Guide for fun and energising Xmas gifts

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Tired of shopping for presents just before Christmas in overcrowded shops? There’s nothing wrong with presents as such, but I feel like the pressure to buy gifts pushes us towards quick fixes that are not always satisfying. There has to be a better way, right?

As with everything, I believe it is possible to make the whole experience much more energising and sustainable, both for the person giving and the one receiving:) By being more mindful, we end up with intentional gifts and stories that lead to more fun and greater connection.

Giving

  • Experience gifts:  They are the norm among my family and friends for several years already compared to material gifts.  It’s a chance to offer someone an experience, based on their interests that they will remember and cherish, rather than just one more object. You can make it as cheap or expensive as you like (a home cooked meal or time spent together are great options).
    Over the last years, I’ve given tickets to concerts, escape rooms and plays, offered vouchers for massages, made vouchers to spend creative time with friends and family…
    TIP: if it is an activity for several people, plan a date immediately with all participants, so you have something to look forward to!
  • Secret Santa: instead of buying gifts for everyone, organise a secret santa so you can focus on getting a quality gift for just one person
    TIP: get people to be very specific about that they want so you get them a gift that makes their heart sing (see below on Receiving).
  • Support small businesses: If you are buying material gifts (jewelry, clothes, decoration items…), think of this as an opportunity to support small/local businesses that make you enthusiastic and for who your purchase will make a difference, leading to a happy dance.
    TIP: Keep a list of the small craft businesses/independent brands you come across all year around at local craft markets, Etsy or social media, so you can recall them when you need a gift.
  • Books: Buy from independent bookstores, this is the chance to browse through all those lovely covers and keep local bookstores alive
    TIP: Experiment with books that you don’t know but are drawn to, discover new voices or authors from other countries
  • Wrapping: no need to spend money on new rolls of wrapping paper, just recycle newspapers or old magazines.
    TIP: Try to personalise the wrapping paper for the recipient (it is a very mindful activity for winter nights:)

Receiving

Actually reducing the number of physical presents received is quite a lengthy process as culturally we feel we should not to come ’empty handed’.  In the past, I’ve written emails to family and talked with friends to try and gracefully explain that I value experiences over material gifts. Slowly the idea is making its way and I have the secret conviction that it will inspire them too;)   The experiences I received and participated in were super fun and created memories I’ll not forget like going to London for an incredible workshop with my favorite author or exploring the Japanese gardens with friends:)

Another idea is instead of people searching for a gift, to tell them upfront you would prefer to receive some money for you to give to your favorite charity. Alternatively,  you can ask the person to use the money they would have spent on your gift on their favorite charity or to support their favorite artist on Patreon. They have more say on where the money goes and it is a win-win for everyone.

I’d love to hear more ideas! How do will you make your Xmas shopping more intentional this year?

Mushroom wisdom

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #103

As I write this, the rain is pouring down outside. I am indoors, warm and watching rain drops slide down the windows, with a delicious cup of coffee by my side.  Like every week, I’m wondering what I want to write about.  I have a lot I am grateful for, so it is never a problem to come up with some ideas, but sometimes inspiration brings strange ideas with it.

Today I am grateful for this mushroom, spotted in a local vegetable garden on one of my afternoon walks, to get out of my head and into the fresh air while looking for some interesting details to photograph.  I felt so drawn to this beautiful mushroom and I believe it has wisdom to share with me. What is so special to me about this mushroom, you may wonder…

It stands tall and dignified, not wondering if it is sticking out or whether it looks funny.  It does it’s mushroomy thing, confident and unencumbered by the way other mushrooms look and behave. It is not questioning whether it is doing things right or well enough, and does not care what the leaves around it might say.  It is centered and grounded, fully in the present moment, unafraid of the rabbit that may come and nibble on it in the future.  I want to be more like this mushroom. These are the precious lessons that I am tucking away in the folds of my mind this week, to bring up again when the inner critic raises its head.

Exploring the Japanese garden

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Travelling to Japan is high on my wishlist of destinations, but I haven’t quite organised it yet. For now I live vicariously through books, my sister’s travel stories and photos.  However lately I got a lovely taste of Japan. For my birthday, two dear friends gifted me an outing to go to the Japanese garden in the The Hague, which is open only a few weeks a year in Spring and Autumn.  We planned the date several months in advance so as not to miss the window of opportunity, so I also got to enjoy looking forward to it!

