Written by: Jill Vitale-Aussem, President and CEO of CLC-Cappella Living Solutions

I travel a lot for work. But no matter how many flights I’ve been on I still get a little squeamish, especially in small planes and especially in turbulence.  A few years ago, when I needed to visit a community by flying on a small plane over the Rocky Mountains – a route that’s known for turbulent conditions – I was terrified.

Just thinking about the trip made my hands sweat.

On the plane, I sat next to a little boy who was traveling alone.

“Is this your first airplane ride too?” The adorable little guy asked.  I told him I’d flown quite a bit.

“Well, it’s my first plane ride,” he continued.  “I’m going to see my dad.”

He started digging into the huge backpack at his feet.  It was stuffed with snacks and toys.  He handed me a piece of grape bubblegum.  “Mom says it will help your ears to not hurt,” he said.

As we took off, the turbulence started.  I tried to keep a smile on my face, but I think he sensed I was uncomfortable.  My fingernails digging into the armrests may have been a clue.

He leaned over to me.  “Mom says it’s just like a rollercoaster ride,” he said.

“Yep,” he added with a big grin on his face as we bumped through the sky, “Mom’s right!  It’s just like a rollercoaster ride – but with snacks!”

And something about that big smile and alternate view of my situation completely shifted my thinking.  What if instead of being full of thoughts of dread, I reframed turbulence as fun and exciting?

We started celebrating the bumps.  We had bubblegum blowing contests.  We ate snacks.  We laughed. It was the best flight I’ve ever had.

I think about that little boy a lot.  And how he taught me to see things differently. To be thankful for the small things:  a piece of bubblegum, a bag of chips, the exhilaration of turbulence, the joy of a conversation with a child. I realize now that he taught me about gratitude…a practice that has been shown to improve relationships, sleep, resilience, and physical and emotional health.

How can we learn to live more like that little boy and incorporate gratitude into our daily lives?

Be present and appreciate the little things. In our busy lives, the beauty around us may go unnoticed.

Look for the positive in situations. Hard times and challenging situations can always teach us something or help us grow.

Start a gratitude journal. Researchers have found that those who wrote about things they were grateful for were more optimistic, felt better about their lives and engaged in healthier behaviors than those who wrote about their daily irritations or things that happened without assigning them as positive or negative.

Share your appreciation. A research study found that those who wrote and delivered a message of gratitude to someone that made a difference in their life had significant increase in happiness scores – and even better, the benefits lasted for a month!

Pray or meditate. Prayer and meditation are perfect opportunities to fully ponder and give thanks for the many gifts in our lives.

In these challenging times, it can be all too easy to go to the “dark place” where we see everything that is wrong in our lives, our work, and the world around us. By practicing gratitude and celebrating what’s good, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem, we can improve resilience, happiness, and well-being.

Side Note: In all the 22 communities we support we’ve issued a Celebrate Gratitude challenge for the remainder of the year. Celebrating each other, our communities, and our caring organization in small ways that add up to creating an amazing organizational culture! Will you join us?


About the Author

Jill Vitale-Aussem

Jill Vitale-Aussem serves as President & CEO of Christian Living Communities, a Colorado-based, not-for-profit, faith-based organization serving more than 3,000 older adults and their families through its 23 owned and managed communities located in six states as well as its services of adult day, home care and consulting. Jill has over twenty years of experience leading nursing homes, assisted living and life plan communities. Prior to joining Christian Living Communities, she served as President and CEO of The Eden Alternative, an international non-profit organization focused on creating quality of life for older people and their care partners. She is a licensed nursing home administrator and a Reframing Aging facilitator.

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