How you follow who you follow

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If you looked at a picture of a man in a toga, a man in Old West buckskins, and a man in a 1950s three-piece suit, you’d recognize that underneath the clothing, the man is the same. Nothing’s changed about a human man in 10,000 years.

Christianity is like that. It comes in a lot of different clothing, depending on the period of time, the place, and the culture that existed when Christianity arrived or arose, but underneath it all is a living man, Jesus. And I’m okay with that. I don’t find anything wrong with that.

On the other hand, when all there is is a bunch of clothing hanging on a mannequin? That’s a problem. I want to be fair here, Christians regularly go off the rails. This is something that’s been happening since the time of Paul (who told the Corinthians it was okay for a living person to be baptised in place of a dead person so that said dead person could become a Christian and be resurrected in Christ. That’s just all kinds of crazy and wrong. But Paul said it: I Cor. 15)

I respect theologians; I respect the apostles; I respect fellow Christians. But at the end of the day, I follow Jesus. If I’m not willing to do what Jesus taught, if he isn’t my final authority, then I’m not following Jesus. And that’s not my take on things. Jesus said if you do what he says, you his follower. If you don’t, you aren’t.

I recently read a Pew Research report that said 63% of Americans identify as Christian (20% Catholic, 18% Protestant, 25% “born-again” Protestant). That Christianity had fallen off 12% in the last 10 years. And, that more people were identifying now as having no religion rather than Christian or another religion.

There’s a school of thinking that if you believe Jesus is the Lord/Son of God, repent of your sins and get baptized then Voila! you’re a Christian. But that isn’t what Jesus is recorded as having said. Jesus is pretty up front. Over and over he says stuff like “why do you call me Lord, if you don’t do what I tell you?” (Lk 6:46)

He rattles off some parables on the topic, too. For example in Matthew (Goats v. Sheep Matt 25:31-46), where he says at the end of time, he has to sort through his flock (all the self-identified followers/Christians), and kick out all the ones who called him Lord, but never bothered to do what he taught.

It doesn’t matter if these folks prophesied, cast out demons or performed miracles in his name. They didn’t do what he asked of them. They were all about grandstanding, the power, the adulation, the applause, the donations. They wouldn’t do the real stuff, like love their neighbor, forgive, share, keep the faith, do the little things, be joyful in obscurity. So, he says to them “I never knew you.” (Matt 7:21-23).

I have to be honest, if 63% of Americans were actually Christians, politics wouldn’t be as divisive and Christianity probably would not be falling off. Pew Research says 88% of Congress identifies as Christian. Christians don’t always agree with each other, but they share a basic set of guidelines on how to treat all people that were set down by Jesus, and are freely available to read in the Gospels. My bet would be, based on how people in Congress act, maybe 8% actually follow Jesus.

America has a lot of people identifying themselves as Christians, but a large number of them are 100% saying the opposite of what Jesus says and doing the opposite of what Jesus tells them to do. So, far from being Christlike and witnessing what it means to follow Christ with their lives, they are just straight up anti-Christ. Small wonder more and more people prefer to abandon Christianity and have no religion.

Jesus tells his followers repeatedly not to be afraid, not to hate, not to lie. But there are people who identify as Christians who spend countless hours tweeting, emailing, and facebook posting fear, hate, lies. Not doing what Jesus said, but actively doing the opposite. If you’re actively operating against all the Jesus said, commanded, and stands for, you’re not a Christian.

Jesus says over and over again, my kingdom is not of this world, my kingdom resides in believers hearts. Yet, many self-identified Christians are trying establish a Christian state (theocracy).  Jesus said, Let the weeds grow with the wheat (lest in pulling up the weeds, you rip up the wheat) Matt 13.  And yet loads of people who identify as Christian are actively trying to “make America safe for Christianity” by legislatively wiping out their idea of “sin” and “sinners.”

