Previous month:
September 2014
Next month:
November 2014

30-day gratitude photo challenge: 2014 edition


Get excited... The Fourth Annual 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge begins on November 1! For the past three years, I've hosted a 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge (see here and here and here) and this year it's back again for another month of embracing an attitude of gratitude. The premise of the challenge is this: snap photos inspired by the daily prompts listed above and share them on social media with the hashtag #Gratitude30.

If you haven't done the challenge before, you might be wondering: Why participate in the challenge instead of just being grateful? Having done this for three years now, I can honestly say that it makes being grateful easier because it holds you accountable for your gratitude and encourages you to look for gratitude all around you. Though I try to practice gratitude on a daily basis, this challenge always motivates me to think a bit more about all that I'm so fortunate to have in my life. Plus, it's actually really fun to do. 

One of the benefits of the challenge is that it encourages you to get a bit more specific about what you're grateful for. In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Anchor discusses how gratitude lists sometimes aren't as effective as they could be because they're often repetitive and general, like being thankful for "family" or "shelter." To create a deeper sense of gratitude, it helps to get more detailed — and that's what I'm hoping you'll do with the Fourth Annual 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge!

Not only do I encourage you to share photos of what you're specifically grateful for, but this year I also recommend that you dig a little deeper and consider why you're grateful for the things you choose to photograph. Below you'll see not only the one-word prompts, as I've done in previous years, but also some thoughts on what you might want to contemplate while snapping photos for the challenge. The challenge has been designed for you to participate in any way you like, but if you're the type who likes a bit more guidance, here are some more detailed prompts to keep you feeling grateful all month long...



Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. What beauty are you grateful for? What things make your home, office, neighborhood, etc. more beautiful? Who around you embodies the essence of beauty? What do you find beautiful about yourself? 



Laughing is one of my favorite things to do, and I'm so thankful that I do it on a daily basis. What makes you laugh? A movie? A book? A joke? A memory? Whatever evokes that giddy sense of happiness within you, be thankful for it. 



What we dream says a lot about what matters to us. What do you dream about often (either in the literal or the abstract sense)? Do you have reoccurring dreams at night? Do you find yourself daydreaming about the same things? 



Consider the wisdom you've received in your life. Who is the wisest person you know? What is the best piece of advice you've been given? What books / films / experiences have made and continue to make you wiser? 



We are all uniquely inspired by the world around us. What inspires you to get out of the bed in the morning? What inspires you to keep working, loving, living? Contemplate how fortunate you are to have inspiration in your life. 



It's time to stop and smell the roses, to pay attention to the little things in life that make a big difference. What little details of your life have you been taking for granted? What small acts or experiences shape you on a day-to-day basis? 



We are fortunate to have clothing on our backs, but what about your attire are you most thankful for? Is it the item that makes you happy every time you wear it? Or is it a purposeful item, like a coat design to keep out winter's chill? 



Celebrate those friends you have in your life by being grateful for them. Who are the people who have stuck by you no matter what? Who are the ones you can call, day or night, for a chat? How lucky you are to have friendship in your life! 



Home is where the heart is, they say. What does "home" mean to you? Is it the place you rest your head each night? Is it the place you grew up? Or is it more of a state of mind? Whatever home means to you, be thankful for it.



We should all be thankful for whatever kindness we experience. What kind acts have you experienced lately? What kindness have you shown to others? Be thankful not only for others' kindness, but for your own ability to be kind. 



Art is everywhere. What you consider to be art is unique to you, but ask yourself: what do I consider to be art? What art do I see in my life on a daily basis? What art do I love but see rarely? What art have I created (or want to create)? 



The changing seasons echo the cycle of life and it's important to be thankful for what they represent. Which season are you experiencing now? Which season do you most like to experience? Why do you enjoy that particular season? 



Taste may be a difficult thing to photograph, but try to capture and share the tastes that you most enjoy. What is your favorite food? Why? What tastes (sweet, salty, etc.) are you most drawn to? What flavors entice and excite you? 



Looking back isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes it's pleasant to reflect on what was. Consider your favorite moment or item from the past. What was wonderful about it? How do you feel when you think of that time / thing / person? 



