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Lifehack’s Guide to Gratitude, Giving Thanks, and Thanksgiving

Lifehack’s Guide to Gratitude, Giving Thanks, and Thanksgiving

Gratitude, Giving Thanks, and Thanksgiving

    It’s Thanksgiving time in the US, a time for reflection on the blessings that make our lives worth living. Over the years, Lifehack’s writers have has a lot to say on the topic of gratitude, giving thanks, and – of course – Thanksgiving.

    The Power of Giving Thanks

    Change the World, One Thank-You Note at a Time
    When Esquire writer Tom Chiarella decided to send handwritten thank you notes to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers who had touched his life in some way, he found a personal reward he wasn’t expecting: “I began to look at the day as a series of opportunities for thankfulness rather than obligations to a calendar.” Read Craig Child’s comments and then click through to the original Esquire story.

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    Power of Gratitude
    Vishal Rao sees gratitude as the key to keeping a positive outlook – and thus the force behind powerful change. “The power of gratitude works on the brain, he writes. “It helps release the negativity in our mind.”

    Universal Values to Be Grateful For
    We are nothing without the values we choose to live by, says Rosa Say. Expressing gratitude for the values that shape our relationships, or careers, and our lives is one step in “taking possession” of those values and making them a clear and conscious part of our approach to life.

    How to Be Happier with What You Have
    Does wanting more mean you have to be unhappy with what you have? Scott Young believes not, and shares tips to help us appreciate what we have while working for our dreams. Have a lot of interests, so a setback in any one won’t mean you lost everything; experiment with different ways of filling your time to find the way that works best for you; and don’t worry about living up to other people’s standards.

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    The Importance of Thank You
    Chris Brogan highlights the meaningfulness of expressing gratitude to the people who help you on your way. “Thank the people in your life who add value,” he writes, “and make sure you spread a little good karma that way. Be kind and generous in your thanks, and the results will almost always be favorable.” To make it easy, he offers a set of tips on giving thanks simply and effectively.

    A Powerful Thanksgiving

    Reap Joy from this Thanksgiving Holiday
    Another post on giving thanks from Rosa Say, who finds American Thanksgiving to resonate well with the Hawaiian concept of mahalo. Instead of decrying the artificialness of a day when we’re supposed to be thankful, Say embraces the forced gratitude of the day, sending notes and emails to friends around the world and thanking them for being part of her life. What a great (and yes, joyful) way to make a difference in the lives of the people you’re closest to – and your own.

    Thanksgiving and the Stories We Tell Ourselves
    My contribution to Lifehack’s pool of Thanksgiving-themed posts focuses less on thankfulness and more on what we can learn from how the Thanksgiving story – the Pilgrims, the Indians, the shared feast – defines us as a people. Stories, I argue, shape our lives in profound ways, even when they’re not true, or not true yet. Real change, then, might well start with changing the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and about the world we live in.

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    Thanksgiving How-To Guides
    A quickie post linking to Thanksgiving-themed how-to guides on eHow.

    TIme Management on the Turkey Day
    When we talk about Thanksgiving, we emphasize the relaxed day with our family, watching the football game or the Thanksgiving Day parade, and of course we pay homage to mom’s pumpkin pie or Aunt Louanna’s special stuffing. We tend to forget the tremendous tactical effort it takes to get all that food on the table at 4:00, hot and steaming. Leon Ho links to a post at FoodieView that offers a few tips for those facing the holiday from the kitchen counter.

    Top 10 Things to Do for Mom’s PC Over Thanksgiving
    For the techie among us, Thanksgiving is more than just a day for sharing good food and good times with your family – it’s also the day we will be called upon to service our parent’s computers. Leon’s post links to a list of good ideas for souping up Mom’s (or Dad’s, or grandma’s, or whomever’s) while you’re home for the holidays.

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    Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans, and to everyone else, thanks for reading. I hope you find a moment or two to be thankful on this and every day.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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