feel good that I can encourage her.

    • A cheering section when you’re fighting the scale is so important. If you’re going to suffer and deprive yourself, and nobody even notices? What’s the point?

      So good for you. Your sister will get so much more than new knees out of this!

  14. My daughter is home from college this weekend. She’s been busy writing, studying and seeing friends. Last night, before she left I hugged her and told her that I loved her and to have a good night. She got a little teary and she hugged me back and told me she loved me. I have told her that I would always be there for her, always. I believe it’s always a good thing to remind our family, friends and in my case a small group of corgis that you love them every day. Thank you for another wonderful post. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I had to tell my dad earlier this year, “You are 93, and if you’re ready to go, that’s your business–you don’t owe anybody anything. You should know, though, that I have no husband, no sons, no son-in-law, even, and you are still the most important man in my life. I would miss the hell out of you.”

      He was SURPRISED to learn this. GEESH.

  15. Husband having bad day; when he packed the car for a fishing trip, he left his clothes until last. Except he left them at home! Poor guy. He needed a big hug and I love you.

  16. It wasn’t something that was ever said in our household growing up and saying it doesn’t come easily to me although I have. Since I have trouble with the words, I try to let others know how much I care with hugs and showing them in many different ways.

    • It’s nice to have the words, occasionally, but much nicer to have evidence of the genuine sentiment. My family wasn’t much of one for saying the words, until one of my brothers went through a divorce, and started telling us he loved us. Once the example was set, we got braver about saying the words.

  17. hi Grace , lovely post as usual. And yes, my mission is done! I said I love you to my mom, cooked something for my sister, visited my sick aunt, sent a gift to my friend for her pregnancy. After doing all of this I feel happy and fulfilled! Thx for the advice to share our love Grace

  18. Just this weekend, at the wedding of my niece, I saw my estranged daughter for the first time in a year. When we looked at each other across the room we walked toward each other, hugged and both of us said “I love you” at the same time. Those are magical words that can wipe away months of anguish.

    • Good heavens, Dot! Well done! If you’d turned away, if you’d given her the “I dare you to say something” stare, if you’d looked away… that moment could have gone in many directions. I’m glad for both of you that courage and love won the day.

  19. I have a hard time with saying “I love you” to my parents and siblings. Our family isn’t the type that says that out loud. Usually our actions says it. Since I’m away at college, I would call my mom at least once a week to see how they are doing and such. When I go home, I would try to wake up early (around 8am) to cook and then do my parent’s and little sister laundry for them. For my brothers, well it is cooking them food or just hanging out with them.

    • How do you know you matter to somebody? They spend time with you, simple. I dated a guy once who threw the pretty words around like rice at a wedding… Dude was worthless when it came to the important stuff, and could never quite work me into his schedule when I needed him.

      Here’s to saying “I love you” one load of clean laundry at at time!

  20. I am estranged from my whole family and I don’t know why. I haven’t seen my sons or grandsons for six years. My sisters for just about that long. However, I refuse to cut ties entirely and I see that they each get a Christmas card and birthday card each year and in the case of my grandsons, also Valentine’s Day, Easter and Halloween cards. This is the only way I can let them know I still love them.
    I do have a 14 year-old rescue chihuahua that I love dearly. Even after 10 years, he still doesn’t like to be held but has to know where I am at all times. I don’t know what I’d do without my best friend.

    • Trudy, I commend your tenacity. You aren’t responsible for what those people are doing with their family connections, but if you keep making overtures, you know you’ve done what you can to keep a door open without nagging and driving them further away.

      I have a nervous pup too. Lots of upheaval in his life, but his sweet nature is gradually shining through. Some days, the fact that he needs a pat on the head is the most worthwhile function I serve.

  21. My husband makes it a habit to tell me every day that he loves me. For the first ten years or so of our marriage, I kind of didn’t pay attention to the fact that he did so. I just said “Ditto.” I’m not sure why unless it was that I felt a little unworthy of such a continual shower of those 3 words “I love you.”

    Some things happened and I could tell there was strain in his words although he did not relinquish the habit. I began to realize that my sense of unworthiness was beginning to become his sense of inadequacy if that makes sense.

    That was when I began to give back the actual words I love you. I even tried to make it a practice to say them first. Those three little words became a “Crazy Big Thing.” Now I have to take care of his needs as he becomes increasingly handicapped. But his needs and my care do not define our marriage — love does.

    I’m with you, Mary Doherty!For 37 years and counting “I love you” has been the touchstone of our days. And that speaking of the heart truth has spread to my family and beyond. There is a freedom in releasing such a truth not caring how it is received — only that it acknowledged by you from your heart through your mouth. It truly is a Crazy Big Thing.

    • Oh, you could and should write a book, Louise, about wisdom that takes ten years to germinate, but keeps blossoming eternally. It’s all about the love, and always about the love, but figuring out what the means, day by day, take courage and devotion. I hope you’re keeping a journal.

  22. Oh Grace, I love it. A kindness given, shared. Whenever someone makes a deal out of my volunteer work for example, how do I make them understand the selfishness of it? That I get so much more than I give?? It is addictive. You never want to stop. haha I love your writing.
    I just finished Lady (I don’t use the title) Jennys story. Usually, the stories of the reluctant martyr annoy me. But Jenny wasn’t a martyr. In the sense I think of that word. I loved her and their story. Everyone should have such a determined person loving them.

    • Lisa, thank you for those kind words. When I realized I had a THIRD Windham Christmas story to write I was stumped for a bit, then I recalled that a lot of what we associate with Christmas are the scriptures attributed to the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah isn’t a very heroic name, but the concept of prophecy–the people who love us so much, they speak truth to us regardless that it might cost them dearly–found its way into the theme of the story. Glad it worked for you.