Why “Thank You” are my favorite words

February 5th, 2016

As my new friends in Germany and I walked out of our classroom, I looked our teacher in the eye and said, “Vielen Dank!” (Thank you very much!)

“Why do you always do that?” my friend asked in broken German. “Why do you thank the teacher every day?”

why "thank you" are my favorite words

I paused … why wouldn’t I say thank you? I was a 20-something year old woman who’d just moved abroad, and that teacher was giving me the gift of a new language necessary for my immersion in Berlin. Nobody else in my class spoke English, and I certainly didn’t know any of their languages. Because of our teacher, I was making new friends, communicating with strangers, and performing everyday tasks where language was needed. Granted my German involved a lot of really awkward conjugations and arm gestures. (It still does!) But that teacher’s enthusiasm to guide my classmates and me was amazing—a treasure I’ll never forget.

“It’s her job to teach,” another friend said.

I was stunned by their perspective on gratitude. We had a lot of differences that often came down to cultural perspectives and certainly lifestyle preferences. I won’t even tell you their reaction the day I blew my nose in class!

To me, “thank you” are the most powerful and important words in our vocabulary. I’ve learned that the more gratitude we pause to celebrate, the more joyful our lives become. No one is perfect. We all struggle with worthiness. We wonder if we’re doing enough and if we’re good enough. I know I should argue that external validation shouldn’t make a difference … but it does. It matters to the person receiving it and the person expressing it. When someone pours her hearts into something—as imperfect as it may be—the gift of thanks is a wonderful treasure. We’re telling her: I see you and I appreciate you.

And by making gratitude everyday practice in our lives, we benefit, too. The ordinary moments in our lives hold all the joy. If you think about the things that make you happiest, they’re actually not the big events like your wedding day. They’re the good morning kiss or random text to say, “Hi! And we need more eggs.” When we lose those little moments, they’re what we miss most. (Here’s a perfect, beautiful example from Humans of New York.)

A gratitude practice makes you thankful for what you have, and so often, the best things are the people in our lives. I haven’t been perfect in my gratitude rituals. In fact, sometimes I’ve been the opposite of grateful. It’s easy to think we’re entitled to more and better. Maybe that’s part of being human. But I’m going to keep on trying.

My German teacher pulled me aside one afternoon. “You always say thank you to me, Katie.”

I started organizing German vocabulary in my head to explain myself, but she kept talking.

“I really appreciate it. Thank you.”

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This essay is a part of an on-going study of gratitude and joy, which all began with the creation of this gratitude journal. If you’d like to receive monthly stories that are published on Making This Home in your inbox, sign up here. If you have thoughts or stories on gratitude, please share below.

Why we keep taking the easy route (even when we don’t mean to)

January 11th, 2016

The moment I decided I was ready to learn how to fly an airplane, I approached my husband, Martin. He’s one of those people who could live and breathe all things aviation. From the moment we met, it was clear that he wanted nothing more than to share that passion with me.

“Okay, I’ll learn how to fly,” I said. “But I just want you to know: I don’t do landings.”

Landing an airplane involves a detailed process of calculating exactly where you are and where your plane is taking you. The immense number of variables—your elevation, rate of descent, angle of your wings, wind patterns, radio tower instructions, etc.—influence exactly where you’ll touch the ground and the level of grace. Without your detailed focus, a plane won’t be able to perform its magic.

Now if you ask me, flying a plane sounded much more enjoyable without all that stress. I figured I’d much more enjoy the excitement of my plane leaving the earth and rising around my beloved blue Montana sky if I didn’t have the hassle of getting back down.

“You’ll just do all of our landings,” I told Martin with a shrug.

“Is that what you’ll tell the examiner, too? He can just land for you?”

why we keep taking the easy route in life

I know you’re probably laughing at the absurdity of my predicament. I admit it sounds a bit foolish. The thing is, I wanted to avoid landings to protect myself—and I don’t just mean physically. I wanted to skip and the part of flying that’s hard and painful. The easier path just sounded, well, easier.

We all try to ignore part of our story because it’s hard and it hurts. It’s no fun to get our butts kicked, screw up, or disappoint anyone—especially ourselves. Do we really want to deliberately set ourselves up for all that junk?

Life feels much easier when we walk away and live outside of any positive benefits that might come with the entire experience. We disengage to protect ourselves, thinking the path of least resistance makes sense.

The irony is that the more we attempt to separate ourselves from things that feel hard, the more we stop writing our own stories. Joseph Campbell was a brilliant writer who said, “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”

The reason I love journaling so much is that it makes me feel more joy and gratitude. When we write journals, we get to live experiences twice—once in the world, and once on paper. Recording our stories helps us see our experiences with more depth. We get to review, reflect, and learn from our stories, which makes us understand more about ourselves and the world. Steve Jobs believed it was important to connect the dots between our experiences. To him, “Creativity is just connecting things.” One moment links to another to another, and they shape who we are.

