Reprinted from Savannah Now
It’s true. We sit around with our friends – and sometimes complete strangers – and talk about what is wrong with our love lives, politicians, other people’s children, the rising cost of gas, bad drivers or that person at work who never seems to do anything right. We post it on Facebook. We text it. We tweet it. We put it out there.
So, local positive energy artist Joanne Morton decided it was time to pass on her experience of sharing gratitude rather than spreading more negative vibes. “Gratitude really has changed my life,” she says. “… There is power in gratitude.”
She says that while living in New York City in 2003, she attended a women’s empowerment workshop and one of the first exercises she was given was to send a gratitude list to the other women in the group.
“I’ve been receiving a daily gratitude list from women every day, and it’s been amazing,” she says. And she adds the list could be filled with anything. Maybe you’re grateful that day for sunshine or friends or having a roof over your head. The point of the exercise is to find something in your life that you are grateful for.
By the summer of 2004, she explains she began seeing a shift in her life by focusing on gratitude. It would be years later before she started to identify herself as an artist and she said it was even harder to find the courage to call herself an artist.
“But artists create and my goal is to create positive energy – we should all create positive energy.”… I like sharing positive energy … so that’s how I created that title.”
Morton moved to Savannah several years ago, and during that time, she has enjoyed planting roots here, taking a position at Well FED Savannah and creating art through her painting.
And almost two years ago, she started Gratitude in the Squares. Anyone who wants to show up can meet at noon on Wednesdays at one of the squares downtown, share gratitude and free hugs for about 20 or 30 minutes and then leave. It’s that simple. The schedule for locations is posted on her website at magicpassionlove.com.
She says the original plan was to do 22 weeks and hit all 22 squares and then be done with it, but that was more than 80 weeks ago. She says everyone loved the circle so much, it just kept going – even meeting on days when Morton couldn’t be there to lead the group.
“We have to have the courage to share our ideas together … The circle has been so interesting because so many people have come down here to make different choices to how they are going to spend their lives. I couldn’t do this without them, so it’s just as important that they show up.”
The circle meets rain or shine. As everyone gathers, Morton and others share free hugs to those who want one (or two). Morton lets everyone it’s time to begin and they make a circle while holding hands. One at a time, they take turns sharing what they are grateful for that day.
Morton says she didn’t intend for everyone to join hands and make a circle, it just happened and everyone seems to enjoy it.
Elaine Mitchell, a newer member to the group, says the gratitude circle has helped her weather through recent struggles.
“First of all, look at the environment. There’s always a beautiful breeze, it’s nice and shady and the birds are always singing, right on time … The squares are pretty magical. I think it’s just a moment to stop and take a deep breath and think about how much we really do have to be grateful for. The focus is not only on what we are grateful for, but to spread that out to the community.”
Norman Flojo and his wife Denise are regulars to the group.
“We come rain or shine … even when it was really cold in the winter,” Norman says. The couple moved to Savannah from Pennsylvania after they retired and say the group has been a great way for them to get out of the house each week and meet other people.
“It’s really been wonderful, especially meeting Joanne,” he adds. “It’s like someone said, if you are feeling down – and I was before I got here – you’ll feel better. After I got down here and did the gratitude, I felt much better.
“Through research studies, they’ve shown that human touch really makes a big difference. At least weekly, we get a chance to interact with other people … You think about it during the week and you are always looking forward to it.”
Morton agrees. “If you change your attitude, you will change everything. That’s where gratitude can help. Gratitude can change your vibrations. No matter what your religious background is, we all believe we are energy … so it’s important to focus on our positive energy.
“When you practice gratitude, you don’t have those negative thoughts so much, or when they come to you, you can acknowledge it and let it go.
“You are choosing to create this life, but what life do you want to create? … I want to help people and remind them to stay positive.”
And licensed psychotherapist Aycock agrees with Morton’s belief that it takes practice to make your life more positive.
“When things aren’t good in our life, it’s a problem and if we aren’t reminded of gratitude, we will see negative all the time,” she explains. “… That’s how we are wired. It’s about rewiring that so we don’t lose sight of what we are grateful for … I think it’s a reminder that our life isn’t that bad when we take time to look at what is working.”
She also says the human contact that takes place during the gratitude circles is important as well.
“We are social creatures. We are not built to be alone. We crave that human contact. Sometimes older people isolate themselves and begin to have irrational or negative feelings because they don’t have that human contact with people. We are not made to be alone … and that’s why it creates these positive feelings.”
Morton adds that while it’s important to remind ourselves to focus on the positive, she has also found it’s important for her to kindly remind others to not dwell on negative thoughts, too.
“I had a complete stranger sit next to me the other day and he just started going on and on about why he doesn’t like his neighbor … I had to say to him, I just met you; I don’t want to hear why you don’t like the neighbor. He stopped and the whole conversation completely turned around. You don’t have to listen to that, but you don’t have to be mean about it. You just have to tell them.”
Aycock agrees. “I’ve written about these emotional vampires in some of my columns. You just have to say, ‘It’s not something I really want to talk about. I like to talk about this.’ If that person continues that, you have to decide if you want to be around him or her.
“It’s emotionally draining to constantly focus on the negative.”
Aycock also gives advice to introduce time for gratitude into your daily life.
“Time is the biggest hurdle. It does take time, but even if it’s five minutes at night or in the morning, write a list and read over it, daily. I firmly believe in that. It’s so important. Otherwise you wake up and say I have to do this and this … and your day gets started wrong. It’s draining. You can write a list, but it’s just as important to read over them daily, to remind yourself.
“I have had patients do that. It really changes your perception about things … Creating positive energy is really just being nice. It doesn’t cost anything and it makes you feel good and others feel good.
“That’s what the human race is all about, connecting with others.”
For more information on the Wednesday meetings for Gratitude in the Squares or to find the schedule and locations, go to www.magicpassionlove.com or find Gratitude in the Squares on Facebook.