By Brianna Wiest
The only way to be happy is to be grateful – but like “choosing happiness” or “not caring what other people think,” we’d all do it if we knew how, or if something else weren’t more compelling.
Being grateful is a deeply spiritual practice. It requires an incredible amount of self-awareness. This is because our first instinct is to reject gratitude. It’s in opposition with our core, cardinal drive as ego-based humans: to succeed. If we’re “happy with what we have” we can never have more. We’ll stop making progress if we settle.
The other problem is that when we don’t naturally feel gratitude, we try to create it through guilt or comparison. We try to focus on how unhappy situations could be more tragic, we could live in less-developed countries, there are kids with nothing to eat, and so on.
“Gratitude” doesn’t seem like an effective or important tool. It seems like food for the negatively-focused and under-driven. In the words of Alain de Botton:
Capitalism stimulates constant ambition and longing and rewards astute, intense assaults on excellence. Restlessness is the precondition of progress. Nothing should be good enough for very long. The idea of being content with what we have and who we are has come to feel strange and dangerous. At best, gratitude appears like the consolation prize – the loser’s counsel.
Yet, despite this inclination, the call to be grateful grates at us more and more, because the constant acquisition of Things, the constant race for more, the constant comparison to how much worse everything could be, only leaves us emptier and emptier.
It seems what we eventually arrive at understanding is that gratitude is not the end, it is the means. And because it is a manner of traveling rather than a destination (if you’ll forgive me for that phrase) it’s hard to maintain. To help you out, here are 8 ways to feel more gratitude, in a way that will actually maybe work.
1. Every moment is an opportunity.
If you can begin to see every moment as an opportunity to begin something, to realize something, to let go of something, you begin to realize that the present in the most powerful place to be. After all, it only takes a day to find your dream job or meet the love of your life. If you’re living under the pretense of assumption – that you already know what each moment will contain – you keep yourself from experiencing the potential of what each moment truly contains. When you’re doing that, there’s nothing not to be grateful for.
2. People who are “worthy” of what they have are the ones who are grateful for it.
I feel like people talk a lot about being “unworthy” of love, or feeling as though they inherently don’t deserve happiness, or what it is they desire. What does it take for someone to be truly “worthy” of something, then? Many people are qualified and talented and skilled and kind… but what makes them worthy? Most likely: gratitude. The people who are deserving are the people who are grateful for what they have.
3. Life happens in the in-between.
The grey area is not where you get lost in, it’s where you exist, and where you thrive. What this means practically is that nothing will ever be done. You’ll never be exactly where you want to be, the work will never feel finished, the house will never be perpetually clean, and so on. There are no end goals in this game, there is only the way you play. If you’re waiting to feel grateful until you have something you think is worth feeling grateful about, you will be waiting forever.
4. People tend to be most grateful for the things they didn’t want to happen.
Everything is for your highest good. What’s funny about this particular saying is that people who haven’t come to understand it reject it violently and the people who have literally live by it. If you can believe that everything is for your highest good, everything will be. Everything is either something for you to enjoy, or something for you to learn from. (Learning = growth = ability to enjoy even more.) If it’s not the right path, it’s setting you on your way to the right path. You’re not damned for making a “wrong” choice. A funny thing about life is that people tend to be most grateful for the things they didn’t want to happen.
5. You already have the life you want.
I know what you’re thinking: no, I clearly don’t! I don’t have love, I don’t have money, I don’t have any of the things that I desire. And if that’s was your first reaction, that’s why you don’t have the things that you desire. You’ve gotten relationships in the past. You’ve had more money, and less. You were only happier in retrospect, not in the moment. This is because the life you want will not come through getting the things you don’t have, but in shifting your perception of the things you already do. Until you understand this, you will be on a rat wheel of consumption, never reaching an end goal. The day your life changes is the day you see what you have, not what you don’t. That’s also the day you realize that wanting something else to change how you feel about your life was a deflection from having to change how you think.
6. “Letting go” isn’t about loss.
Another reason we have a lot of apprehension toward feeling grateful is because if we let ourselves be happy to have something, we increase the likelihood that we’ll suffer if (and when) we lose it. We numb ourselves to protect ourselves. This mindset, however, is a product of not realizing that having to let go is not about “loss,” it’s about realizing that something new is entering your life, and you have to make room for it. We don’t keep anything forever. But we do miss out on a lot when we hold onto the things that are past their expiration date… and we do this because we feel like we haven’t experienced them – or felt grateful to have them – yet.
7. You “get to,” not “have to.”
You get to pay the bills that house you and clothe you and feed you. You get to do the work that you’ve been employed to do. You get to wake up early and see another sunrise. You get to spend money flying across the country because you have family that misses you. The next time you go to say “I have to,” replace it with “I get to.” You’ll realize there is not a single thing in your life that cannot be looked at as a blessing or an opportunity, if only you choose to perceive it that way.
8. You’re not only as accomplished as you’ve overcome your biggest problem.
You’re not only as good as you are perfect, or better than someone else. You can’t spent your life waiting for everything to be finalized before you let yourself feel happy. Learn to be grateful for the process. For the work that is done. For how far you have come. There will always be more to do, farther to go, etc. It’s not about being grateful for what you have, it’s about being grateful for what you can do with it while you have it.
Image: Jared Erondu