August 1, 2012

Being (More) Grateful

Photo Credit M-E-S-H-O

Being grateful is hard. Especially if you live in a culture (America, the UK, Japan, to name a few) that puts such an emphasis on more, on going further, on upgrading, on being better. It's hard to be content when your i-pod suddenly seems old, your shoes are out of style, and your car isn't as shiny as it used to be. Maintaining perspective, taking a step back from that rat race, is hard.

But it can be done. I know this because I use to be an unhappy poor kid who shoplifted candy to satisfy those feelings. Then I found the other path. The way of minimalism, the way of gratitude, the way of enough. I learned that it's okay if my stuff isn't the most modern, if I'm a little old-fashioned, if I'm slow or not trying to make more money. I learned it's okay to be content with what you have.

So I'm telling you, you can do it too. You can be happy with what you have. You can be content with yourself.  

But if you're at a loss of where to begin, here's some things to try:
  • Every time you catch yourself depressed, unhappy, discontent, jealous, or any other not-happy-and-grateful emotion, stop for a second, and find one thing, no matter how seemingly insignificant, to be thankful for. This can be the feel of sunshine on your face. Or the smell of fresh-baked bread. Or the daisies blooming in your garden. Or the baby girl sleeping in your arms. It can be anything. As long as it's something to be grateful for.
  • Occasionally, every day if you want, take into account this phrase: "What if you woke up tomorrow only with the things you thanked God for today?" How screwed would you be? So stop, take a second, and think about all the things you've already got. 
  • Make a list. I use Google Drive, and just keep a constant list of things you are thankful for. If you want, you can make a slideshow instead or whatever works. The meaning is still the same. Every morning I add to this list - what am I thankful for today? - and every day is just a little bit better because I remember how amazing my life already is.
  • Think about all the people who don't have enough. The 1 billion people living on less than a dollar a day. The 50% of the world that is starving to death. The 99% who don't have access to internet, and the wealth of information and power it offers. Remember how little they have, and you will realize how much you have.
  • Give. Give up your time, give up belongings, give money - just give. With no strings attached, anonymously. Don't take the tax receipt. Just give and feel that rush of good feelings as you realize that you had enough to share, which means you have enough for yourself. Which means there isn't anything to be discontent about.
  • Take care of what you've got. Spend time caring for, polishing, cleaning, and maintaining the belongings you have. Focus on what you already have, and how fantastic those things are.
  • Say I love you more. Spend time with your loved ones. Focus on them. Realize how very important they are to you, and how awful it would be without them. And be grateful that they are here with you.
  • Every time you see a beautiful picture, or smell something delicious, thank the creator. Tell them that they have made something amazing and be grateful for their contribution.
  • Look in the mirror, and this time try and see what your loved ones see. Focus on your best features. See what really is beautiful about you. I have pretty eyes, a nice collar bone, and a fabulous hair color. Sure, I could point out that pimple, or my short legs, but why? I have pretty eyes. That's all that really matters. If you pay more attention to what is beautiful about your body, the imperfections seem inconsequential.
  • Make a list of your accomplishments, your skills, the people you matter too. Look at this awesome list of stuff, and realize just how cool you are. :)
  • Keep a journal/scrapbook/blog about the things you are grateful for. Fill it with stories, anecdotes, and moments that made you smile. Add photos of things, like a blooming rose or the smile on your niece's face. If it's digital, add videos and music. Put in newspaper clippings, stuff printed off the internet, and magazine photos. Reflect on it, and share it. 
  • When you're fighting with someone, or having an argument, or angry, think about it. Is it really worth it? Is it worth losing that friendship? Does what you're fighting about actually matter? If it does, stand strong. If it doesn't, step down from your pride and be the first to apologize and tell that person how much they mean to you.
The biggest trick to being grateful isn't struggling with the negative feelings of anger, jealousy, envy, or discontent. It's focusing on what there is to be grateful, and those feelings will go away on their own. So when you're feeling jealous, don't try and squash that feeling. Acknowledge it, and counteract it with the truth of all that you've already got, that you have so many amazing things, and suddenly that new pair of shoes doesn't seem so cool anymore.

I hope this helps. What are you grateful for?

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