The Two Kinds of Gratitude (And How to Cultivate the Lasting One)

There are two kinds of gratitude. The first one—the kind that happens when the tables are piled high with food and the shopping carts are piled high with gifts—is real and good. But utterly flimsy. The second kind is solid and steady. It doesn’t arise in the midst of passing things; it carries us through them…


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Five years ago, on a Friday afternoon, I was on a golf course in Wisconsin.

Summer was just beginning to tip into autumn—the sun was warm on your skin, but you couldn’t sweat if you tried. Golf had been my favorite hobby for twenty years, and I was playing well. The course was uncrowded and the round was relaxed. I was with people I loved. I was overwhelmed by gratitude, and it took the shape of this thought: I’m lucky to be here; this is perfect.

The thought also haunted me, though, because how long can perfection last?

A year later, I blew out a disk in my back, and I haven’t played golf since.

Gratitude, it turns out, is awfully fleeting, if we’re grateful for fleeting things.

Dear ISIS (A Letter Between Human Beings)

Paris attacks

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Dear ISIS,

I know I’m supposed to hate you. I know I’m supposed to be angry. I know I’m supposed to want revenge. I know I’m supposed to demand justice at any cost. I’m supposed to raise my middle finger, tell you I’m not afraid, hunt you down, and blow you up. I know I’m supposed to think you’re the bad guys and we’re the good guys. I know I’m supposed to think you’re evil.

Why I’m Writing My First Book

Last week, I sent the first draft of my first book to my publisher. And it’s a good thing I did, because no one is publishing books anymore. You can barely find one on Amazon these days. Authors are dying out, like an endangered species. Thank God I’m writing this book—a single light shining in the twilight of a dying craft.

I’m kidding.

worthiness belonging purpose

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Though the publishing industry is contracting, the truth is, due to technology and the awesome courage to self-publish, there are more books out there than ever, and anyone can become an author. So, the real question these days isn’t, are you writing a book? The real question is, why are you writing a book?

This is why I’m writing a book:

I’m writing it, not because I’m a light shining within the twilight of a dying craft, but because you have a light shining within you. And, if you’re like the rest of us, most of the time, you probably don’t even know it. Because it has been covered by pain and mess and confusion and brokenness. This is being human. But it’s not all there is to being human. I’m writing this book because I have good news, and the good news is this:

Though our light gets buried deep, it never gets dim.

This Is How Christmas (and Life) Should Be More like Halloween

I used to think Christmas was the holiday during which we love best. But after trick-or-treating last weekend, I’m pretty sure the grace of Halloween puts Christmas to shame…


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“Daddy, will other kids get more candy because their costumes are scarier?”

We are minutes away from taking to the streets for the annual Halloween ritual. My daughter is standing in front of me, dressed in white from head to toe, holding above her a transparent umbrella with homemade eyes taped to it and purple and pink streamers hanging from it. She’s a jellyfish with shimmering tentacles.

And she’s not one bit scary.

But I don’t have to think twice before smiling and answering. “No, Sweetie, with trick-or-treating, all you have to do is show up, and everybody who shows up gets exactly the same amount of candy. No matter how big or how little, no matter how young or how old, and no matter how scary or not scary you are.”

She smiles and skips away, tentacles flowing behind her.

I smile, too, because I’ve always liked Halloween, but all of a sudden I like it a lot more. Especially when I imagine my daughter six weeks from now, in kindergarten, learning a very different holiday lesson about what she has to do to receive good things. Most of us know the lines by heart:

“You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town. He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. Santa Clause is coming to town.”


A Little Inspiration for Parents, Dads, and Everyone Who Needs a Bit of Kindness

It’s just an ordinary Thursday afternoon.

But, somehow, the veil hanging over the face of the world gets ripped right off.

I’ve taken my kids to a secluded park along the edge of a languid river, because they love the single slide and the lone merry-go-round that reside there. Maybe the autumn light is slanting just right or maybe the painted leaves are just the right amount of incandescent. Whatever it is, as my kids run and laugh and climb and laugh and slide and laugh and spin themselves into an orbit of energy and joy and abandon, the edges of the world get sharper and the light gets brighter. In the still, crisp air, a single leaf float-rocks its way to the ground in front of me and everything snaps into focus:

We’re all leaves, on our way from budding to dying.

