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January’s Special Guest – Brenda Arnall

January 1, 2010

We emailed Brenda to ask her what she thought of our doing this project based on hers. She was so amazingly supportive and appreciative. Grab your favorite drink, kick back and enjoy taking the time to read all she has to say about her personal experiences with The Gratitude Project.

I’d like to think I’ve always been grateful for all the good that has come my way…a loving family, a healthy body, a comfortable home, to name just a few. Life is Good isn’t just a catchphrase with me; it’s something I really believe in.

So why then would I embark on a year long journey to raise my gratitude awareness? The answer a year ago as I prepared to start my project was that studies showed people who practiced gratitude were happier and healthier than those who didn’t. Being aware of all the good in your life reduces stress and makes it easier for you to cope when bad things do happen. It’s a mind and body thing…less stress is good for you, both mentally and physically. That alone would make a year of living gratefully worthwhile.

Now, at the end of this year, I’d amend that answer. Yes, I feel happier and less stressed, but I also feel more aware. I’ve far more conscious of the little things in my life that bring me joy. Choosing something to be grateful for every week means you run through the “biggies” pretty quickly, although I made a conscious effort to look past them from the beginning. What I found in focusing on those smaller blessings was that life was full and so was my heart.

It was about really seeing my world and being present in it. Too often we’re looking forward to the future, the endless series of life-will-be-better-when-I-reach-this-point events, or looking backward at the past, often with regret. It’s much easier to live in the moment when everyday you look around you and take note of what you value. We only get one go-round in life, and it’s a quick one at that; anything that makes us appreciate the here and now a little more is a good thing in my book.

There were so many positives associated with a weekly gratitude project but there were struggles, too. Finding a blessing to record, however, was not one of them. I simply asked myself what had made my heart happy today or this week or lately and I had a list to choose from. I think of gratitude as more than just being thankful; it’s an acknowledgment of having received or experienced something that brought me joy. And mine ran the gamut from meaningful (a caring staff in an out-of-state hospital after spending the day in the ER) to the mundane (Walmart returning my favorite flavored water to the shelf). No, when I struggled it was with finding the time to keep up. Life is not only good but busy, and a year is a long commitment. I simply made writing about my weekly gratitude an unbreakable commitment, even if the layout had to be done later.

I chose an unstructured format for my book with varying sizes and shapes of pages, a little like the December Daily album Ali Edwards does at Christmas but without constructing the pages ahead of time. I wanted the creative challenge of trying new things weekly to keep the project fresh throughout the year. It’s an eclectic mix yet my style still shows through, and I love it because it’s entirely different from anything I’ve ever done. You’ll find a compilation of my gratitude posts and layouts here.

There’s much to be said for a simpler format though. It requires less time to complete each week, makes it easier to catch up when you fall behind, and produces a more cohesive album. Donna Brisbois chose a 6×6 album and repeated a simple scheme of a 4×6 photo, some patterned paper, a die-cut embellishment and a shaped journaling box for her gratitude projectLee Currie’s album takes advantage of a digital template, and Jill Conyers limited her project to photos with some beautiful and meaningful typography. From handwritten entries in a notebook to full 12×12 pages, this is a project that can be as simple or as involved as you want; the important thing is choosing a format that you can work with for the entire year.

I found my gratitude project rewarding on so many levels that I want to repeat it again in 2010. After a year of real awareness of and appreciation for the joys in my life, I can’t imagine living any other way. I will, however, choose a new format, not out of dislike for the one I used this year but simply to be different. As I thumb back through the 2009 album, I love the snapshot of a unique aspect of my life that is reflected there, and there are such positive feelings counting those blessings all over again. That’s truly special, and I want to preserve that feeling. A new album in a new format will produce the same results as well as provide me with more time for some traditional scrapbooking, something I sorely missed this year.

Some of the women who joined me in a year of living gratefully pronounced it a life-changing experience. We formed a unique and, I hope, lasting friendship as we discovered and shared things about ourselves through our projects. I feel sure you will as well. And if life gets in the way and you fall behind, don’t feel guilty and abandon the project. The benefits to be gained are too important. Simply count the fact that you have a full life as another blessing and go on.

We all have a choice in how we see life. I encourage you see it through grateful eyes in 2010.

Thank you so much, Brenda. We are truly honored you chose to share your experiences and insight with us.

Karen and Lori

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2010 8:50 am

    One of the many things for which I was most grateful in 2009, a resoundingly regretful year, was the thrill of getting to know Brenda. Not just on her blog, but the occasional upbeat and kind e-mails she would send. What a lovely woman. This is such a worthwhile project. It truly does open your eyes to being more engaged in your life. For that I will always be profoundly grateful to Brenda and her project last year. I’m looking forward to another journey in 2010. Thanks ladies :)

  2. January 1, 2010 9:14 am

    I have to agree with Brenda & Lee. This is such a worthwhile project to undertake…both for the friendships you will form as well as the awareness of how many blessings you have in your life.

  3. January 1, 2010 10:43 am

    Truly an inspiring woman, and I’m so glad I’ve decided to do this project this year, one in which I need change and This will help remind me of what I do have to be grateful for every week and every day that I am alive! Thanks for doing this! Love, Jess

  4. January 1, 2010 11:44 am

    Inspired by Brenda in 2009, I completed 52 weeks of Project Gratitude! This year I’m combining Project Gratitude with Project 365. Of the 365 photos one photo each week will be dedicated specifically to gratitude.

  5. Lisa permalink
    January 1, 2010 8:39 pm

    What an inspiring post – thanks very much for organising it Karen and Lori.

    Jillconveyors – I’m also doing Project 365 in 2010 and want at least one photo each week dedicated to Gratitude. Are you being flexible with your day or sticking to a ‘special’ day just for your gratitude photo? What’s your format? Are you a digi girl? I’m still working through ideas in my head and can’t come to a decision about format yet.

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