I’m not trying to upset anyone. But if you identify as a Christian, please, stop and read the Gospels. Ask yourself if you’re really following Jesus and the teachings of Jesus or if your faith is just a pile of someone else’s old clothes on a faceless plastic mannequin.

If you don’t want to follow Jesus, that’s okay. Jesus doesn’t mind. He says that in the Gospels too. Find someone you agree with and follow their teachings. Go be an awesome Buddhist. Or a wonderful Daoist. Or a superb Wiccan. I will still be your friend, you’ll be way happier, and the world will be a much better place.

 

What the hock?

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I know, you know. Now, where’s my rat?

Today I walked out into the November chill of a beautiful All Saint’s morn to fill some bird feeders. As I looked up at the favorite crook of a squirrel hang-out tree, which stands just a bit above eye level, I saw a bright red rodent foot sticking up in the air at an unnatural angle. My eye followed it down to a pink thigh, much like a raw chicken leg, then down to some grey fur.

My first thought was, “remain calm, this could be an animal that’s alive and in trouble.” I went around the tree, hoping it wasn’t a squirrel (although it looked to be squirrel fur). As I came to the back of the crook, I saw a long naked tail attached to the leg. That was all their was to the remains, but it was enough.  It was a rat.

I felt safe to say an owl did it because we have owls around the neighborhood.  I could have speculated it was a Halloween prank. But who leaves a rat hock in a tree where it’s likely to be taken away by any number of carnivores before anyone sees it? Looking at the that frozen rat hock, as I gloved up, I imagined long, long ago some hungry person found something similar and thought, “you know, if I put this over a heat source, like  flame, I could warm it up…..” And cooking was born.

People are curious. I like that about people. Always advancing in knowledge and understanding out of sheer interest in the world around them. Which is why I wonder about the whole impeachment inquiry. Not on an impeach/don’t impeach level.  On a broader level.

Impeachment is one of those things that attracts curiosity. But I hear pundits on the 2020 elections say most American voters are more interested in bread and butter issues than impeachment. That’s interesting. In a curiosity driven species, when people are interested in bread and butter, it means they don’t have bread and butter (much like my pre-breakfast self thinking about cooked rat).

I think what that translates to is that most American voters think the economy is bad (or at least, bad for them individually). I’m not sure if that’s due to wage stagnation and inflation or the direct negative impact of government policies (trade wars, tariffs, etc.) But for whatever reason, Americans are feeling economically uneasy. This doesn’t mean impeachment is of no interest.

George Washington was famous for conducting a revolution while running Mount Vernon by letter. Thousands of people serving in the Continental Army left their farms in the hands of friends or family, to pursue independence. It’s not as though Americans aren’t able to back burner bread and butter while pursuing a great good. We have a democracy because the priorities were life, then liberty, and then the pursuit of happiness.

I’m not sure if it’s uniquely American to consider having freedom as a foundation, without which there can be no pursuit of happiness. Plenty of countries exist where you can have your life and pursue a government approved form of happiness, but you don’t get liberty and if your happiness isn’t approved, pursuing it can get you jailed or killed.

I think the Founders uniquely understood that without freedom, you can’t pursue happiness. I think that’s why there are checks and balances built into the government, because they knew government-approved happiness wasn’t happiness. I think too that’s why they approved of the separation of church and state. They’d seen over time how beliefs had been co-opted and then corrupted by states till religion was nothing but a tool of the state.

I view the slow but rising interest in impeachment as something very American. We don’t stop thinking about bread and butter, because we all want to live. But we know our freedom is ensured only by a bulwark of democratic government built on law. We know if that bulwark is threatened, so too is our ability to freely continue the pursuit of happiness.

Stay curious, my friends.

 

 

Winnowing the Wheat from the Chaff

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This is my take on the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, as an Independent moderate who will be voting Democrat.

I understand why the DNC allows a giant field of candidates — it generates interest and money. But giant fields don’t tend to produce the best, most qualified candidate. The 2016 GOP field was large, and….yeah. I think the DNC likes the giant field because a) it lends to the illusion [yes, illusion] of diversity and b) they don’t want to be accused [as in 2016] of placing a thumb on the scale.