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The garden draws quite a lot of visitors, so it was quite busy on the morning we went, but that didn’t stop us from taking the time to soak up all the beautiful details, colourful bridges and plants.

It was lovely to explore, walking along the paths so as not to disturb the fragile mosses that cover the ground in a comfy-looking carpet. Gorgeous lanterns, harbouring delicate mosses and lichens, were brought over last century from Japan along with native Japanese plants.

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The autumn colours were spectacular with orange and green intermingled, highlighting the changing of the season, and all sorts of mushrooms were popping up all over the place.

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Even though it’s just an hour from Amsterdam, I had the feeling like I’d been to another continent for a short while (feeling extra good without all those CO2 emissions from flying!). Thanks so much ladies and here’s to experience gifts and travel opportunities close to home! 🙂

Cosy times

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #102

Last weekend we spent a lovely, slow-paced weekend with my Mum and her partner who were on a visit to Amsterdam.  I must admit, for many years I wondered why my Mum would systematically come to visit at the end of October, when the wind is icy, the rain always ready to tumble from grey clouds and the days are getting shorter.  But I think I’ve finally understood:)

It’s because with this weather no excuse whatsoever is needed to walk just 200 meters before feeling justified about going into the next cafe and indulging in some delicious cake, and staying cosily indoors while we catch up with each other and discuss possible travel plans for next year.  Also, spending two afternoons in the dark of the cinema, being transported to other worlds through movies, is a totally acceptable pastime and way to keep warm.  It offered the perfect occasion to discover a talented young pianist in the small room of the Concertgebouw and be moved by her stories and music, shielded from the cold outside.  So grateful for these fun moments spent together!

Finding flow

 

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Some days even the most basic things seem overly complicated in my mind and  something as simple as attempting to ‘breathe mindfully’ during morning meditation feels unnatural and forced.  However I’ve realised there is one thing that I can count on to calm me and bring me back to myself: taking photos of details.

The biggest effort is to head out the door with my camera. Once that is done I let myself be guided by my eyes around the streets near my house or in one of the nearby parks.  Looking closely at my surroundings (mainly plants, I admit;) ) I feel this curiousity and a desire to see as if for the first time, and my breathing steadies and deepens naturally as I snap the shots.

Often such an outing results in a few dozen blurry, uninteresting pictures which I can delete again as soon as I get home.  Other times in a batch of pictures there are a few that make my heart sing, perfectly imperfect shots of unexpected details I’d never previously noticed or bright flowers and leaves that brighten a grey afternoon.

But I’ve realised that the photos themselves are not the point.  I’m learning to trust in the process. It is not about the pictures I take but about getting out of the house to focus on something I deeply love to do, remembering how it feels like to be in flow regardless of the outcome. It is my body’s way of sending me hopeful messages that it still knows how to feel at ease when I am doing what is in line with my heart’s wishes.  Now, how to apply this wisdom to other realms of my life??

Joyful gratitude 101

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #101

Today I am grateful for the fact that as humans we have the capacity to imagine and create a better world.  Since JOYFUL GRATITUDE 101 sounds like the name of an introduction course, I started to imagine over the last few days what the world might look like if practicing gratitude was taught as a class in schools and universities, rather than a topic we gleaned from self-help books later on in life.

Imagine if practicing gratitude was presented to young people as an important activity for mental health, just like doing regular sport is for physical health? What if a fraction of the time spent on advanced math, was dedicated instead to learning how it is beneficial to take time to appreciate everything we have?

Imagine if instead of fixating on what we were lacking, we learnt early on to shift our focus onto what we are blessed with.  Imagine if we learnt from a young age the subversive act of mindfully resisting the feeling of scarcity and FOMO, and trained ourselves to zoom in more systematically to all that we do have going for us.

Maybe it could help turn tough periods into slightly easier times (particularly adolescence and being a young adult, but also later in life) and allow us to more readily reframe the messages we constantly receive from (social) media and advertising about how we are not enough. Maybe it would allow people to bring their precious creative gifts more freely into the world. Maybe it would create space to be aware of and help those who are not as privileged. Probably there are many other side effects I cannot even dream up.

