Our guest, Kristi Nelson is the executive director of A Network for Grateful Living.
“If we can cultivate not taking things for granted now, we are going to be so grateful when this is over because we will bring such joy to the other things in life." - Kristi Nelson
Feeling grateful for life, your home, family, and friends may not come easily this year. But in the new book - Wake Up Grateful - author Kristi Nelson gives insight into what it truly means to be grateful. Rather than focus on finding happiness in every moment, Nelson encourages you to embrace the entirety of your experience, just as it is.
In this episode, we talk with her about her experience as a 25-year Stage IV cancer survivor, which challenged her to find gratefulness even in the face of daily despair. She shares how you can learn what it means to live gratefully and bring awareness into every moment of every day.
We have had a collective wake-up call this year with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on every part of our lives. Events like this bring the important things in life into perspective. Despite the challenges and anxiety 2020 has brought to so many lives, Nelson shows you how to uncover and cultivate gratefulness through questions for reflection, daily exercises, and perspective prompts for appreciating the fullness of life as it is, right now.
About the author: KRISTI NELSON is the executive director of A Network for Grateful Living. She has a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School and has spent more than 30 years in nonprofit leadership, development, and consulting. She has worked at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and the Soul of Money Institute. Kristi is a Stage IV cancer survivor who cherishes living among friends and family in western Massachusetts.
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Jeremy: [00:00:00] This is the fit mess with Zach and Jaron. Well, happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the fit mess. We're happy to have you there and we're happy to be joined by our guests this week. Her name is Christine Nelson. She is the author of a brand new book called wake up, grateful, perfectly timed a book for this time of year.
The focus of our conversation is going to be gratitude and, and just, uh, gratefulness in general. Uh, again, perfect timing for this conversation. There's, there's so many things about being grateful about having gratitude in your life that are important, that are necessary, that will help you to accomplish all of the goals that you have set out for yourself.
For me, gratitude is something that I definitely struggle with. For instance, you know, every morning in my journal, I write down three things I'm grateful for. And a lot of times, I mean, I would say. Five out of the seven days of the week, those three things are, um, there there's no feeling behind it. I'm going through the motions.
I'm trying to train my brain to just acknowledge you have things to be grateful for. And a lot of times, it's really hard for me to grab onto the feeling and really own it. Um, so that, that's something I struggle with Zach. What's your relationship with gratitude? Like,
Zach: [00:01:13] yeah, I actually agree with you. I, I, I was writing, I still do like, uh, writing down what I'm grateful for every morning.
Yeah. It was really hard to. Uh, come up with things that were really meaningful. I was looking for like a big thing to be grateful.
Jeremy: [00:01:28] Yeah. Coffee, coffee makes a frequent appearance of my gratitude list. Uh,
Zach: [00:01:34] yeah. Um, but we talked about it in a previous episode when somebody would ask me how I'm doing, I would usually say I can't complain because
Jeremy: [00:01:41] no one knows right.
Zach: [00:01:43] Lately, you know, people have been saying, you know, Hey, how are you doing? And, um, Interestingly enough, like, as I've been working on my gratitude, I've started to answer people with, well, I woke up this morning, so I'm great.
Jeremy: [00:01:57] Nice. And,
Zach: [00:01:58] and it always takes people by surprise. They're like, Oh, there's a meaningful answer to that question.
Jeremy: [00:02:06] But also that opens up a lot of questions. Like, is there a reason you shouldn't have woken up this morning?
Zach: [00:02:11] Well, again, there is no reason. It's just the fact that. I got to wake up again.
Jeremy: [00:02:17] Yeah. I, it just this morning, it's so funny, you know, reading this book, I've been trying to apply some of the principles, just so I, you know, sort of know what I'm talking about in this interview that we're going to have in just a minute.
And I did the same thing. I woke up this morning and before I did anything, I thought, what are you grateful for the fact that you woke up the fact that you're breathing, that you get another day to do better? Like, and I felt that more. Then when I write in my journal, like the, the exercise that I do has I've taken it for granted, right?
Like it's just this motion that I go through trying to train myself. Um, but when you're a little more mindful of the things that do happen automatically, that could stop at any time, like living like breathing, like just experiencing whatever life has to throw at you today. That's a hard thing to, to learn and to hang on to.
Because, you know, even in this, you know, somewhat slowed down society, we're still in a rat race. We're still meeting deadlines, getting kids online for school, all the things that we need to be doing. So it's so easy to not stop and take that moment to be grateful for what you have. And you know, this is it's easy for me to say because I haven't lost anyone close to me from COVID.
Um, but. Even in the worst of times, there's always something to be grateful for, whether it is as simple as you just get another shot today.