I wish there were more diversity among those who are qualified but right now there isn’t. That’s down to both long-term lack of support by the DNC for and general historic cultural marginalization of women and people of color by both parties and society. Things are really starting to change (at least in one party and the majority of society), and I hope in the future to see more diversity among those running for president, but right now, things are as they are.

Realistically, there aren’t many truly “qualified to be POTUS” candidates running and there isn’t much diversity among them. When I say qualified, I want to be clear. The mess the current POTUS has made of domestic and foreign affairs can be charitably described as a dumpster fire. The next POTUS will have a huge job to do cleaning it up and it’s going to take skill, knowledge, and a lot of long-term relationships she or he can call on in the Congress.

So all that said, here’s the group that should be on the debate podium (Links are to candidate campaign websites):

BidenBullockKlobucharSanders, and Warren, with wildcards Bennet and Sestak.

That’s 3 elderly white men, 1 elderly white woman, 2 middle aged white men, and 1 middle aged white woman. If you look at the polling, basically there are two candidates: Biden and Warren. Both are white and elderly.  Woman, that’s your diversity. Hard to believe it’s the 21st century.

(Links below are to candidate Wikipedia pages)

The Moderates 

Joe Biden: Do I think he would do a good job? Yes. Do I think he’s old? Yes. Do I wonder why Trump is so scared of him? No. Joe Biden eats into the older, white, working man demographic. I think for many voters, Joe B. is the nostalgia candidate. People like him because they remember Obama. I don’t know if they really like Joe for Joe. He’s my distant second choice.

Amy Klobuchar: Amy is the person people should be looking at if they’re moderates who liked Obama. She has really good ideas. She’s not afraid to ask tough questions. She’s super sharp on the law and a constant defender of the good of the people. She’s got a long track record of getting stuff done. She’s got good relations and is respected in the house and senate with people on both sides of the aisle. She’s great on all the committees. She actually does get elected in red areas. She’s the right age. Hands-down, she’s my favorite candidate.

The Progressives

Bernie Sanders: I like Bernie Sanders. I respect his ideas and his years and years of service. The problem is, historically, if you run for your party’s nomination and fail to capture it (2016), and you run again the next cycle and capture the party nomination(2020), you’ll lose the actual election. This happens over and over and over. It happened to Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Mitt Romney, etc, etc, etc. Bernie’s chances of winning the presidency in 2020 are zero, but no one wants to talk about it.

Elizabeth Warren: If you’re a progressive, Elizabeth is your candidate. Even though she’s served only 1 full term as  US senator, she has been working in Washington, DC in government. But mostly, she’s an academic.  I disagree with many of her positions. She’s not someone I would choose, because I don’t really see her as fully qualified, but I’d vote for her. Would she do a good job? I think so.

The Future Candidates

Pete Buttigeg: I respect Pete’s military service, but he’s unqualifed to be POTUS right now. No real executive experience. Mayor of South Bend, IN (pop. 100K) is not equivalent to being a governor. He should be running for an Indiana state senate seat, then maybe the governor’s office in 10 years.  He ran for the DNC chairmanship in 2017 but withdrew. He’s loaded with ambition, but he’s blind to the fact that he doesn’t have the needed ties and knowledge yet to pull off POTUS. He should work on developing those and changing IN for the next 15 years, then run for POTUS. I expect he’ll stay in till he’s forced out or offered a cabinet post.

Corey Booker: Corey has a law degree. He’s been committed to public service since his earliest days. He was mayor of Newark, NJ (pop. 285K) for a decade. He’s served a full term (6 years) as US senator for NJ.  But his messaging is a mess. He’s trying to appeal to  moderates and progressives, and failing at both.  I like him, but I have no idea who he is or what he wants to accomplish. He should stay in the senate, figure out who he is and what his message is for the next 12 years then run for POTUS.  I expect he’ll by gone by Christmas.