My kids are six, eight, and twelve and they are, each of them, like leaves in the springtime, erupting into life, caged energy unfurled, color exploding, anticipation bursting, and joy expanding. They have an entire cycle of life ahead of them. They are promise and possibility and every unlived moment just waiting to happen.


These days, I feel a little more like a leaf at the end of a long summer.

The days are still long and there’s still plenty of sunlight, but the hot, dog days of the season have sapped some of my initial energy and strength. I’m a little more dry. A little more brittle. These are good days. My edges haven’t yet begun to shrivel and my colors have only just begun to change, but that changing season is not as far off as it used to be.

My wife’s grandparents visited recently. They are almost ninety, and they traveled halfway across the country to see us. They are raging against the dying of the light, like autumn leaves that refuse to give up their color, refuse to release their hold upon the branch which has born them, refuse to give in to the winter that’s coming.

Perhaps it’s because my children are frolicking on the same playground upon which I played as a kid. Perhaps it’s seeing the me-I-once-was in them and wondering if, someday, they might stand in this very spot while watching their own kids come to life. Whatever it is, time and space fold in upon themselves and every season of my life is present at once. All of it. From the budding to the dying. And I decide to enjoy the end of my summer by being a witness to their springtime. While I can.

In a quiet park in the middle of nowhere, a late-summer leaf watches three springtime buds.

And it is, for a moment, almost more peace than I can handle.

You Can Find Your Way to the Light

Every year, I write an “autumn” blog post—an ode to dwindling light and the taste of pumpkin and the metallic odor of my kids’ hair after they’ve been outside playing in the chill air and colorful canopies and falling foliage. But this year, I haven’t been as infatuated with the many trees. This year, I’ve been captivated by a single tree…


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We moved this year and, in our new backyard, is a forest of oaks. They’re centuries old, tower above our house, and their gnarled limbs interlock and dominate all other vegetation on the forest floor below.


Not far from our back deck, nestled amongst the oaks, is this little-engine-that-could. This little-tree-that-could. Less than a decade old, its trunk is only inches in diameter. It gets almost no light and it has no room to grow. So, it’s doing the only thing it can:

It’s shooting straight up through the oak trees.

And it’s gaining on them fast. It’s called a tulip tree—one of the few trees that can survive in a grove of oaks or maples. It will eventually push through the treetops and tower over them. Around that time, its canopy will bloom with flowers.

I meditate upon that tree, and it reminds me of the people in my life.

The Secret About Healing Nobody Wants to Hear (But Everybody Needs to Hear)

Last Wednesday, when my weekly blog post went live, I panicked. I’ve published over two-hundred posts, and I never fail to get a little squeamish. But this was different. I was suddenly certain every reader would unsubscribe. This is why…


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I’ve had similar feelings before. When I write something I think might be a little controversial, I wonder how many people will be angry and alienated and click the unsubscribe link. And some weeks, the writing doesn’t come easily and the post feels a little clunky and I wonder how many people will decide my prose isn’t worth the time.

But this time, the writing had flowed smoothly and was, I thought, pretty decent. And it wasn’t controversial at all. In fact, I’d written about the topic before. Several times. And the posts had always been pretty well received. So, what was I suddenly feeling so insecure about?

I’d written about the topic before.

For a week, my shame came to me in a new form: a question—when are folks going to get sick of me struggling with, and writing about, the same old stuff? I imagined thousands of people at home, thinking, “Kelly’s struggling with his ego and achievement issues again and, once again, finding a mindful way back to his soul. Been there, done that.”

I was afraid I’d worn out my welcome.

Fortunately, I know I’m not the only one whose fear takes this shape.

Because I’ve seen it in almost every soul in my therapy office.

Don’t Try to Be More Extraordinary (Just Try to Be More Human)


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We’re riding our bikes through the dead.