Zach: [00:03:44] Yeah. I've had a really tough struggle with, with gratitude and being grateful. Um, you know, I guess mostly going back to, um, just, just being comfortable in my body. I think we talked about a couple of weeks ago about being highly sensitive and.
At any given moment, there's at least four to five areas on my body that hurt. I can tell you right now, my left ankle hurts. My right knee hurts. My left shoulder hurts. My rib cage hurts and I've got like a little headache in my temple right now, but that's normal for me to be, to have pain all across my body.
And it's so hard to turn it around and go, well, where do I not hurt? Let's focus there. Right? Let's be happy for the fact that my right foot doesn't hurt or, you know, my left knee doesn't hurt or my right shoulder doesn't hurt. It's actually zigzagging up. I'm up my body today, but, you know,
Jeremy: [00:04:38] connect the dots game.
Zach: [00:04:39] I know, but for, but for a brief moment, if I focus on what's not hurting, I feel good.
Jeremy: [00:04:45] Yeah. Even with
Zach: [00:04:46] all the other crap that's going on,
Jeremy: [00:04:48] it's amazing how that applies. Kind of universally it's I don't know if it's, if, if it's our fight or flight, uh, brains, but for whatever reason, we are drawn to the negative.
We are, we are constantly highlighting the hard part about our job. The thing we don't like about our boss, the nitpicking about the thing your spouse does all the time, that drives you crazy. The kids whining, whatever it is. It's so easy to latch onto those things, even though they are a fraction of your day.
But they have the biggest impact when they draw your attention and you keep your focus there. If you can train your brain to acknowledge those things. But to then, like you said, focus on the good that you have. I think it not only helps you feel better, but it creates those pathways in your brain and creates a sense of motivation to take the actions you need to, to create more abundance and more happiness in your life.
It's. But it's so counterintuitive because we're so easily drawn to, Oh, I got rear-ended today. That's the worst thing that could have happened at like, you know, there's so many things that we apply so much, uh, weight to that are negative and we just let them dominate so much space in our minds.
Zach: [00:06:03] Well, it it's the societal norm, right?
Those are the things that, you know, in my case, I was raised with a lot more negativity, but like we're all surrounded by this negativity and we build neural pathways that go down that road. So when you have a free thought, when your brain has no direction that it's going to go, it's going to go down the path.
That's well-worn. Yup. Right?
Jeremy: [00:06:25] So all of this,
Zach: [00:06:25] you know, being positive, being grateful, these are. Not talked about, they're not encouraged as much. Um, so these are roads. You don't travel very often.
Jeremy: [00:06:34] Um, I I'm laughing because my daughters, uh, whenever we sit at the table for dinner and you know, and they're not just.
Very distracted by everything that could be going on in a child's mind. We'll try and do a round of, you know, things you're grateful for, for the day. And my youngest daughter, every time says, well, I don't know about gratitudes, but my bad attitudes are, and she rattles off all the things that pissed her off.
It's okay. Even at five years old, she's just like, yeah, I don't know. There's probably some good stuff, but anyways, here's the crappy things that happened in my life today.
Zach: [00:07:09] Well, it's ingrained in us, in children and childhood. I mean, you start going to school and that's, that's where it is. But it, it, it is hard to be grateful because you don't use those pathways.
You don't travel down those roads. So the more you practice, the easier it is because it's hard. It's not easy to be grateful.
Jeremy: [00:07:26] Yeah. Well, as I mentioned, there is a terrific new book. It is called wake up grateful. The author is Kristi Nelson. We had the chance to chat with her just the other day. And you'll, you'll hear me tell her, and I'll tell you now, there are a lot of really simple, really practical tools that you can start using today.
To start cultivating more gratefulness or gratitude, uh, in your mind, really simple stuff, just your to-do list, instead of thinking of it, as the things you have to do, think of it as the things you get to do. Just little things like that, that I know it can sound maybe overly simplistic, but when you actually do them, it's amazing the effect that it can have on your life.
So we had a chance to talk with her about her amazing story of surviving cancer and how that brought her to living with gratitude.
Kristi Nelson: [00:08:16] It's hard not to be grateful when you survive cancer. And, um, the hard part is keeping it up honestly, and you know, it's, it's, uh, it's interesting. So that was really my learning experience was. Uh, I was incredibly moved and alert and everything was in sharp relief when I first came out of cancer treatment and it was like, Oh my God, I have no idea how long I'm going to live.
And this is just amazing to be alive. And then I kept living and I really reverted back to the same kind of struggles and the kind of mundane, um, grumpiness and everything that I had had before cancer. And that shocked me because somebody had told me that. Oh, you're like, you know, you're going to go back to the way that was.
