Updated: Jul 23, 2021
We often hear about how important it is to give thanks. Be grateful for where you are in life, people say! Yet it’s not always easy to do this, especially when you feel like a hot mess. In the larger countries of North America we’re constantly striving and comparing ourselves to others. It’s part of the fabric of our culture. Although having travelled around a bit, I see that this isn’t necessarily a human trait. There are cultures where folks aren’t constantly looking at others like they do in the U.S., and Canada, comparing themselves and feeling shame for how they don't measure up. For net happiness the U.S. recently scored 43 per cent, whereas Mexico scored 76, and Columbia a whopping 85. Yes, dear reader, I’ve done the math, and personally I think it stinks!
STRIVE, STRIVE, STRIVE
Another thing that prevents us from feeling grateful is that when we’re reaching for our goals there’s a tendency to focus on all the stuff we feel we have to ‘work on’ to achieve our vision. We generally do this because we want to get better. Perhaps we have a house but would like a car so we’re focused on that thing we don’t have, and how we can get it. Or maybe we just want to learn to play the violin better or to be a better writer.
Whatever it is, this constant striving is something that plagues us, and, in the end doesn’t make us very happy. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with having goals and aspiring to something greater, but if you’re constantly on this gerbil wheel of, oh, this isn’t enough and I’m not happy now, because I don’t have this, or haven't achieved this, then what you’re doing is spending your life not living in the present. You’re living in a wouldn’t that be nice time which doesn’t even exist, so essentially you’re robbing yourself of the juicy now; the gorgeous present; the terrific today. Sorry, got a bit carried away!
TRY SOME GRATITUDE ON FOR SIZE
That’s one of the reasons why gratitude is so important. Not only for being happy NOW, but also for living in that now. And when we live in the now we can concretely take a stab at finishing our projects. Not just imagining that the book or story is done, but taking actual steps to get there. When we’re thankful for what we’ve done each day we’re more likely to stick with it to the end. We see our progress and recognize that we’re on the right track. As opposed to being the taskmaster of our creative lives and always cracking the whip and saying to ourselves, you said you were going to write 1,500 words this week and you’ve only written 500, and I’m really disappointed in you.
Instead of using a shaming tactic, why not try commending yourself for taking the time to sit and write those 500 words? Say how grateful you are for having that time to yourself to create. Shout from the rooftops... You rock, dude! When you express gratitude for what you have and what you've accomplished your energy shifts. And when you’re grateful in this way and focus on the good you’re doing in the world, you actually find more time to do the stuff that holds meaning for you. The creative space that you’re making for yourself, actually expands. It’s much nicer than the opposite where you’re riding your ass for not doing enough, isn’t it?
Have you ever wanted to spend time with someone who’s always chiding you to do better and is really mean about it? No, neither have I. Although, if you had a coach who was pointing out how you could improve in a positive way, and highlighting the good stuff, then you’d be totally willing to do better, right? Look at gratitude as an integral part of your writing practice. Here are some ways you can do this.
BE HELPFUL AND SAY THANK YOU
Saying thanks seems like a small thing, yet it can actually make someone’s day better. “Creativity, meaning, resilience, health and even longevity can be enhanced as a surprising by-product of contributing to the lives of others,” writes Stephen Post, professor of preventive medicine and bioethics, at Stony Brook University School of Medicine and author of the Hidden Gifts of Helping and Why Good Things Happen to Good People. Showing gratitude to others and yourself through words or actions allow us to build up our own mental, physical and emotional capacities, so the exchange becomes, in a sense, mutually beneficial.
HAPPY IN A JAR
Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author, keeps a Happiness Jar, and describes how she goes about it: “[...] Every single day, at the end of the day, I grab a scrap of paper (the corner of a telephone bill, or a bit of an old to-do list) and I write down upon it the happiest moment of that day. And I put the date on it. And then I fold up the note and stick it in the jar. And that’s the whole practice.” Love this idea!
NO PLACE LIKE OM
I’ve practiced different meditation techniques throughout the years and have settled (for the time being) on Vipassanã or Insight Meditation, which is based on the Theravãda Buddhist tradition. Not only is meditation good for self-reflectiveness and mental well-being, it also helps to develop compassion for others. We begin to experience life more directly and to witness our own story unfolding. We become more forgiving and grateful of others, and of our own circumstances. And we can even learn to bend time. When we’re in a superconscious state, time doesn’t exist. Create a space when you meditate to envision what you want for your life. When you do this before or during meditation the dream becomes more concrete as you’re experiencing aspects of it through visualization.
PRACTICE MORNING & EVENING
Tim Ferriss, American Author, starts each day this way...
1. I am grateful for . . . 1. 2. 3.
2. What would make today great? 1. 2. 3.
1. Daily affirmations. I am . . . 1. 2. 3.
2. 3 amazing things that happened today... 1. 2. 3.
3. How could I have made today better? 1. 2. 3.
I typically finish my day by giving thanks and forgiving those who have, shall we say, stretched my patience. Sometimes I say I’m grateful for getting home safely, for the fresh greens I ate at dinner, or for a friend who I heard from unexpectedly. Shit, sometimes I even give thanks for the guy who cut me off in traffic, as he taught me to breathe deeply and pay attention. Or, my thanks might be for something really small, such as a misplaced sweater I’d been looking for that magically turned up.
Gratitude—in small or large doses—helps to refocus on what we have rather than what’s missing. Through these simple tools we can find something to appreciate every day, making extra space in our harried lives for creative thoughts and actions. Here's a gratitude meditation & exercise for stepping into life with gusto!! What are some things you can do to make this the year of gratefulness? Write these things down and refer to them throughout the year. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Daily moments of each day that you'd like to keep in your awareness.
Counting blessings the moment they come into your life.
Volunteer for a homeless shelter or other community organization that holds value for you.
Say thank you to strangers.
Do morning sun salutations.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Make a pie for a friend who's going through a hard time.
Aspects of your life that you might take for granted such as a hot shower, a loving partner, a roof over your head, a hot meal on a wintry day.
When life's challenges block you, remembering the good that's still present.