I once knew a man, aged 90. He was always unhappy. 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. He lived in a small, quiet town. Potentially idyllic life. If only he could appreciate it…
For us, not to fall in the same trap of the man, why not we learn about gratitude and appreciating what we have?
1. What is gratitude?
You’re at work. You’ve just realized you made a mistake that is going to cost your company dearly. You don’t even know how it happened. 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 of 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. No obligations. Everything is just fine.
Gratitude is about NOTICING that something makes us happy. And the easiest way to do so is by contrast to the earlier situation when something was taken from us. For example, it’s a great relief when someone special to you recovers from a serious illness. Satisfaction is when you worked on something really hard and achieved your goal. Or to eat a good meal when you are really hungry. That leads us to longer or shorter moments of happiness and appreciation.
So appreciation way no 1 is: to NOTICE that something makes you happy in contrary to a past experience
But there is also more subtle gratefulness. 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 one can appreciate that his laptop works fine? That’s how it should be, right? Yes, but all this could be gone. We are 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 takes us to the second way of appreciation.
Way no 2: 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. Even though it’s hard to realize it, because some things seem to be constant. And life – it must be somehow predictable, right?
But life surprises us cruelly, sometimes.
I don’t mean to scare you with pessimistic images. But it’s good 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 the top of that you do what you like with someone you like… well, I call it happiness.
2. Why is it so hard to feel gratitude on a daily basis?
Happiness 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 happiness? 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, they can boost our lives dramatically.
Short moments of gratitude
The more appreciation we have in our lives, the more satisfying our life feels. To notice moments of happiness is a learn-able skill. 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. Working on this skill is like growing a butterfly bush – it needs watering, fertilizing, pruning. So how to start?
3. 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 a help of strangers. Forget having privacy. He can only brush his teeth with someone else’s help. He is 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 could be worse, so appreciate what you’ve got.
4. What’s the next step right now?
Finish the sentence: ‘Perhaps my life is not perfect, but at least….’
Photo credits: Unsplash