Tag Archives: tech

Five Ways to Make the Most of the 30 Days of Thankfulness

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It’s November, the month of Thanksgiving, which means that folks on Facebook are celebrating the 30 Days of Thankfulness. Last week a friend me asked if I knew the origins of this practice. I don’t know where it started, but I’m touched that she would associate it with me. The 30 days is a burst of positive energy in an often snarky and cranky social media universe…

…Generally.

However.

My friend Marci has decided not to participate because of the potential for bragbooking. I’m sympathetic to her concerns. My next book looks at technology and digital culture from a spiritual perspective.  As I research, I’m finding various studies suggesting that Facebook has the potential to decrease people’s happiness. One person’s gratitude is another person’s braggadocio. We end up comparing other people’s outsides to our insides, or as I saw it expressed somewhere, everyone else’s sizzle reel to our blooper reel.

But I’m not sure the answer, for me, anyway, is to sit out the practice altogether. After all—and Marci points this out herself—gratitude is a spiritual practice.

Where’s the challenge in being thankful when you’re on top of the world?  It’s considerably harder to see gratitude in ordinary life as it chugs along. And when things are downright crappy, gratitude can be transforming, the tiny candle you wrap your fingers around to keep the darkness at bay.

Social media is here to stay. People are welcome to dip in and out of it, or take long breaks, or hide the gratitude posts that make them crazy, or whatever they need to do for their own mental and spiritual health. As someone who takes tech sabbaths every week, I believe you’re under no obligation to consume social media the way other people do. But it is a part of our lives. So it seems worthwhile to practice engaging with it in ways that are hospitable to others and gracious to yourself.

So here’s how the 30-day gratitude challenge can be helpful and not an exercise in bragbooking. I offer these as someone who studies social media and digital culture, and as a pastor who has taught and practiced the Ignatian examen (a practice of gratitude and discernment) for many years.

1. Go beyond the obvious. At the women’s retreat I led this weekend, I gave them an icebreaker question to answer in small groups: “It’s just not Thanksgiving without…”  But I specifically told them, “You can’t say ‘family’ or ‘my grandkids.'” I hope this caveat invited them to share something more specific and personal.

My friend Kristen posted a great moment of thankfulness this weekend: “Hair – as a fresh ‘do can literally change you. [My hairdresser] has been a steady presence in my life since 2004 when I wandered into the salon where she worked. 9 years, 2 salons, 4 jobs (me), 5 kids (hers plus mine) and countless haircuts, highlights and hairstyles later – I’m proud to call her friend and stylist extraordinaire.”

No bragbooking there. Just a touching tribute by a fabulous, sassy gal. Kristen’s update invites me into gratitude for the folks who provide services for me and the friendships that can develop.

It also makes me consider getting highlights. Again.

2. Think small. The examen is meant to be a daily practice. And often our most grateful moment is not the biggest headline of the day, but the moment that took our breath away. Maybe you got a huge raise at work (I know, in this economy? hey, it could happen), but the breathtaking moment was the act of kindness you saw in the line at Starbucks. Gratitude can be a trickster.

3. Be specific. “I’m thankful for my health” may be true. And for someone who’s battled cancer, or recovered from an injury, that’s huge. But consider how your update sounds to a friend whose health is a source of stress, or who’s in a chronic struggle with an illness. Instead, how about a specific thing your health allowed you to enjoy today? I’m thankful that I could pick up my big kindergartner today without my back going out.

4. Violate the Zaxxon rule. At the end of every Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, the host and guests share “what’s making us happy this week.” The idea is to recommend interesting movies, TV or books to the audience. During an early episode Stephen Thompson gushed about the Zaxxon video game he’d recently purchased. Later the group realized that it wasn’t the best “what’s making me happy,” since it’s not like everyone can go out and buy a Zaxxon machine. They instituted the Zaxxon rule to keep them accountable to share stuff that other people could reasonably partake of.

