I’ve been thinking a lot this month about gratitude. And it’s not just because of the holiday coming up next week. (Though I admit it’s quite a coincidence.) It’s because it’s the answer to all of my problems.
Let me back it up for a second.
I’ve always been prone to depression. Upon reaching adulthood and looking back at the landscape of my youth I tried to convince myself than any feelings I’d had were the result of teen angst, the typical existential crisis that seems to be a textbook-described growing pain and family problems that I had no control over. But as I grew I couldn’t shake the feelings- they would come back from time to time and leave me feeling a little lost.
And as much as my self esteem, general level of comfort with my life and overall participation in activities that make me feel alive have increased I am still sometimes plagued by discontent.
Forgive me for getting dogmatic on you, but I realize that this is due to the condition of wanting the Buddhists spoke so much of. For example:
“I want a better paying job. I want a bigger/nicer house. I want a fantasy vacation to some exotic place I’ve never been to. I want to be able to look like ‘insert name of awesome martial artist I train with here’ when I do a form (kata). I want to publish a novel and have my own book tour around the blogosphere.” And so on, and so on.
At any given time I can easily come up with a list of things that I want. And they are definitely wants- you can’t have wants if all your basic needs are taken care of. People who are starving to death don’t tend to complain about wanting things- they’re too busy starving. So it goes without saying that I am already terribly, terribly lucky.
But the wants- they’re always there, lurking under the surface. They come up when I compare myself to others. The person showing off great pictures of the vacation they just took. The co-worker who just excitedly gave their two weeks notice because they’re heading off to a higher paying job. The blogging friend who just announced that their book is being published. When I look at others and wonder why I don’t have the same things, I want. And the more I compare, the more I want.
Here’s the problem: The condition of wanting is never satisfied. If you get what you want, what you’ve been fantasizing about, you just want more. If I got the awesome vacation, I’d want to start planning the next one. If I got the better paying job I’d be wanting to advance in the company. You get the idea.
So if I spend my time wanting, I am just making it easier, more likely, for me to want. (And hopefully it goes without saying that wanting is a really great way to feel miserably discontent with your life as is.)
So how can I fight this poisonous condition of wanting? With gratitude, of course.
Gratitude implies acceptance of life as is. It implies that you are content with the way things are. You’re not comparing yourself to others and saying how unfair it is that you don’t have what they do. You’re not going over the details of your life and saying “It should be better”. You’re accepting- things are what they are.
But gratitude is a step way beyond acceptance. It’s an acknowledgement that not only is your life exactly the way it’s supposed to be, it’s pretty damned good at that. It’s a feeling that you’re occupying the exact spot you should be occupying in the universe. That things are going the way they should. That life, in spite of whatever headaches you may be dealing with at the moment, is good.
People who express gratitude tend to be a lot happier. They tend to be humble. They tend to go out of their way to help others. There’s a reason that food drives and blanket drives and volunteer opportunities run rampant around this holiday. It’s designed to remind us of how damned much we have to be grateful for. And when we realize that, we think about how many other people don’t have what we enjoy. The warm house, the great food, the love of family and friends. We look around at those without and realize: wow, I’ve got nothing to complain about.
Gratitude. It’s alters your perspective so drastically that you can’t help but feel like any problem or issue you’re facing is so incredibly inconsequential it’s not worth thinking about. And even when you do face serious problems, it reminds you of how much you still have to be grateful for.
It is the answer to all of my problems, because it makes me realize that I don’t really have any.
This is not a new realization for me. And I doubt it is for most of you. But boy, if I don’t need a reminder from time to time. Because my brain constantly judges and find faults with things. It’s programmed to. And if I don’t consistently fight back by paying conscious attention to the things I have to be grateful for I can easily fall back into that trap.
So how can I invite gratitude into my thoughts? I can spend some time with those less fortune. Not just now, but year round. I can stop complaining. Easier said than done, I know- but boy if you want to make a bad mood worse, just spend some time complaining. But the simplest and most effective thing I can do? Just talk about it.
Giving thanks to the people in your life who make your life great- each and every time you talk to them. Telling those who you love that you do love them, and that you are very aware of how incredibly lucky you are to have them in your life. Making a list of everything you have going for you in your life (Celebrate the Small Things, anyone?)
Whenever I do these, I invite myself to be happy. I invite myself to be content. I invite myself to be at peace- in a deep, soul-ful way- with everything in my life. And boy, does that feel a thousand times better than wanting.
So thank you, dear readers, for following this line of thought. And for being a part of my writing adventures. And for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the things you are grateful for. It makes life better.