• Inspiration

    The Most Effective Way to Keep a Gratitude Journal

    Houseplant Jungle Journal, The Most Effective Way to Keep a Gratitude Journal, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2020/02/07/effective-gratitude-journal/ #gratitude #journal #inspiration #howtokeepagratitudejournal #RossGay
    Houseplant Jungle Journal, The Most Effective Way to Keep a Gratitude Journal, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2020/02/07/effective-gratitude-journal/ #gratitude #journal #inspiration #howtokeepagratitudejournal #RossGay

    Now that I’ve started a gratitude journal, I’ve been worried that its effects may wear off after a while. If I repeat myself regularly, I may lose the quality of happiness I’ll feel when counting my blessings. I mean, how many times can you feel grateful for a spouse, child, pet, etc?

    The Various Approaches

    So I did a little research. A super helpful article in Greater Good Magazine talks about the various techniques for getting the most bang for your blessings buck. They advise to go deep in your entries, elaborating on your grateful experiences with a lot of details. This makes sense as the more you imagine and relive the situation you’re grateful for, the better you’ll feel. Also, they advise focusing on people, what your life would be like without the thing you’re grateful for, and recording surprising events.

    The Various Benefits

    I also discovered that the scientific studies conducted by psychologist Robert A. Emmons showed people getting a plethora of psychological benefits. These included more restful sleep, lower blood pressure, higher alertness, and more willingness to connect with others. Other benefits surfaced as well. All provable and data driven. If you’d like to read an easy overview of the science, check out this article from the University of California at Davis.

    The One Most Effective Thing You Can Do

    Also, in my research I learned that the most important thing you can do to create an effective gratitude journal was not what I’d guessed. It’s much simpler and obvious. And that is to only journal once or twice a week. Studies show that those who wrote in the journal three times or more a week, lost the psychological benefits. The mind adjusted to the positive events too quickly and they lost their positive impact. Subjects became numb to the happiness. Interesting, huh.

    I was actually happy to read this because in truth I’m kind of lax with journals and don’t trust myself to log in what I’m grateful for every day anyway. Hee.

    So if you’re like I am and want an excuse to journal every week rather than every day, gratitude journaling may be the path for you too.

    An Inspirational Book

    During this process, I’ve been thinking of the poet Ross Gay. His book, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, sings with beautiful verse about all that is difficult and painful and unjust and yet worthwhile in this wild thing we call life. I highly recommend it for inspiration!


    Karen Hugg, Author and Gardener, www.karenhugg.com, #books #author #Seattle #plants #gardening #crimefiction #Paris #vines #vineofideas #newsletter

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  • Books,  Writing

    Ross Gay: Singing About Plants and People

    Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Ross Gay, Ross Gay: Singing About Plants and People, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2016/09/30/ross-gay/ #poetry #books #RossGay #AfricanAmericanpoets

    September is a month of transition. The warm, bright freedom of long days wanes into the chilly introspection of rainy nights. It’s a warning about the coming of the great sleep that is winter. It’s in the morning dew on cars and yellow leaves that swirl before us as we mow the lawn. September signals that we should give up our fantasy of taking a walk in the evening whenever we want or put off fixing that downspout or eating on the patio. We are at the mercy of the earth’s tilt and it’s tilting away from the sun more and more every day.

    Poetry from the Garden

    So it was with surprise this September that I stumbled across Ross Gay’s book, catalog of unabashed gratitude. I’d seen his name around but I’ve rarely sought out poetry in the last handful of years. I do love and respect it though. There’s a simple reassurance in rereading Duino Elegies or Neruda or the ever reliable Mary Oliver. But not since Mary Oliver have I come across a poet able to meld the natural world with the human in the way Gay does. Generally, poetry is no stranger to the earth’s habits but Gay’s poetry is Whitmanesque, all encompassing, vibrant, aloud, unashamed. He is a modern day bard singing about plants while singing about so much more.

    Seasonal Change

    For instance, in his poem “Slipping From Lips” (from Against Which), we see the natural world as well as that of the city. Take a listen:

    “The gingko trees leaning outside my window

    one month ago a blazed gold now sulk

    like the withered talons of a thousand dead

    and decaying birds, and the subway’s smog

    roasts homeless men through the clenched teeth

    of steel grates, and the afternoon shadows stretch and pull,

    the sun’s lounge now long…”

    Though the poem goes on with mentions of snow and the narrator’s happiness at the new year and subsequent spring arriving, the poem also looks backward toward fall with the gingko trees having held gold leaves, nicely capturing the autumnal time of year. When I read this, I thought, yes, the blaze is right about now, but with rains and windstorms, the leaves fall and disappear. It’s all so glorious, temporary, and sad.

     Planting While Mourning

    We see this juxtaposition again in “Burial.” Gay writes about death and love and plants in a vivid memoir of his father’s dying days against his own task of planting fruit trees. The entire poem is worth quoting but I love this particular passage, which comes shortly after the narrator’s spoken about digging a hole where he mixes in the ashes of his deceased father.

    “…the roots curled around him

    like shawls or jungle gyms, like

    hookahs or the arms of ancestors,

    before breast-stroking into the xylem,

    riding the elevator up

    through the cambium and into the leaves where,

    when you put your ear close enough, you can hear him whisper

    good morning…”

    Then later, when he’s approaching the tree, now lush with fruit, he says:

    “…and I plodded barefoot

    and prayerful at the first ripe plum’s swell and blush,

    almost weepy conjuring

    some surely ponderous verse

    to convey this bottomless grace,

    you know, oh father, oh father kind of stuff,

    hundreds of hot air balloons

    filling the sky in my chest, replacing his intubated body

    listing like a boat keel side up, replacing

    the steady stream of water from the one eye

    which his brother wiped before removing the tube,

    keeping his hand on the forehead

    until the last wind in his body wandered off…”

    As I read through this again, I gulp. The intense moment of his father’s dying experience is lovingly but unsentimentally portrayed, the hot air balloons fill Gay’s body with breath as his father’s body lists from the breath inside it, then goes out as he dies. Wow. What a testament to the power of words to articulate life’s most profound milestones while bringing forth emotion.

    Ross Gay: In Spring and Winter

    The poem balances on this line of life and death throughout, keeping us in the moment of spring, hope, growth until the final lines where Gay bites the plum in his mouth and sees the memory of his father dancing, both “being a little silly / and sweet.” It’s no wonder the book where this poem lives was a National Book Award finalist.

    That book is the “catalog of unabashed gratitude.” Of Gay’s three poetry books, it’s the most dialed into the natural world, though not all poems feature it. Ross Gay, an African American, also writes about the black experience, racism, injustice, and history. He also writes simply about a flute or eating waffles. Whatever they’re about, each poem is an inspiring gift. Anyone who loves the natural world needs to read this man’s poetry. Poetry that’s about the pain and joy of the earth’s natural happenings, including the ones we humans live through, fleeting and precious, like a change in seasons.


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