The Unexpected Superpowers of Practicing Gratitude
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Recently, someone close to me said this in a moment of quiet reflection:
“Sometimes you just gotta slow down to count your blessings.”
And I thought to myself, “He’s got it all wrong!”
The truth is that we ought to constantly be in the flow and appreciation of our blessings and only rarely slow down to compassionately acknowledge our hardships.
Similar to my friend, for many of us, our default is to look for what’s missing. My profession places me at the epicenter of this truth. People don’t come to Coaching or Therapy because they are satisfied with what they already have.
But they should!
Let me tell you why.
When we seek to create more from an existing place of abundance and appreciation, we reach our goals more easily and quickly. I’m unsure why it works this way, but I’ve seen it repeatedly.
People whose default is “Gratitude” create more to be grateful for, and those whose default is to focus on problems create more problems to focus on.
This is an impossible and even cruel truth to share with someone dealing with hardship, but it’s true.
It’s also easier said than done.
But it can be done, and the best way to do it is through a practice that has become such a cliche: keeping a gratitude journal.
Cliches become popular because they are generally accurate.
I started noting the things I’m grateful for about 15 years ago when I heard Oprah advocate passionately for the benefits of this practice and share the shifts it creates in her own life.
Over the years, the format of my practice has evolved. Sometimes, I begin my day by writing in a stream-of-consciousness style in a journal. Sometimes, I write three things I’m grateful for at bedtime on one of the many blank index cards I keep beside my bed. Sometimes, I come to a dead stop during a trail run and yell my gratefulness out loud (this might be my kids’ least favorite behavior of mine).
But the mother of all gratitude practices is Service.
Find someone committed to serving another human being, a worthy cause, or a meaningful mission, and you will find someone naturally and easefully filled with gratitude.
Being in service is the wormhole to accessing radical gratitude.
You can’t raise money for the less fortunate and not be grateful for all you have. You can’t coach professionally and not be grateful for the formidable power of the human spirit. You can’t be committed to the continued existence of Jewish people (as I am) and not be grateful to live in a country that, however flawed, does not condone religious persecution.
Gratitude is also a cure for perfection.
A commitment to staying in gratitude at all costs turns us into people who appreciate what is rather than what should be. Perfectionism is not the friend that has us striving to do better. It’s the enemy that keeps us in a perpetual state of discontent.
This is why whole-hearted gratitude and perfection cannot occupy the same space in our hearts and minds. Because they are conflicting values, one has to go, and sadly, it’s usually gratitude. Instead, I’m asking you to evict perfection by turning gratitude into a practice.
Turning gratitude into a daily, often moment-by-moment, practice has changed me. It’s changed my physical chemistry. It’s changed who I have become.
I have my share of hardships like everyone else, but my experience of my life is that of ease (not easy) and a general sense of aliveness. I am primarily in appreciation and awe and sometimes briefly in complaint.
This life-enhancing reversal is what I help my clients create in their own lives.
You see, we have it upside down when focused on our problems.
Because if we are still breathing, seeing, tasting, walking, talking, laughing, and loving, we are astonishingly fortunate. And if we have a home, food, clean water, family, and friends, we are blessed beyond measure.
If everything is not going perfectly, it was never meant to. But focusing on our blessings can make those not-so-perfect things a sidenote rather than the story of our lives.
What will your story be this year?
It’s more in your hands than you know.