When it comes to gratitude, we should violate, rather than follow, the Zaxxon rule. That cuts down on comparisons. I am grateful for the flame of color from the Japanese maple in my front yard. That’s very particular to my situation. You don’t feel bad for not having a Japanese maple in your yard, do you?

5. Confront the bragbooker. Do it publicly only if you can do it lightheartedly, otherwise in private. Is it crazy to think we could do this, in the spirit of authenticity and friendship? Maybe. I realize this is hard. But if my posts are providing a stumbling block to someone, I want to know it. We’re all works in progress, folks. We can help one another along.

Are you participating in the 30 days of gratefulness? Why or why not?

~

photo credit: MTSOfan via photopin cc

On Aurora, Sabbath, and Technology

The terrible events in Aurora, Colorado have felt a little remote. The news broke while I was in the bubble of the PW Gathering, and it didn’t seem real. It still doesn’t.

I’m not sure what I might contribute to the discussion about the murders. (I agree with Adam Gopnik: calling it a “tragedy” dignifies the act.) Here are two links that spoke to me: An Open Letter to All Who Suffer, and The Grief We Carry in Our Bodies. (The photo is from Dark Elegy, which is featured in the latter post.)

But I have been thinking about how we receive and process news about tragedies like this. I keep remembering a passage from my book. The shooting at Gabby Giffords’ town hall event in Tucson happened on a sabbath day during our year-long sabbath experiment; I remember it vividly. Here’s what I wrote then. Here’s what I have to say today:

It’s early evening on a Sabbath when I learn about Tucson. A congresswoman and several people have been shot, some fatally. I get the news through Facebook, which I’ve logged into at an idle moment. Through the tributes, links, laments, and predictable anti- and progun sentiments that get voiced during events like this, I piece together what has happened. As I click from article to article, I feel strange that while I was in my own little world, terrible events were transpiring.

I think back to the 9/11 attacks, which happened while I was in seminary in Atlanta. We were told about the planes hitting the Twin Towers in the middle of Hebrew class. Afterward, someone had wheeled a television into the hallway, and many of us saw the towers fall. These days, during the course of my life, I’m rarely very far from e-mail, the radio, or an Internet newsfeed. So to have a tragedy like Tucson unfold over several hours while I was blithely knitting a Harry Potter scarf for Caroline is bizarre.

It’s bizarre but also liberating. I’m heartbroken for the victims and their families, but after a while, I decide to turn off the computer. All year, Sabbath has been reminding me that I am not indispensable. I can do nothing to change what has happened. I cannot alter the trajectory of this story as it moves forward either, and sitting at my computer, combing news sites for additional bits of information about the shooter, does nobody any good.

The world has gotten a lot smaller, thanks in part to the 24-7 news cycle. I am grateful for many aspects of our hyperconnected world. But I’m feeling a little frayed around the edges from all this togetherness. Within hours, we know all kinds of details about the gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, and the theories spread like wildfire as to his motives and alleged political leanings. Many of these theories will turn out to be false, but by then it will be too late. These snatches of information, fed to a hungry public, will only confirm what people are already inclined to believe. We hear what we want to hear. We become more entrenched, stony, and immobile in our views. We become more polarized.

Time will tell us what we need to know. I believe this. Sabbath is so much deeper than a weekly rest and renewal. Sabbath fosters perspective and clarity. Through Sabbath, perhaps, we can learn the difference between urgent and important. We can learn that reading or commenting on news articles is not the same thing as working for the healing of the world—it only gives us the illusion of doing something useful.

As I watch my laptop screen flash into darkness, I feel a sense of relief. Yes, the world falls apart, even on the Sabbath. Tomorrow I will do my small part to put it back together again, whatever that might be. But today, taking this time to cherish family, self, and God is the most faithful way I can think of to begin.

~

To pre-order Sabbath in the Suburbs, click here or here.