Happy New Year, everyone!
During the month of December, I wrote a lot about the process of end-of-year reflecting. I talked about digging deep into the year’s experiences to evaluate our best and worst moments. I also wrote about using those reflections to plan for the next year. During the holidays, a common theme cycled through my mind. Gratitude. I felt a strong and sincere appreciation for all I had seen and done in 2014. There were big milestones and life realizations and chapters that opened and closed. There was a career awakening. There was independence. There was an engagement. And at the end of it all, I felt a sense of emotional growth and true peace with myself. That led to more thinking. I thought about the meaning of gratitude, why it suddenly was rushing through me at this time in my life and why I hadn't consciously given thanks on a regular basis. And all that turned into HSL on gratitude.
“Being grateful” can suggest that people should be content with what they have, which is in direct conflict with capitalism and our nature to want more. We don’t usually stop to think about right now – about the good enough – about what exists today – because we’re working toward something better for tomorrow. We want to lose weight, make more money, buy the dream house…the want is constant. Its human nature and increasingly amplified by society. What we see in the media creates an unnatural desire for perfection. Unrealistic scenes of model-esque millionaires living luxurious lifestyles seem to be today's norm. This "norm" contributes to our cyclical need to attain more. And most of the time that cycle continues and is never enough. This morphed view of beauty, power, self worth, etc. is not reality or normalcy. So when it comes to gratitude, we have to center ourselves back to a place of satisfaction with who and where we are now. I believe it is important for our mental and emotional wellness to remind ourselves of the positives in our present. Because you can't be grateful for something you don't have yet. Thinking this way will naturally induce gratitude for something in your current situation.
Another point. If someone tells you to “be grateful for what you have," you might force a smile and say “you are right, I’m lucky to have a roof over my head,” without really embodying the meaning of that statement. While in retrospect it seems selfish to gloss over gratitude, we've all been at a place where we're not quite where we want to be in life. So we humor the person without letting the sentiment sink in, and go on with our relentless pursuit of excellence. I’m not saying our future goals and aspirations are turning us into ungrateful wrecks. What I AM saying is that we should stick to our own realities. The next time someone talks to you about appreciation of the "little things," you might stop to actually consider the good things in your life. Not someone else's life. Gratitude can only come through an analysis of our own existence without comparison to lives of others.
And by the way, it doesn't help to be forced to be grateful. Just because the overly commercialized holiday of Thanksgiving forces us to take pictures of our gluttonous plates of food and tag #thankful on Instagram, doesn't mean we really get it. I’ve realized that gratitude is most meaningful when it comes from within. One must be ready and willing to identify the current areas in life that deserve acknowledgement. Gratitude should be a natural thought process of humility balanced with success and ambition. It might not happen at the snap of your fingers, but over time and when you truly accept your authentic place in this world, it will happen. Perhaps this is why my senses were heightened to these feelings after a whirlwind year. I was ready.
What does all of this come back to? Mindfulness, of course. In addition to breathing and training our minds to be focused on the present for the benefits of stress reduction or happiness, we can also train our minds to practice gratitude in the present moment. This post is not me TELLING you to be grateful, because that's annoying and contradictory to my entire point. I'm SUGGESTING a way to practice gratitude by wrapping your mind around the present. Each day, when you wake up or right after you meditate, think of one thing you are grateful for in this life, instead of what you haven't done or don't have. If it seems superficial and forced, try again the next day, or the next week - until you can develop a rhythm of mindful gratitude.
So to come full circle, today I’m grateful for the smaller moments that came and went in between family, friends and self growth in 2014. A few snapshots...