Last year my mom gave my sisters and me a copy of Oprah’s book What I Know For Sure. It’s the perfect nightstand book. The book is divided into main categories like Joy, Power, Connection, and Resilience, and those in turn are divided into smaller sections—sometimes a paragraph, sometimes four pages—that were once columns in her magazine, O. You can easily pick up the book at night, turn to a page at random, and read a small, thoughtful chunk. I read it this way over the course of the fall and I just finished it this weekend, though I imagine I’ll continue to pick it up over the years.
I understand that Oprah isn’t always relatable. She’s one of the most wealthy people in the world and has a lot of extravagancies that go along with that type of lifestyle. It feels a bit counterproductive to talk about discovering a new level of humility while flying in your private plane to your secluded house on the beach in Hawaii. But I do believe she is coming from a place of immense gratitude and perspective so I choose to look past those minor contradictions.
Instead, I’ve dog-eared a few pages in her book that have resonated with me, especially in light of the heartbreaking events of this past weekend. This is exceptionally lovely:
“When you make loving others the story of your life, there’s never a final chapter, because the legacy continues. You lend your light to one person, and he or she shines it on another and another and another…the only thing that will have lasting value is whether we’ve loved others and whether they’ve loved us.”
I try to cultivate an atmosphere of love around me. Adam and I must say “I love you” twenty times a day, and I don’t think I’ve ever ended a conversation with my parents that didn’t end with the same sentiment. In fact, when we were in the US a few weeks ago, I was talking to my mom about how affectionate we are as a family. We always hug and kiss before leaving the house (even if it’s just a grocery run!) and give yet another hug and kiss when we’ve returned. We can’t be stopped! I show love in many ways, but none feels more comforting to me than physical affection. As I grow up and mature and change I hope I continue to foster relationships that imbue a sense of light and love.
Furthermore, tis the season for gratitude and thanks and I really like her thoughts on saying thank you:
“Being grateful all the time isn’t easy. But it’s when you feel least thankful that you are most in need of what gratitude can give you: perspective. Gratitude can transform any situation…It’s the quickest, easiest, most powerful way to effect change in your life…Here’s the gift of gratitude: In order to feel it, your ego has to take a backseat. What shows up in its place is greater compassion and understanding. Instead of being frustrated, you choose appreciation. And the more grateful you become, the more you have to be grateful for.”
That last line is so brilliant. An open heart to gratitude and grace is so leveling, so humbling. I have so much to be thankful for and I try to acknowledge those feelings in a variety of ways: giving to others, appreciating what I have, showing love to my family and friends, and simply saying thanks.
Recognizing what we have and being grateful for even the smallest things (warm coffee in the morning, a particularly beautiful sunset) prepares us to thankful for more significant things (a place to sleep at night, a family in whatever form it takes for you). We can think of gratitude as a muscle: the more we use it, the stronger it gets, and the more likely it is to help hold us up when we’re feeling low or helpless.
I really enjoyed What I Know For Sure for its maxims and revelations, but I like how I’ve started to think about things that I know for sure about my own life. It feels like a way of living and understanding myself that is such a privilege. What are values that I hold sacred? How do I want to treat others? What matters most to me? Oprah’s book has been a good reminder to live an others-centered life.
How do you create a culture of love and gratitude in your own life? What books have helped shape or enhance your perspective?
(image by Natalie Norton for The House That Lars Built)