Maren Schmidt: Choosing thankfulness

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About six months ago at a conference, I noticed an unusual number of people wearing purple plastic wristbands. I didn't think much about it, imagining that the bands must be in support of a worthy cause.

When I returned home from the conference, I stopped by my neighborhood bookstore. At the checkout register sat a bucket full of purple wristbands but with no explanation of what idea they represented. Upon closer inspection, I noticed an embossed imprint across the face of the band, A Complaint Free World.org.

I laughed at the impossible idea of a complaint-free world. "Wouldn't that be wonderful," I said to the bookstore owner.

"There's the instruction manual on the front table," she said.

I couldn't resist buying the book. Will Bowen, pastor of Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, Mo., challenged his parishioners to go 21 days without complaining. To keep the challengers on track, Bowen wanted a "doodad" to hand out after his talk to help people remember their task. Bowen's assistant came across a special on purple wristbands, and the game was on.

The game? Move your wristband to the opposite arm every time you catch yourself complaining. The "gotcha" was that you had to start over at Day One every time you complained, even if you were on Day Twenty-One-And-A-Half.

Bowen, considering himself a positive guy, thought he'd had no problem going 21 days without complaining, criticizing or gossiping. After two weeks, he reported that he had gone six hours complaint-free. After a month, he told his group he had made it three days without complaining.

Bowen's congregation has committed to giving free bracelets to whomever asks. His church has given away more that 6 million bands with a thousand requests coming in every day.

Thinking without complaining, criticizing or gossiping brought about some unexpected benefits. Purple wristband wearers reported that their relationships improved, chronic health concerns diminished or disappeared and that they were enjoying life in a way they never thought possible. They discovered what Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations almost 2,000 years ago, "The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it."

We choose our thoughts, positive or negative. Bowen says the average time it takes someone to go complaint-free is four to eight months. It's work to shift our perception of the world.

My dad had a way of dealing with those times when the apple cart gets tipped over, and all looks lost. More than once in my adult life, I went to him distraught over one setback or another. He'd give me a hug, look at his watch and say, "Well, let's have a pity party for fifteen minutes then get back to work."

This is a year of tumultuous economic and political forces unleashed, and it might be reason enough for us to join a long, long pity party and neglect thinking about all that we should be thankful for.

For the sake of our children, let's finish up with our pity parties and get to work to create a complaint-free world. Complain that the glass is half full, or be thankful that it is? Take the challenge to choose thankfulness.

Next Week: My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

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