Julian Castro: I respect Julian’s service as Sec of HUD for 3 years during the Obama administration, and he has a little bit of executive experience. He was mayor of San Antonio, TX (1.5Mil),  but this is not equivalent to a governor. He should be running for US senator for TX or governor. He isn’t because he doesn’t think he can win in such a red state. He has ambition, he just doesn’t have the needed ties and knowledge to pull off POTUS. He should work on that and changing TX for better for the next 15 years. I expect him to drop out in Nov before the debates.

Tulsi Gabbard: I respect Tulsi’s military service to the country. I think she’s committed to public service. But she has zero executive experience. She was vice chair of the DNC for a few years. She’s currently a Rep in the US House. She should be running for HI for US senator of HI or governor. She isn’t because she doesn’t think he can win.  She has ambition, she doesn’t have the needed ties and knowledge yet to pull off POTUS. She should work on that and changing HI for better for the next 20 years. I expect her to drop out in Nov before the debates.

The Should Be on the Debate Stage

Michael Bennet: I respect Mike’s 10 years of service as a US senator from Colorado. Before that, he spent 4 years as his state’s Superintendent of Schools. He has a law degree, He’s worked as US Deputy Attorney. To be honest, I’m not sure why a person this qualified isn’t on the podium. I expect him to drop out soon.

Stephen Bullock: Steve is a person with actual executive experience. He’s been governor of Montana for 6 years and before that Attorney General of Montana for 4 years. He’s a centrist Democrat governor in a pretty red state. He is a person who really ought to be on the debate stage because he’s actually one of the few people who is qualified to be POTUS. I expect him to drop out soon.

Joe Sestak: I respect the Admiral’s commitment to public service. Joe S. devoted 30 years of his life to the navy and was in the House of Reps for the state of PA for 4 years. He has degrees in politics and economics. He ran for US Senate in 2010 and 2016. He’s really a person that should be on the debate stage, but I imagine that’s not going to happen as the DNC tried to talk him out of running in for the US senate in 2010 but he refused, and it ended up costing the Dems a US senate seat, still to this day. I expect him to drop out soon.

The Almost Vanity Candidates

Wayne Messam: I respect his service as mayor of Miramar, FL’s (pop 140K) the last 4 years, and his 4 years before that as a city commissioner. I think he’s committed to public service. But POTUS? Now? He’s way out of his league right now. Blind ambition I guess. He should focus on doing more for the people of FL, on becoming a state senator or sec of state. He needs way more experience in politics to be POTUS. He can run again in 20 years. I expect him to drop out soon.

Beto O’Rourke: Beto has minuscule executive experience. He sat on the city council of El Paso, TX (pop 683K) and was Mayor Pro-Temps, for 1 year. In no way  is this equivalent to being a governor. He should be running for US senator or governor of TX. He isn’t because he tried and lost and in his vanity just figures, he’ll just skip that since TX is a redish state. He served in the US House of Rep for 6 years. He has blind ambition, he just doesn’t have the needed ties and knowledge yet to pull off POTUS. He should work on that and changing TX for better for the next 15 years. I expect him to drop out by Thanksgiving.

Kamala HarrisKamala has no executive experience. DA of San Francisco for 7 years, state AG for 6, she then became a US senator in Jan 2017. She 1 year in began gearing up to run for president. Seriously. Disinterested in being Senator, except as a platform to launch a presidential campaign, she has blind ambition. She coattails. If someone has a good idea (typically Amy Klobuchar) she copies it. And she weathercocks. If she doesn’t know your position on something, she’ll stall or waffle till she figures it out and can tell you what you want to hear. She should focus on learning to be a good senator, then in 12 years aim for a cabinet position. I expect she’ll stay in the race as long as she can to try and get a VP nod from Biden or promise of a cabinet post like AG.

