Over Easy: Reasons to be grateful 

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)


For the Valley News

Published: 06-12-2023 9:51 AM

I have read quite a few self-improvement books in my life but when I finish them I seem to be much the same person I was on page one.

 “Awaken the Giant Within!” “Be Rich Now!” “Be So Full of Yourself That You and Everyone Else Will Hardly Be Able to Stand It!”

I am all for self-esteem and achievement, but some of the success-chasers aim too high. If each and every aspiring writer became a New York Times best-selling author, what would we do with the millions of books? Who would buy them? What bookshelves would hold them? The math doesn’t work.

If we all got to the top, it would be too crowded up there. Don’t tell this to our new graduates, who must follow their passion and change the world. I want to say: Good luck with that; grab a pension if you can.

Our planet seems tremendously big and I am realistic about my chances of becoming its overlord, even if I read “Megalomania for Dummies.” Ambition wanes at some point. Instead I find my attention shifting to being kind and helpful to the people in my small orbit. There is enough to be done right there.

It is for the young to fly to the moon or Mars. My wife and I will drive down to Claremont on New Hampshire 12A for a scenery inspection and meander back on Vermont Route 5 and call it a day. Maybe we’ll stop for a maple creemee. I can be happy — or not — right here in West Lebanon.

That said, one piece of advice from people who think we all can be better and happier (and book buyers) gave me a little boost lately. A whole slew of them urge us to keep gratitude journals, with various systems and complexity. 

I’ve tried this in the past, but didn’t stick with it. My latest attempt suggests I was trying too hard.

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One day, perhaps after reading something more or less inspiring online, I spontaneously tried my own approach. On my desk was a small pad of Post-it Notes, 3 inches tall, 2½ inches wide. I drew a vertical and horizontal line to split one into four. Every day, when I remembered, I wrote three items to be grateful for in one of the quadrants. 

I didn’t aim for big things, deep thoughts or great meaning. I scribbled little things that popped into my head: firewood, raisins, YouTube, walking, dry clothes (I must have gotten wet and then dried out), birds, flowering trees, local listservs, books, music, vacation, good sleep, finishing my column and, of course, the gift of loved ones. One day I wrote “so much green’’ because spring was busting out all over. I actually listed firewood several times. Must have been those cold mornings.

I generally threw a Post-it away when it was filled. They were for the moment, not the ages. They also aged poorly when used as coffee coasters.

I think — I cannot know this for sure — the gratitude lists did something. Instead of grousing about politics and pandemics, I directed my attention closer to home: a sunrise, Hoka sneakers (they are pretty great), a peanut butter sandwich, my iMac, wood floors, books, my new electric lawn mower (it is also pretty great). It could go on and on. 

After doing this for a couple of weeks I was at least a wee bit happier. Not much, but a start.

There are major things to be grateful for, but every day we walk over, around and through the small stuff and hardly notice. We want to see soaring eagles, but chickadees are pretty cool, and they are right outside my window.

This reminds me not to overlook the humble Post-it Note. According to a New York Times account, they were developed by a 3M scientist who in 1968 was trying to develop an adhesive for aircraft construction. The Times reports, “He failed in that goal. But during his experimentation, he invented something entirely different: an adhesive that stuck to surfaces, but that could be easily peeled off and was reusable.”

Millions of notes, plans and reminders later, The Post-its are small and mighty. Originally ho-hum yellow, they now come in colors that are actually fun.

With summer knocking on the door, many things are looking up. Some are as small as a trip to the library or a farmers’ market. (If you go to the Norwich market, find the bakery stall that sells hermit bars. Honestly, this is among the best pieces of life advice I can give.)

Gratitude is harder in dreary March. But June, July and August are what we’ve been waiting for. We are on a roll. Don’t miss it.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.