At this stage I don’t have the keys to change the education system, so all I can do is ‘be the change I want to see’ at my own level.  I’m loving writing weekly about the big and small things I am grateful for, and hope maybe it can inspire some readers out there:)  Even so, to be honest I still easily get sucked into feelings of scarcity and comparison if I don’t watch my mind, so I’m trying my best to be mindful over and over again about looking out for the good things.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, how has practising gratitude impacted you?

Nature’s details

In September, I had the pleasure to spend a few days in nature in the Veluwe to disconnect. One of the things I noticed was how as I walked in the forest with no rush, all sorts of delightful details were reaching my senses. It was like a treasure hunt for autumn beauty.

Apart from the impressive sponge mushroom, I came across quite a few other types of funghi but none as cute as this one with a gorgeous orange stem, illuminated by a ray of sunlight in the undergrowth.

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The pattern created by the shadows of these leaves on the tree trunk are so delicate and reminded me of the elegant patterns on a kimono. So simple and beautiful!

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All along my walks, I also encountered lots of these common beetles with their iridescent blue-black shells, which were progressing with incredible speed and determination compared to my laid-back pace.  As I sat quietly at the foot of a tree to take a break, I could even hear the soft sound as the beetles made their way through the dry leaves on the ground.

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100 weeks of JOYFUL GRATITUDE!

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #100

Today marks 100 consecutive weeks of JOYFUL GRATITUDE! I want to celebrate this milestone and I am particularly grateful today to the people who read this blog and share their thoughts and experiences with me. Thanks so much!

Time flies! I created this series nearly 2 years ago to practise bringing my attention more to what brings me joy and what I am grateful for.  It’s been so much fun each week to look back and choose one thing, among the many things I am have to be grateful for, to write about.  It’s now a collection of snapshots of wonderful moments.  Curious? You can find all the posts here.

Last year I wrote about my findings after 12 months of JOYFUL GRATITUDE.  In 1 month’s time I will analyse the results of this past year in the same way to see if any new trends have appeared:-)  In the meantime, Paolo and I will be celebrating 100 weeks of joyful gratitude with some tasty Scottish whisky tonight! Cheers!

Let me know, what are you feeling grateful for today? 🙂

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Experiments in single-tasking

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Rationally I know that multitasking is bad, but I feel this constant drive to get more done and on the surface it seems that by doing several things at once I can reach that goal.  Also combining something boring (like cleaning) with something more fun (like listening to a podcast) makes it seem possible to squeeze some enjoyment into any task however tedious.

Lately however, I realised that I was having major concentration problems and often I actually didn’t fully enjoy the fun thing because I wasn’t really focussed on it.  More frightening was that I could tell I was numbing, multitasking is a way to automatically fill the void, where otherwise my thoughts would rush around my brain like it was a pinball machine, triggering fears, desires and anxiety all over the place.

This voice inside me kept pulling at my sleeve and pointing out that I was craving quiet, long stretches of uninterruped silence, away from the busy-ness so I could have space to make some sense of my thoughts.  So I have decided to test whether making a conscious effort to mindfully do one thing at a time will allow my thoughts have more space to roam free and be heard.

These are the daily activities I want to focus on by single-tasking:

  • drinking my coffee (without journalling at the same time)
  • talking with Paolo (without my phone or computer nearby, ready to switch focus)
  • working on one thing at a time until it is finished (without stopping as soon as it gets hard to pick up a shiny new task)
  • cleaning (without listening to a podcast)
  • doing the dishes (without talking on the phone)
  • writing a blog post (without interrupting the flow to consult other internet pages)
  • cooking (without a TED video on in the background)
  • going for a walk (without taking pictures… well I might still multitask sometimes on this one, as I still want a few nice photos to illustrate these posts 😉

I’ll write about whether I notice any effects in a follow-up post after experimenting for some time.

Tell me, what activities do you make a conscious effort to single-task on?

Healing walks in the Amsterdamse Bos

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #99

The Indian summer we are enjoying in Amsterdam at the moment is amazing.  I’ve been taking long healing walks through the Amsterdamse Bos, just listening to the breeze rustling through the leaves of the majestic trees which are turning all shades of orange and yellow, quietly observing the ducks, moorhens, herons and other birds go about their business undisturbed on the water, journalling as the sun warms my skin.  I am so grateful to have what feels like an unexpected extra shot of summer to charge up on fresh air and invigorating sunshine.