The sun was shining–too hot; it was raining–horrible; a cloudy day–what a pity there was no sun.
He had an unbelievable talent to find something bad about every single situation. And to make himself even more unhappy.
The man had never been married. No kids, not even pets. Always focused on himself.
He avoided people. He used to be close with his brother, but they had a row and he never spoke to him again. The resentment went so far that forty years later when his brother died, he didn’t show up for his funeral.
In fact, the man lead a quiet, easy life. Most people would likely find it happy. The man had a good job and was wealthy. Lived in a small, quiet town. Potentially idyllic life. If only he could appreciate it…
If we could appreciate what we’ve got…
Let’s talk about gratitude:
- What is gratitude?
- Why is it so hard to appreciate life on a daily basis? And if we do, why is the feeling gone so quickly?
- How do you change your point of view and appreciate what you have (even if that’s not much)?
What is gratitude (and how is it different from appreciation)?
Step #1: Appreciation
Appreciation is about noticing that something makes us happy.
And the easiest way to do so is by contrast to the earlier situation that was somehow painful.
Let’s take an example. You’re at work. You’ve just realized you made a mistake that is going to cost your company dearly. You can’t even explain how did it happen.
You’re about to see your boss. Half the trouble would be if he fires you, but what if you have to take on the financial consequences, too?
You’re stressed, tense, there’s chaos in your head. You’re feeling sick, your heart is pounding, palms are wet.
It was just a bad dream.
In reality you’re on a beach. One if those paradise beaches. What a relief, thank God!
You’re getting relaxed. You feel the sun heating up your body. Sooo nice! Noise of waves, smell of sun on your skin, your feet rubbing against the warm sand… So lazy, so good. Everything is just fine…
So appreciation means: to NOTICE that something makes you happy in contrary to a past experience.
That leads us to longer or shorter moments of happiness and appreciation.
Step #2: Gratitude
But there is also more subtle thing–the every day gratitude.
Appreciating things that are seemingly obvious. That you have a fairly healthy body. That your children play in the backyard, carefree. That your computer works fine.
It’s hard to appreciate all these things on a daily basis. After all, how many times can you appreciate that your laptop works fine? That’s how it should be, right?
Yes, but all this, could be gone.
We’re so used to certain standards that we take things for granted. Hot shower every day is a standard, walking on your feet is a standard, your spouse is a standard, paradise beach – yeah, it’s cool, but you paid to come, so it’s supposed to be gorgeous.
And that’s gratitude: to REALIZE that things taken for granted could be gone
If at your birth there was no fairy who cast a good spell on you to have a nice, easy life, then… I’m sorry. In that case anything can happen. Good things and bad things.
Things you take for granted can be gone in a second. Your relationship is gone and it certainly wasn’t supposed to be this way. Life surprises us cruelly, sometimes.
I’m far from being pessimistic but we need to be aware that life happens to be unpredictable. And the only thing that is certain, is this very moment.
If it is fairly quiet, no pain, no threat, no hunger and on top of that you do what you like with someone you like… well, I call it happiness.
Why is it so hard to feel gratitude on a daily basis?
Gratitude is like butterflies. They come and go, never staying too long.
Last year I planted a butterfly bush in my garden. All summer dozens of butterflies crowded over the bush like crazy! They come and go in their own chaotic way and it’s impossible to focus on a single one for longer than a little while. Before you know it, they are lost from your sight.
How long are we able to feel appreciation and gratitude? Minutes? Seconds? Euphoria vanishes quickly. How long can you enjoy the feeling that your life is fine? How long can you enjoy having two arms and two legs?
Everyday problems call for our attention. Nice to appreciate life, but hey, what’s for dinner?
So let’s face it, unless we sit on top of a mountain to contemplate life, the appreciation moments will always be as short as the blink of an eye.
But even though they are short, spotting them can boost our lives dramatically.
Short moments of gratitude
The more appreciation and gratitude we have in our lives, the more satisfying our life feels.
When you ignore these little ‘butterflies of happiness’ or take things for granted, you set the bar very high. Something really extraordinary needs to happen to make you happy.
I am not sure we need a lot to feel happy, but I know for certain we need a skill to appreciate the things we have. To notice moments of happiness is a learn-able skill, luckily. Working on this skill is like growing a butterfly bush–it needs watering, fertilizing, pruning.
So how to start?
Change your point of view and see how much you already have
Do you know what it is like to be paralyzed? I used to know a guy who was paralyzed from his neck down. He was a young guy, around 40. He broke his neck at the age of twenty-something.
He can’t scratch his back, take a bubble bath or run out somewhere in a rush. He can only reach shelves as high as if he was an average ten-year-old because he’s in a wheelchair. His morning wash is done with help of strangers. So is brushing his teeth. Forget having privacy. He’s physically dependent on others.
Can you even imagine experiencing all that? Would you have enough strength to deal with the situation?
And most importantly–if you were paralyzed and had to live like this man, what would you think about the situation you are currently going through?
Would it seem any different to you?
It’s a breakup, sure. But hey, it could be worse, right…?
So appreciate what you’ve got!
P.S. I know, sometimes there’s really nothing to be happy about.
And yet, there’s always something.
So start noticing the happiness butterflies and realize they could be gone in an instant. If there is anything that makes you smile, appreciate it.
Because this thing could be gone and it’s here now; hurrrah!
What’s the one thing you can do right now?
Boost your appreciation skill and finish the sentence:
‘Perhaps my situation sucks, but at least in my life….’
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