But some stories involve tears. We live in a world where showing our vulnerability can be looked down on as a weakness. After all, we have so much to be grateful for with only our first world problems! The pressure makes us feel like our hardships aren’t worthy of being acknowledged. So what do we do? We bury them. We stop stretching to live full lives, subconsciously afraid of the unknown pain that might come.

Over the years, I’m learning how journaling isn’t just about the joy and gratitude. It’s also about acknowledging challenging things—both big and small—that scare us and make us want to go back to bed and hide under the blankets. A journal is a tool that connects your head and heart by use of your hands. It’s a place to engage in your feelings. For now, I’m going to keep sharing happy journal entries and inspiration on Instagram. But I’m also thinking a lot more about the hard stories and how we can open our hearts to them.

Eventually, I faced my fear of landing—it wasn’t easy. Martin and I worked together the entire summer. I can’t tell you how many times he said, “Let’s do it again” and “Go around.” Occasionally, I heard the most deflating words of all: “I’ve got the controls.” No discussion, no chance for correction—I had to surrender the plane instantly as he rescued our descent. There were days when I wanted to cry, days when I did, and plenty of times when I was sure I should just throw the towel in and kick the plane’s wheel as hard as I could. It was awful.

As we kept practicing our flight patterns, it wasn’t just my landings that were improving. I got better at all the aspects of flying. One morning, Martin jumped out of the parked airplane just before I was about to make a radio call that we were taxiing to the runway.

I’ll spare you the details, though I think you can derive the conclusion: I survived my first solo flight! As it turns out, I can do landings. We all can.

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The photo in this post was taken mere seconds before I did my first solo landing I documented my entire flight journey in diary form.

Give a story to a child in need

December 3rd, 2015

give a story to a child

When I was growing up, I dreamed of writing a journal about my life. Kids would get on huge waiting lists at their school libraries to check out “The Amazing Adventures of Kate the Great!” Never mind that my story wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; I just wanted to create something that would inspire and help other kids. It’s been a dream of mine ever since.

Last spring as the school year was wrapping up, I stumbled on exactly what I needed to do.

My mom’s a school librarian. “You know what I hate about my job?”

I pictured stacks of books waiting for plastic covers and other piles she needed to organize and put on shelves. I wasn’t expecting what she actually told me.

“There’s this little boy who hasn’t returned his book.”

She briefly mentioned that he was moving from home to home. I imagined a child with freckles on his face and dirt under his nails—a boy exactly like my son. Then I could see his shaggy, unwashed hair, dirty clothes, and insufficient winter coat. And I wondered if he ever forgot exactly which home he had to go to after school.

“He’s supposed to return his library book, right?” my mom continued. “And if he doesn’t, I’m supposed to fine him.”

I nodded. I think we’ve all experienced the frantic search for overdue library books.

“But he can’t pay a fine. He doesn’t have any money. And worse: it’s just a library book … but I think it’s his only possession.”

If a child owns just one book, what should it be?

This was my big aha moment because even today, I know exactly what my childhood favorite is—“The Amazing Adventures of Kate the Great!”—because it’s the story of me.

When a child owns a book that he fills with all of his adventures, ideas, and dreams, it gives him a sense of empowerment. He discovers that he is creative, funny, beautiful, and most of all: worthy.

This is where the Gadanke mission—Celebrate your story!—begins to craft a deeper meaning. I’m shifting mediums; some handmade journals are retiring. One of your kids’ favorites is now a professionally bound book!

Time Capsule: A seriously awesome kid’s journal

time capsule journal for kidsInvite your child to explore his creativity and discover how mighty the pen can be by diving deep into what sparks his interest. With this time capsule journal, he will record awesome adventures, achievements, and milestones as he improves his penmanship. The engaging prompts encourage him to write and doodle stories—both serious and silly—while building self-esteem. He can even add interesting photographs and memorabilia!

kid journal by katie clemons

Order before December 10 and receive the incredible free goodies listed here.

pirate journal for kids

And here’s the most powerful part of this story, as we approach Christmas:

give a story to a child in need

I couldn’t stop thinking of that little boy and his only book. Every year, thousands of children are displaced from their homes because of domestic violence. My local shelter for battered women and families is a part of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). It provides mothers and children with safe places to stay, everyday necessities, and resources to move forward.

Gadanke has created the Give a Story project to help build these children’s self esteem and give them something to call their own—a journal to celebrate their story!

Today if you are able, I ask you to help me invest in a child by giving him a journal. Purchase one at 50% discount; I’ll take care of everything else, and your gift will be delivered to NCADV to give to a child on your behalf.

Together, we can give kids the chance to write their own rich and beautiful endings.

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