Do you always want more? Do you always feel like you are one accomplishment away from happiness? What if I told you that this striving, this desire for change, for growth and transformation can become an expression of your satisfaction with the way things are right now?
You would likely ask me what I am talking about.
On one hand the desire for growth is an incredibly powerful force for positivity. On the other it is a potentially destructive force that posits happiness as that ever elusive next step. What is the difference?
Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation, of thanks; the essence of grace. Cultivating gratitude changes the entire experience of striving. People with gratitude may work far harder than those without it, but the effort is more joyful and less tied to a specific outcome. When we accept and appreciate what we already have the effort to grow and to change becomes more of a celebration and less of a competition or struggle. When we root our life in gratitude we judge both ourselves and others with less negativity. We are more likely to see potential and less likely to focus on lack.
Many of my clients end up with a gratitude practice at one point or another. There are many reasons to practice gratitude and many more benefits of doing so. For many life is an experience of constant low level anxiety that occasionally erupts into a full blown panic attack. For many such as myself there is a tendency to slip into depression. Cultivating gratitude will help with both of these. The key is to realize that gratitude, like all emotions, is not something that only happens to us, it is something that we can choose to feel more often.
For most of us there are two times when we really feel gratitude naturally. One is when we get something. The other is when we almost lose something, but then manage to hold onto it. Have you ever met someone who had a near death experience? If not, I am sure that you have heard a story or two. When someone comes face to face with a potential loss of life or limb, but then, at the very last moment, recovers or is saved, there is a very real, very beautiful and potent gratitude that permeates even the most mundane of experiences. Flowers smell fresher. The sun shines brighter. Getting to see a friend or even talk to a stranger is a gift. In the moments right after a brush with mortality simply taking a deep breath can fill one with wonder, awe and appreciation for the gift that is life.
What has changed for these people? In all honesty, the only difference between them and you, right now, is that something truly terrible almost happened to them. Think about that. By this logic, the only thing standing between you and feeling joy just for being alive is something terrible happening to you. Is that why we spend so much time thinking about what might go wrong? Are we wishing for disaster so that we can learn to appreciate life? Or does a brush with disaster help us to realize that this moment, right now, is an incredibly precious event that will never occur again? My money is on the latter.
We can start appreciating life right now. If this is not your default mode, and for most of us it is not, then it will take a bit of practice. You will have to deliberately choose to seek feelings of gratitude. And note what I just said. I did not say “thoughts” of gratitude, I said feelings. This is the key. It starts with a thought and then becomes a feeling. Here is a VERY quick exercise that I have been offering to a number of clients recently. It takes 5-10 minutes a day and it can change everything. There are two steps:
1 – LAST THING AT NIGHT: Write down 3 things that you are grateful for and FEEL the gratitude in your body. Let the thoughts and sensations that you fall asleep to be full of appreciation for what you already have.
- One thing about yourself
- One thing about someone else
- One random thing
2 – FIRST THING IN THE MORNING: Read the three things that you wrote last night and FEEL grateful for them. Let them run through your mind and your heart. Root your morning in them. Let them become a mantra. When another thought arises push it aside with gratefulness. Let the mood of your morning become gratitude.
For every client this practice is a little different. I suggest that some focus on specific areas of life. Some keep these notes in a gratitude journal, others put up a giant poster board and create a gratitude wall full of gratitude that they see last thing before they go to bed and first thing upon waking up. The picture above is a sheet of plastic that I hung on the wall in my apartment so that my Hana and I can write on the wall with a dry erase marker. I sit by this beautiful energy every time I write a blog post or notes to a client. It roots me in positive feelings for the many ways that I am already truly blessed. I feel so good about my current situation it is only natural to want to encourage my life to grow, to evolve and change and continue in new directions.
Do you see how this shifts the energy around wanting change? Do you see how seeking growth and transformation can stop being about what you lack and become a celebration of what you do have? Hating what you already have is the energy of death. If you hate a child for being small you are not encouraging growth, you are punishing youth. We are all young. We are all naïve. Recognizing a place where we can get better should be exciting. It should generate an appreciation for what is and the fact that it can be improved.
I used to be terribly depressed. I spent years thinking about all that I hated about life. I was great at finding things to dislike. I could barely sleep. I was practicing disgust. It was deep in the fabric of my being. Every where I looked I saw it reflected back at me. Now I practice gratitude and guess what I notice when I look at the world?
The world is full of opportunities. Our perspective is primary. If you look down you see the ground. When you look up you see the sky. If your default frame is ruminating on what you don’t want, on what you lack, on why you are lonely or sad or tired then you will find 1,000 reasons for this. But if you break the pattern, if you choose to consciously look for things to be grateful for then you will find that this type of thinking creates a self-fulfilling virtuous cycle, a feedback loop, that teaches you to reach out for more simply because what you have is so wonderful. Who wouldn’t want more when they feel wonderful? Before long you may just find that you are overflowing and the only thing left is to want more for others as well.
This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.
If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.