I said, no, never. I never will. You know, I flirted with, um, going back to the way that it was, but I caught myself because I suffered so much, it felt like I was betraying everything I had learned from cancer to then start, you know, literally moaning about a cold and about gaining five pounds and I lost perspective and it felt like such a painful.
Um, loss of fidelity to life that I had kind of, you know, I say in the book I was cheating life, you know, in this way that all of a sudden it was like stress and I was all caught up in things that didn't matter. And, and I had sworn I wouldn't, so I didn't have much of a tolerance for that. So it was pretty quick that I turned around and I said, I have got to get perspective back here.
I've got to get perspective back because surviving cancer is a huge deal. And I learned how precious life was. And I'm not going to thumb my nose at the ability to stay alive. And how can I cultivate this PR perspective more on a day-to-day basis so that I can go through the rest of my life this way.
And that's what I've been doing ever since.
Jeremy: [00:10:04] So what turned
Zach: [00:10:05] it around for you? How did you go back to appreciating life?
Kristi Nelson: [00:10:10] I, you know, I studied mindfulness, uh, with Jon Kabat-Zinn and that made a really big difference in my life. Uh, I think learning how to get really present. Uh, in my body and my mind learning how to let go of the things about the future.
So mindfulness was a big teacher for me, but what was interesting is I didn't want to sit on a cushion with my eyes closed because I had survived cancer and I did not want to miss the beauty of life. It was so interesting. It was like, why would I want to go sit? You know, I had been in hospital for weeks and weeks and months, and I've been going through all this really difficult stuff.
And so there was a point at which I realized. I'm going to take mindfulness kind of off the cushion and try to live really gratefully because I want my eyes to be open to everything that's worthy of my awe and my wonder and my appreciation. So that ended up being something that then I kind of learned later was really called gratefulness.
And there was an organization that actually was committed to this and ideas around it that were really moving to
Jeremy: [00:11:13] me. I noticed in the book and even here, we've used the words, gratitude and gratefulness, uh, separately. Can you kind of describe what the difference is in your mind between the two?
Kristi Nelson: [00:11:25] So I really think of gratitude the way that we're taught to experience it kind of, as it is culturally understood.
We really think of it as something outside ourselves, something goes right. We get what we want. We get what we need. It tends to be transactional. We feel gratitude, you know, and then it's super fleeting and it tends to be quite conditional, right? So that we can, uh, end up orchestrating our lives to feel more gratitude.
Whereas gratefulness really orients and originates on the inside. It's really a way of looking at life and a way of approaching life rather than a way of responding to life. So instead of being reactive, it's proactive and. It's a way that we can orient gratefully to the fact of being alive to the most basic things like I can breathe.
My body is working. I have, I'm awake to another day. This is like an extraordinary thing. And as a baseline, that's a pretty incredible thing because anything that lands on top of that, you've got a baseline of already being grateful. So it's an orientation to life.
Jeremy: [00:12:34] So I, I really struggle with, um, Well, two things.
Really one is, is genuinely feeling grateful. I will have gratitude for someone doing something nice for me and almost, um, defensively. I, even though I don't necessarily feel it. I acknowledge that they did something nice for me. So I go out of my way to express my gratitude, even though I don't always feel it the way I think I should.
Um, but then when I do. It's also fleeting. It's, it's not something that I can hang on to. Is it just, is it just a muscle that needs practice? How do I hang on to that and not take life and all of these gifts for granted?
Kristi Nelson: [00:13:16] Well, I think that one of the things is connecting with the things that matter most to you, like actually feeling grateful.
The way that we're talking about it is. Are really pretty extraordinary and vulnerable experience. So one is just to be aware that you recognize how poignant, you know, for me, when I feel grateful, it's actually some of the most emotional feelings that I feel. Um, I, I feel connected to the sense that like, wow, life is precious.
And I always say like, gratefulness, the moments of gratefulness are not moments that you see posted on Facebook. It's like when we are moved really deeply, it's when we are connected to things that matter most profoundly to us, it's when we're most touched it's when we feel connected to wonder and awe and our own smallness or our own.
Interconnectedness to all of humanity. So there they're really significant feelings and they tend to be awakened. Yeah. In us find these kinds of up call experiences often with loss or almost losing things that we love. Things that really wakes us up to not take things for granted. And so I, you know, I would love for us to be able to cultivate that.
And it is a practice. I think it's a practice. Moment to moment, just like anything else that we care about cultivating in our lives. It's a muscle that you develop and you, you keep training yourself in it, which is what can I notice right now that makes me realize how fortunate I am. How am I privileged in this moment?