To be grateful for nature is to be grateful for life. Look around you at whatever nature you can find. What is beautiful or inspiring about it? What elements of nature do you most connect with? When were you most in touch with nature? 



Whether it's comfort in a physical sense (a hug, a blanket) or in an emotional sense (a good listener, wise advice), it is wonderful to find comfort in your life. Think about the things, people, or situations that make you feel most comforted. 



It can be hard to be thankful for work, but consider how work makes your life better. It provides you with income, and it can challenge, inspire, and excite you. Even if you don't love your career, ask yourself: why am I lucky to have work? 



Change can be both terrifying and exciting. What changes have you experienced recently? How did they make you feel? What changes might you like to experience in the near future? What can you do to initiate those changes today? 



What's new in your life? Do you have any new friends, new experiences, new mindsets? If you don't have any newness to be thankful for, do something completely out of character today and embrace the new experiences you have.



Many of us are creatures of habit. What routines or habits do you have in your life? What about these are you thankful for? What routines do you wish you had in your life? What routines would you like to shake up and change? 



The nose is a powerful force and what we smell can transform an experience or mood. Consider what your favorite smells are and why. How do they make you feel? Why do you like those feelings? Be thankful for the aromas in your life. 



Relaxation is a beautiful thing. Do you spend as much time relaxing as you'd like? When you do relax, what do you most like to do? What sights / sounds / smells make you feel most at ease? With whom do you feel in a most relaxed state? 



Travel doesn't necessarily mean visiting foreign lands. Every day we travel from place to place. What travels do you embark on frequently? How do you feel when it route? What places have you most enjoyed visiting? Where do you want to go?



There is little that deserves more gratitude than love. It is one of the most powerful forces on earth. How do you experience love in your life? How do you receive it? Give it? What does the word "love" really mean to you?



Every day, we create. We create connections, experiences, conversations. We create art and music and magic. Consider what you have created today or recently. How did it feel? Now consider what you'd like to create in the future. 



What we hear can greatly influence who we are. What sounds are most appealing to you? What kind of music motivates or inspires you? What song could you listen to on repeat day after day? Appreciate all that you can hear. 



It might be a love-hate relationship, but you are fortunate to have family in your life. Take note of them today and be mindful of the ways they have shaped your life. What do you love about them? What do you often take for granted?



What would you like to have more of in your life? What things / people / experiences fill you with longing? Consider not only what you want but also why you want it. How would you feel if you had it? How much it transform your life? 



Weather can impact more than the color of the sky. How do you feel when the sun is shining? When the storm clouds are gathering? What is the weather today and how does it make you feel? Whatever the weather, try to embrace it. 



The most important thing to be grateful is the only thing you will always have in your life: yourself. Consider all the ways you are wonderful and appreciate the good (and not so good!) parts of yourself. What do you love most about you? 



I hope you'll join me in participating in the Fourth Annual 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge this year! It really is a lot of fun. If you're joining in (yay!), here are a few things to note before you begin the challenge: 


* No photography skills needed. You don't need to be a photographer or even all that interested in taking photos to participate. All you need to be is interested in staying present and focusing on things you're grateful for.

Don't be scared by the word "challenge." It's just what these photo things are called so don't let it prevent you from participating. There's no reward, no punishment — just an opportunity to be more thankful.

* Any kind of camera works. You can take your photos anyway you want to — with your phone, a digital camera, a DSLR, a Holga, an Instax, a SLR, a Polaroid. Anything goes when it comes to capturing gratitude.

* Start at any time. The point is to focus on staying thankful for thirty days so you can start the challenge on November 1 and do it for the whole month (as I'm doing), or you can start the challenge any day that works for you. 

* Use #Gratitude30. If you post your pics on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, etc., be sure to tag them #gratitude30 so others can see them. I'll be posting mine daily on Instagram (positivelypresent).

* Print out a reminder. You can copy the photo above (save it to your phone, perhaps!) or you can download and print out a version to post wherever you'd find a reminder helpful by clicking here.


I'm looking forward to sharing my photos with you all month long — and I can't wait to see your photos as well!


7 lessons i learned from facing my fear

I've never been the type to think of facing fears as a good thing to do, but I discovered last week that it doing what scares you really will have some positive benefits. 

Last week I was faced with a few situations that nervous me. I'm talking palm-sweating, heart-pounding nervous. It was the kind of nervous that transformed itself into fear, and my mind was racing with the various ways I could possibility avoid the situations, trying to rationalize how avoidance might, in fact, be the best option. (As you probably know: avoidance is rarely the best option.) As much as I tried to convince myself that maybe avoidance would be better than facing the fear, I managed to push through the fear and do what I need to do — and it was so worth it. (A big thanks to my friends Steph, Dani, and Abbey, who didn't let me get away with the avoidance nonsense I was desperately trying to rationalize!)

Facing my fear wasn't easy by any means (I'm not naturally a courageous person), but being brave was incredibly rewarding. In the span of a week, I did a few things I was quite afraid to do and — cliche as it sounds — I came out on the other side stronger, braver, and wiser.

Each fear-inducing endeavor I faced didn't pan out exactly as planned so it wasn't as if I felt brave because everything worked out in the end. I felt brave and stronger just for facing my fear — for picking up the phone, for going to the meeting, for doing the things that made my heart pound so hard I thought it might jump from my chest, for choosing not to run when I really wanted to. 

Facing multiple fears in one week certainly got me thinking about how much of a positive experience it can be to take on the things you're afraid to do. Here are some of the lessons I learned first-hand this week: 



One of the most important things I learned is this: the longer you put something off, the scarier it gets. The fears I had to face last week weren't urgent issues so I did what I could to put them off instead of tackling them immediately. I wasted time discussing with my friends how I could avoid these situations instead of just doing it. And that only made it worse. The longer I waited, the more time I had to think about what could happen and that only increased the anxiety. Lesson learned? Don't wait. Face that fear right away.



Not all fear-inducing situations can be conquered with a plan in place, but, if possible, I'd highly recommend having a plan in place. Know what you want to say or do. Envision how you'd like the conversation or interaction to go. This won't guarantee that things will go perfectly (life is unpredictable like that), but it will help ease your mind as you prepare to face your fear, and really, the worst thing about fear is what it does to your mind. If you can take control of some aspect of the unknown, it can make it easier to be brave. 



As much as I tried to stay positive while facing my fears, my mind definitely dragged itself to a negative place, imagining all the things that might go wrong. I was worried that things wouldn't go well — which is why I wanted to avoid it in the first place — but you know what? In at least one situation, things went much better than I thought they would and all of that worrying was for nothing. It's important to remember that life can surprise you with good things when you're least expecting it. 



Though it helps to know that things can go better than expected, I also found it helpful to consider the worst and best case scenarios. Considering the worst case scenario is a good way to remind yourself that even if things go terribly wrong, you'll still be just fine. (Also keep in mind this question: "Will this matter five years from now?") Considering the best case scenario is a good way to motivate yourself to face that fear. If the best thing happens, look at all you'll have to gain! 



One of the reasons I'm not a particularly brave person is because I don't enjoy being uncomfortable or feeling awkward. I usually avoid it at all costs. But last week I learned that, even though it doesn't feel great, it's okay to be uncomfortable. It's okay not to feel completely in control of a situation or be able to predict the outcome. I'm not, by any means, going to put myself in awkward situations on a daily basis now, but I learned that I can be uncomfortable and still be okay. 



The best lesson I learned — by far — was how amazing it felt to actually do something I was afraid of doing. Even though my palms were still sweating and my heart was still pounding, after I did what I was scared to do, I was so proud of myself. I was able to look at myself in the mirror and think, I am brave. For someone not naturally courageous, like myself, this was a BIG deal. I would have expected me to find clever avoidance tactic, but instead I was brave. I surprised myself, and that's a pretty cool feeling. 



I rarely do really brave things, but last week I did multiple brave things. One of the reasons that was, I think, is because acting bravely made me feel braver. It was like positive reinforcement for my soul. When I tackled a new scary situation, I was able to remind myself of how brave I'd been previously and that made it easier to keep moving forward to face new fears. Every time I faced a fear, I thought to myself, I could do anything right now! The braver you are, the braver you'll continue to be. 


Facing fears is incredibly difficult — believe me, I know how scary it can be — but last week I learned just how powerful it can be. Doing what I was really scared to do changed me. It strengthened me in ways I wouldn't have expected. So if there's something you're scared to do, something you've been avoiding, I recommend doing it. I can't say it will be easy to push past the fear, but I can say that it will be worth it. Whatever it is you're scared to do, do it


how to make your road well traveled


I've had travel on the brain lately since I recently booked a trip to Los Angeles, and I've been thinking about how travel is a great way to explore the world, see new things, and gain new perspectives. But travel isn't only about going to far-off lands and venturing to new cities. A well traveled life isn't just about boarding a plane and taking a vacation. It's also about making the most of the travel we do on a daily basis. Most of us travel every single day — driving to work or school, visiting friends, running errands, walking the dog. Every time we travel (no matter how routine the travel is!) we have a chance to explore. Through exploration we not only discover new things around us, but we discover new things within ourselves. 

We become so accustomed to the route that we forget to really notice it. We forget to be present. But there's a lot to be gained from making the road you travel every day a well traveled one. If you're present while traveling — even if you're just traveling to the store to pick up some milk — you'll uncover hidden magic in the mundane, you'll cultivate a deeper sense of mindfulness, you'll discover little insights about yourself, and you'll be able to take notice of the positive more easily. 

Of course, it's much easier to discover new things when you're in a new place. New things capture our attention so well. But creating a well traveled road on a path you venture down every day is much more difficult. Whether your travels lead you across the globe or just across town,  here are some tips for how to make the journey worthwhile. 



You've certainly heard the phrase "stop and smell the roses" before, but have you really done it. In order to smell the roses, you first have to notice them. As we travel through out daily routines, we don't often pay attention to what's all around us. We believe we've seen it all before and don't make much of an effort to look around. But things are always, always changing and there are so many little things that can spark inspiration along the road (no matter how frequenly you travel it!). Just yesterday, I spotted a tiny toy dinosaur on the steps leading up to my apartment. It was such a small little thing, but it made me wonder about where it had come from, which led me to contemplate the people who live in my building, which led me to thinking about interesting it is to live among so many different people. The littlest things can spark fascinating thoughts. 



No matter where you travel, there is beauty. I can be found everywhere, even in the most unexpected places. The trick to finding it? Look. Usually we're so busy trying to get from here to there that we don't pay attention to little bits of beauty all around us. When driving to work, pay attention to the trees and the way their leaves change. While walking the dog, take note of the way s/he interacts with the world. Beauty can be found in more than just things. The more you notice beautiful things as you travel through your day, the brighter your day will become. When you see beauty in the world (however small!), you're reminded that the world is a beautiful place, a place you have an opportunity to be fully present it. Spotting beauty encourages you not only to stay in the moment but also to really appreciate it. 



The five senses are some of the best tools for staying present, and they can be particularly useful for creating a road well traveled. Next time you travel, choose a sense (sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell) and pay close attention to it as you're on the road. (If you're driving, sight or sound probably works best.) For example, if you're walking to a friend's house, decide to focus on everything you can hear along the way. Listen to the birds, the car horns, the wind, the sound of your own breath. Drawing your attention to one specific sense is an amazing way not only to keep yourself focused on the present, but it's also a great way to discover new things or things that have always been there but that you've never stopped to notice before. 



If you can take a different road to get from where you are to where you want be, that can be a great way to make your travels more interesting. Even if it's  longer, a detour can lead you to new inspiration. If there's only one road to take, you switch up the way you travel. Take the bus instead of driving. If it's not far, walk instead of driving. If transportation options are limited, consider these ideas for varying routine trips: listen to new music (maybe a genre you've never listened to) or an audiobook, travel with someone (if you're usually alone) or alone (if you're usually with someone), or make little stops along the way. Doing something different is not only good for new discoveries, but it's also a great way to reflect on the way you always travel and take note of what you do and don't prefer. Knowing your preferences is vital for creating a road well traveled. 


Whether you're traveling near or far, the act of moving from one place to another is brimming with possibilities for exploration and inspiration. Below are two awesome giveaways that might make your travels even more enlivening. Read on to find out how you can enter to win!