Welcome to my ninth quarterly newsletter.
In the last newsletter I dealt with the skill of “forgiveness,” one of the two skills that leads to peace about the past. In this I want to address the other skill of the past, “gratitude.” While forgiveness is probably the most difficult of the 13 skills, gratitude is probably the easiest. But as Cicero pointed out a couple thousand years ago: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” If we live with gratitude, we almost by definition live with joy.
These two skills, forgiveness and gratitude, work because of simple arithmetic; forgiveness gets bad things out of your life and gratitude brings good things to you life.
To refresh your memory, here is the model of the 13 skills that enable us to flourish.
With the advent of social media, we now live in a world where we have become experts at counting other people’s blessings. There is a direct correlation between the rise of depression and the rise in the use of social media. The more time we spend on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat, the more unhappy we tend to be. Envy is one of the seven deadly sins and social media fills us with envy. Social media leads to us feeling ungrateful for the life we live, but, in truth, if we thought about it, we’d realize we would give almost anything for what we already have.
It is less the facts of our life than how we perceive the facts of our life that leads to gratitude. Each day we have the opportunity to live with gratitude or entitlement. Gratitude leads to happiness, entitlement does not. So how can we practice gratitude?
Here is a simple little tool I use to set the stage for my day. When I wake up in the morning, I stick my left foot out from under the covers and if I don’t see a toe-tag on my big toe, I rejoice. I know it is going to be a great day. It is a simple little way to start the day that is almost like tuning your life to the “gratitude channel” versus the “woe is me” channel. It is saying “Good morning God” versus “Good God its morning” or “Rise and shine” versus “Rise and whine.”
A more scientifically proven way to increase your happiness and gratitude is to start a gratitude journal. Positive psychologists conducted a research project where they split participants into two groups. Each group was given a journal. One group was told to write in the journal at the end of the day whatever came to mind. The other was to write down three things they were grateful for and, if they had time, write why they are grateful. At the end of a month, the people who wrote about gratitude were measurably happier than the other group and if they kept up the practice their level of happiness continued to increase. A participant at one of the programs that I lead at Canyon Ranch had a nice twist on this idea. She started a gratitude gallery on her phone by taking pictures of things she was grateful for … her kids, a flower, a blue sky … and when she was feeling a little low, she would scroll through her gratitude gallery.
Another suggestion to increase your feeling of gratitude is to start each morning by writing two or three text messages or emails expressing gratitude to someone who has helped you out in some way in the previous day. Simply put, gratitude is a choice and it is a choice that is fairly easy to make. Most of us miss a hundred … OK, I exaggerate … we probably miss a thousand opportunities a day to express gratitude. When we express gratitude to others, we usually feel we are doing it for their benefit. We often forget it gives us at least as much of a happiness boost as it does the other person.
Here is one last thought. Bobby turns 16. He walks out the front door of his house and there is a beautiful brand new Porsche convertible in the driveway with a big bow around it. He walks around the car, then runs inside and finds his parents at the breakfast table. He then says … and brace yourself … “How come I got a Porsche? You know I wanted a BMW! Johnny down the street got a BMW!” Now my guess is everyone reading this has the same reaction … what a spoiled little brat. But here is the thing—how many of us are a little bit more like Bobby than we would like to admit? Each day we are given something a million times more valuable than the Porsche, even than the BMW, we are given the gift of life. In some ways, we are like spoiled children in that we have received so many gifts we just take them for granted. It is just another sunrise or sunset, just another sunny or cloudy day, just another snowfall, just another day of not being hungry, having a home, having someone care about us.
Friends in Vermont have “quod cupio mecum est” stenciled all around their kitchen wall. When asked what it meant, they replied: “What I want, I already have.” A nice reminder that we really would give almost anything for what we already have.
Being grateful is a far better way to live than feeling entitled. Living with gratitude lifts your spirits, it attracts other people to you and it is a skill that enables us to flourish, to have peace with the past, and it is probably the easiest of the 13 skills.
Thanks for reading. Be well … in fact, flourish!
–Douglas. A. Smith
“I can’t tell you anything that, in a few minutes, will tell you how to be rich. But I can tell you how to feel rich, which is far better, let me tell you firsthand, than being rich. Be grateful … it is the only totally reliable get-rich-quick scheme.”
From the bookshelf!
Books I am reading and highly recommend.