The Actual Vanity Candidates

Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang, Marianne Williamson: I’m going to treat these folks as a group. Basically they are vanity candidates. I want to be clear, they aren’t bad people. I respect all three of these individuals. They see problems and they want to fix them. They have all, in their own ways, contributed to making the country a much better place. But they haven’t the goods needed for the job of POTUS. I expect them all to drop out by Thanksgiving. I think Tom and Andrew are really angling for cabinet post promises.

These folks are not qualified to run the country even if it was in great shape. They’re never going to be able to sort out the current mess and pull the government back onto the tracks the Founders laid. I’m sorry but it’s true. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good people. It just means, why tune into a debate that isn’t substantive issues discussed by people with actual knowledge and real policies who are qualified to be POTUS?

The fifth debate, as of today will host 9 candidates:

Biden, Buttigieg, Booker, Harris,  Klobuchar, Warren, Sanders,  Steyer, Yang.

There are three more that may make it into the debates by Nov 7, O’Rourke, Gabbard, and Castro, but it seems unlikely at this point.

How many of those are qualified and have a shot:

Biden, Klobuchar, Warren.

Will I be tuning in?

Nope.

 

 

 

Eat, play, laugh

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, at least for Americans, and this it the final post of this series. I’ve covered a few different topics gratitude, compassion, awe, but before you sit down tomorrow with significant (and insignificant) others, to eat yourself silly, I thought I’d tackle some seemingly “less adult” themes that might help to make your holiday weekend happier.

A fellow told me he was going to sky-diving school. He said, ‘I’ve been going for three months.’

I said, ‘How many successful jumps do you need to make before you graduate?’

He said, ‘All of them.’

How many times did you laugh in the last week? I hope a lot.  You probably didn’t laugh 300 times a day (the normal rate for a child. Adults average around 17 times). So there’s room for improvement.

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Laughter is great for the abs and it gets a lot of oxygen into the lungs, which makes you feel better.  Scientific study is showing that laughter really fundamentally helps you to lead a happier life. So making it a point to try and see the funny side of things is going to be good for you, and everyone your with.

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Humor can also stop a lot of arguments cold. At Thanksgiving especially, it pays to know some jokes or stories, even if they aren’t your own. Here’s true one that’s timely.

A Tennessee woman entered into a prolonged, fraught stand-off with a wild turkey that was blocking her car in her driveway.

She tried shouting at the turkey, charging it with her vehicle and also coaxing it out of her way by feeding it a raspberry, but ultimately conceded, “I’m not a wild turkey, so I really have no idea what a raspberry means to a turkey.”

In the end, she was able to scare the turkey away by hurling a frozen turkey at it.

Try to remember some embarrassing things that happened to you over the last year. They’re probably weren’t funny at the time. But now, in retrospect, they might be hilarious. And not just to yourself.

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Even chimps suffer embarrassing moments

Research has show that telling embarrassing stories about ourselves actually makes people like and trust us more. So, get your family and friends around the table to tell their tale and have a good laugh. Rebuild some bridges — through humor.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment. — Will Rodgers

Another thing that really helps buoy the mood during group-oriented holidays is play. Play is not just a button on a device.

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Play involves fun, others, and usually the joy that is “mistakes.” It’s something adults don’t do a lot of anymore. Adults tend to watch sports for example, but they don’t play them.

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This guy has play

 

Getting outside, running around playing flag football, or raking and then leaping into leaf piles, or going apple picking, try some serious bird watching, or leaf peeping while showing off your ugly sweater…

Yes, that means all at once!

gets the endorphins up and builds a group spirit.

If you’re stuck inside, light some candles, build a fire, make some hot cider, toast some pumpkin seeds for that long walk in the woods

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and make some pine cone bird feeders to take with you and hang, or break out the traditional actual board,  board games.

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In short, have some fun. Actual physical fun. Don’t worry social media and virtual reality will still be there when you get back.

If you can’t get your teenagers away from their devices, send them to The Purpose Challenge.   There they’ll find a Tool Kin with 4 days (perfect for Thanksgiving weekend) of short but interesting and thoughtful activities designed to help high school students figure out their purpose. (Other than just annoy you)

It helps get them pointed in the direction they may not know they want to go, and figure out what steps to take to be successful and happy their own way, in their own life. It will also give them something to talk about with you! It’s also worth $5,000 – $25000 in prize money for college if you’re a student graduating high school in 2018.

purpose

The hours

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This week, I want to tackle something something no one has enough of — time.

In an interesting study on awe, one of the things people felt when they experienced was an expansion of time. So the upshot is, if you want more time, get some awe in your life.

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For me, awe is standing under the starry sky. Alone in the darkness, under the vast expanse of space, with no sounds but crickets, I feel like everything just melts away. Including time.

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For you it might be standing in forest of ancient trees, or on top of a giant sky scraper. Whatever it is, try to give yourself an awe experience this week.

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Knowing you’re actual place in the universe now, after that time of awe, when you’ve gained a little mental space and time, have a ponder.

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Consider the gift that’s been given to you, and ask yourself how you really want to use the remainder of your hours.

Through the looking glass

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Continuing on with the gratitude theme this month ….

Consider today, as you go through your day, that every person you meet, read about, hear about, see around you, could be you.

You could have born that person, in that place, in those circumstances. You could have lived that life.

That could have been your job or spouse, your home or school, your country or neighborhood.

Those could have been your parents or children or grandchildren. Those could have been your religious beliefs, your values, your culture.

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That could be your debt, your sickness, your struggle, today?

That could be your business, your career, your opportunity,  your win.

That could be your loss, your success, your failure, your luck.

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It could have been your childhood, your education, your battle, your war.

It could be you driven from your home, or buying your first home.

It could be your addiction, your jail sentence, your lottery win, your gain.

It could be your history, or your future.

It could be your life, or your death.

You could have been …. anyone. You could become …. anyone.

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In thinking about that, do you feel grateful?

Do you remember all the times you caught a lucky break or another person played a role in the good things that happened to you?

Do you remember being that lucky break or person who reached out a hand to help? to someone else?

To someone that might have been … you.

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Giving Thnx a try

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It’s November, at last! Time to talk about things thankful. For a start, I’m going to mention thnx4.org. I love this thing.

If you and your friends are spread across the country or the globe, you can use this as a way to reconnect and see what all the good that is going on in their lives this month.

If you’re planning on going home for Thanksgiving, get your family to participate as a group. Then when you get together, you can talk about all things everyone posted instead of the dry turkey and the game on tv.

You can even do this as a workplace, organization, or school. It’s a great way to keep people connected and fight that trend of downward spiral and loneliness that can set in for some folks during the holidays.

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Thnx4 is a free, online, shareable (every time you make an entry, you can choose to make that entry public or private) gratitude journal that makes it easier to say thanks, enjoy the benefits of thankfulness, and see what happens when you get into a better habit of experiencing and expressing gratitude.

It was created by the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley as a resource. It draws on two decades of research suggesting that people who regularly feel grateful:

  • report better health, reduce their risk of heart disease, and get better sleep
  • strengthen feelings of connection and satisfaction in their relationships
  • feel more satisfied with their lives, more joy and optimism, and less anxiety.

einstien

 

How it works:

  • Register for a 21-Day Gratitude Challenge either individually or as part of a group by clicking on the Get Started Now! button
  • Receive a friendly, informative ping from Thnx4 daily every other day for 3 weeks, inviting you to journal and share your gratitude, and rate your day-to-day feelings.
  • Throughout the challenge, your Thnx4 Insights page shows you how you typically use gratitude, and at the end, the overall impact of your Gratitude Challenge.
  • At your convenience thereafter, continue to enjoy the benefits of strengthening gratitude with Thnx4: better health, closer relationships, and greater happiness.

So, give it a try. I can say scientifically that you’ll be grateful you did!