Our new town is a lot hillier than I remember it, and the cemetery is the flattest ground we can find for a family bike ride. The day is sunny and just the right amount of warm, as we wind our way on the one-lane asphalt road, through the fields of tombstones. My kids don’t even seem to notice, but I can’t take my eyes off the names and the dates on the weathered graves. Some have been there for more than a century, names I don’t know and names that, perhaps, no one can remember.

Some are more recent.

Less than two years ago, the judge who I trembled in front of during elementary school mock trials stepped off this mortal coil and into the mystery of what comes next. It seems like yesterday he sat above us—youthful, healthy, powerful. Time undoes all of these things. We’re riding through the dead and the awareness of it does to me what it always does:

It makes me want to seize the day.

I think of that scene in Dead Poet’s Society—the young boys looking at the pictures of young men long since passed, Robin Williams leaning in amongst them, in a ghostlike whisper exhorting them, “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

The urge to do so seizes me. Like it does every time I’m faced with my mortality.

But then I’m faced with my reality.

Why Therapists Are Clueless

Therapy is like bedroom carpet and many therapists are completely clueless. And that’s a good thing. This is what I mean by that…


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Earlier this year, our family was preparing to embark upon an adventure, picking up our lives and plopping them back down in a new town and a new culture. It seemed grand and epic, but it began with a lot of tedium.

Like replacing the carpet in the bedroom.

Our realtor said we needed new rugs so we called the rug people. The morning they arrived, we thought we were taking a big step toward where we wanted to go, but it came to a screeching halt when they pulled back a corner of the carpet.


It was another hurdle and it was expensive and it slowed us down, so it was a little frustrating. But even more so, it was a little disorienting. We’d been walking on a toxin for six years and hadn’t known it. It was a little concerning that something so important existed just beneath the surface of our life.

Disorienting and concerning, but not unfamiliar.

Because I’m a therapist and, at the beginning, that’s exactly how therapy can feel.

We usually go to therapy for help with a specific problem, like dirty carpet we can see and want to remove. But, inevitably, we start to pull it up, and we find stuff underneath we didn’t know existed. Stuff that’s a little more complicated, a little more frustrating, probably even a little more painful.

Therapy doesn’t create it; therapy reveals it.

We sense this might be true, and so we avoid the endeavor altogether. We decide to live with the dirty carpet, or we put on blindfolds and try to replace the carpet ourselves, without looking at what’s beneath it. Yet, there comes a time for some of us when we decide we’re ready to lift up the carpet and face the unknown.

We pick up the phone and call the rug people…



To find out more about my first therapy experience and what it taught me about being a therapist, click on the link above to read the rest of this post on the Artisan Clinical Associates blog. This is the first of three times over the next several months that I’ll link to my original content on my new practice’s website. After that, you’ll need to be subscribed to the Artisan blog to read my Artisan posts, so don’t forget to subscribe in the sidebar while you’re there!


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Next Post: Don’t Try to Be More Extraordinary, Just Try to Be More Human

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

The Only Real Secret to a Healthy Marriage

The only real secret to a healthy marriage is to not have any secrets. In AA, they say our secrets make us sick. They’re right. And marriage is the place we learn how to empty ourselves of them…

marriage secrets

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I keep secrets from my wife.

Just last week, the kids were released early from school, due to a heat wave and old buildings with no air conditioning. While debriefing the shortened day, they mentioned their mom had taken them to an ice cream shop the day before after the early dismissal. It seemed like a random comment, but I’m sure it was strategic.

They know how to work me.

And I knew they didn’t need the sugar two days in a row, and I knew we didn’t need to spend the money, but who doesn’t want to be the cool-dad, especially when you’re married to a woman who’s always the cool-mom?

So, we piled in the car.

When we got home, I collected the empty ice cream cups, and I buried them deep in the garbage. I actually did that. Rearranged some dirty paper towels over the top of them. Like I was six years old again, sneaking a spoonful of fudge swirl from the freezer at 6am.

Of course, when I was six, I didn’t have three accomplices to spill the beans.

When my wife got home and asked about our afternoon, I didn’t mention the ice cream. But my partners in crime did. And I cringed. I cringed a little because I got caught. But I cringed a little more because marriage isn’t a place for secrets.

It’s a place for pouring them out.