What is working in my life? You know, and it's about moving away from our cultural obsession, with scarcity and things that aren't working and what we need more of and what we need to be different. You know? So. It's a shift in our focus and it is really worthwhile when we learn the musculature of continually bringing our attention back to the things that matter most to us and the things that we're grateful for.
Zach: [00:15:19] I love that you said that I, I, I spent the better part of my life looking for the next thing and the next thing would always make me happy. And in the last 10 years, I've been able to realize that what I've gotten now is, you know, the part where, where I'm happy, but you know, in it is 2020, and we're almost through the year.
It's been a bang-up of a year and a lot of people are looking forward to when coronavirus is over. I'll be happy when life is normal. I'll be happy. Uh, you know, what, what would you say to some of those people who are just looking to get through this pandemic and through this, you know, current experience that we're all going through?
Kristi Nelson: [00:16:04] Mm boy, let's not take these times for granted because in some ways we've got the ability right now, more than almost ever to not be distracted by. The hamster wheel of life outside of ourselves. This is the chance in some ways to really cultivate new practices, to pay attention to our inner life, to what we can bring to life instead of what we expect from life.
I think that's going to pay huge dividends and, you know, going back to life as it was going back to life as normal, you know, I hope that's not an option for a lot of us. I mean, we want to have. You know, a strong economy and we want to have the things that, whatever it is that serves, uh, our wellbeing as a global family, as a culture, as a nation, you know, let's have those kinds of S uh, wellbeing, um, measures in place.
But let's not forget that if we can cultivate not taking things for granted now, We are going to be so grateful when this is over, because we will bring such joy to the other things in life. It's kind of like surviving cancer and, you know, are we going to be able to hold on to that perspective? Let's challenge ourselves to do so by paying attention to the small, all ordinary normal things in life right now that are worthy of our gratitude.
Jeremy: [00:17:24] I was really curious. There were, there were a couple of points in the book that stood out to me that I wanted to ask about. And one was because we focused a lot in the last couple of months on anxiety, uh, with this, with this show, um, you talked about using anxiety and uncertainty to help with personal growth and connecting more deeply with others.
How, how does gratitude play into, into that and how can we do that better?
Kristi Nelson: [00:17:47] Well, one thing is to acknowledge that uncertainty isn't new headlines life has been uncertain forever. Yes. And it always is. And it always will be. And yet we keep kind of having this obsession with the fact that we're in uncertain times, you know, the nice part about that is that we can be in a shared conversation about uncertainty suddenly.
That was not a conversation we could be in before. And yet, now we know that kind of as a. You know, as a norm, across all kinds of borders and boundaries, we're all living inside that uncertainty and able to acknowledge it. So I think there's something about shared humanity there that is really powerful to access and to nurture in terms of our connections with each other.
And, um, yeah, these are times to deepen our ties with one another around those kinds of things where we're all vulnerable together right now. We're all susceptible together. There's a. Uh, we've never had, I don't think such a global phenomenon, that's tied us so
Jeremy: [00:18:45] deeply to each other. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, finally, I just wanted to, I guess, thank you for this book because I've already put some of the things in practice that you outlined in one, it was really funny yesterday.
I had a ton of chores, just these projects around the house that had been built up forever that have normally been like, ah, I'm not skilled. I don't know how to do that. And I just dove in and did them. And I approached them from the perspective of, you know, I'm in my home that I own, and I get to do these things.
And just that shift from you that, that, that little tweak on I have to versus I get to make all the difference in the world. And, and then again, this morning I woke up and having just, you know, reading up on the book, I woke up and, and forced my mind to think about things I was grateful for before I reached for my phone before I got out of bed.
So, you know, the. The work in the book works. And so, so thank you for this outline. It's, it's just, it's a, it's great work. And I think that a lot of people will really benefit from it. I am
Kristi Nelson: [00:19:45] so thankful. Thanks for saying that. And I'm really glad it does work. And if you work it, it works and. That's true about so many things in our lives.
So the challenge is to just keep working at it. And what's nice is to have other people in your life like Zach and others, who can we support each other. And that makes a really big difference. It makes it a lot easier. So I'm glad it's working for you and please keep it up and stay in touch. And I'm really glad to connect with you.
Jeremy: [00:20:10] Definitely. Thank you. Is there, is there any sort of final thoughts, any takeaways you want the listeners to go home with from this?
Kristi Nelson: [00:20:16] I, you know, this is my first book. It was super hard to write and I'm so glad to be, to have it now. It's actually a tangible thing. You can hold in your hand. I hope people will, um, explore it and consider it and, and work on this in a way and come visit us at gratefulness.org.
That'll be wonderful. And, uh, just let's stay thankful for what we can be and take the lessons from this time into our lives after this time.
Jeremy: [00:20:40] Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time and for your work and a happy Thanksgiving. The book she was mentioning, wake up grateful. It is by our guests. Kristi Nelson is it's a great read.
I hope you'll check it out. You can find a link to it on our brand new website, uh, the fitmess.com. Uh, we, we just made a whole bunch of updates there that we're really excited about. It's really simple to leave a voice feedback, sign up for our newsletter. Find out more about the show, that kind of thing.
It's all firstname.lastname@example.org. Check it out, let us know what you think. Um, and just kind of a quick story. A couple of years ago, I went on a retreat and when I came back, the retreat was focused on. You know, all this stuff that we talk about on the show, just, you know, getting over past trauma, feeling better, that sort of thing.
And it was so empowering. And I remember specifically on the way back feeling grateful in a way that I never had. And it was a feeling that for lack of a better word, it just like energized me for like three or four weeks. And it, it is the, the most profound thing that I think you can feel. You just feel lighter, you feel like there's nothing you can't do you see opportunities where there were none?
So I just, I can't encourage you enough if there's something that you feel like you need to work on for self-improvement gratefulness or gratitude, wherever you come down on the definitions, put some time in there because it is, it is just life-changing when you can really feel it. Uh, you know, especially now here we are just the day before Thanksgiving.
And a lot of us are struggling.
Zach: [00:22:14] Yeah. I know where we're actually going to go see my brother who is it's him and his wife. They don't go anywhere. We don't go anywhere. We're comfortable with that. But my family, I'm the youngest of seven kids. So Thanksgiving is usually a very big ordeal. Right. And we're not doing it this year, so I'm going to choose to be grateful to see the family that I'm going to see.
I'm going to miss the other family. But yeah. I w I just highly encourage everyone. Like, if you are stuck at home or you're not going to see everyone that you normally see, just be grateful for the, for those that you do get to see. And on the flip side of it, for those of you that can't stand going to family gatherings, just be grateful for the fact that you get to skip it this year.
Jeremy: [00:23:00] Um, but also, you know, there's a lot of people that will not be celebrating with loved ones because we've lost a lot of people this year. So even if you. You know, our begrudgingly getting on your zoom call, um, you know, wishing that it was like a normal day or whatever, just be grateful that they're there to call on zoom because there's a quarter of a million people that aren't.
And so this is a really good time and that's a really easy place to start with feeling grateful for something that you have, um, for, for this particular Thanksgiving holiday. Well,
Zach: [00:23:33] I know where I'm going to start being grateful right now. And it's yeah, it's the athletic brewing company all out stout that I've got right now, this thing is so delicious.
Tastes like a real beer, but there's no alcohol.
Jeremy: [00:23:47] And if you're looking for the perfect beverage to add to your Thanksgiving table, I can't recommend enough any of the beers from the delicious athletic brewing companies, a line of non-alcoholic beers. You guys, we talk about them every week, but it's because we love them.
They're that good? We hope you'll check them out. There is a link to them on our website, the fitness.com. And while you're there sign up for our newsletter.
Zach: [00:24:10] I highly recommend you sign up for the newsletter because through there, we send out a lot of good information on our weekly shows, but we also give away free stuff like books.
And, you know, again, we keep, we keep talking about it, but there may or may not be an Amazon gift card and your food. I
Jeremy: [00:24:26] have a hunch that's coming in the next week or two. So if you're not on the list yet, get on the list and help. I've got this box under my desk. Full of books. I want to give them to you.
So sign up, we'll start giving away this pile of books so that you guys have them to read over the next several weeks. And while you're there, subscribe to the show and make sure that you never miss an episode on whatever podcast player you use. Thank you so much for listening to the show and being a part of it.
We are genuinely grateful for you being there every week. And for anything you can do to help spread the word about the show, to those of, uh, your, your loved ones that you think might benefit from it. Uh, we really appreciate you guys being there and we will be back in a week on Wednesday with a brand new episode at thefitmess.com.
Zach: [00:25:06] See everyone.
Jeremy: [00:25:07] We know this podcast is amazing and does not seem to lack anything, but we do need a legal disclaimer, Jeremy and Zach are not doctors. They do not play them on the internet. And even if they did play them on the internet, they would be really bad at it. Please consult your physician prior to implementing any changes that you heard on this podcast.
The listener assumes that Jeremy and Zach do not know what they are talking about and that you will do your own research on the topics talked about on this podcast.
Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living.
Kristi Nelson is the Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living (gratefulness.org). She’s also the author of a new book Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted.