Skill 6: Gratefulness

Sometimes we don’t want to let ourselves feel happy because it feels like it’s giving up on something that we want. So that means we don’t let ourselves be grateful for the things we have.

Many of us live life like firefighters. We have an idea of what will make us happy, and we try to get everything perfectly in its place. If something goes wrong we spend most of our energy worrying about it or trying to fix it. As soon as that problem is resolved, another one seems to pop up and we jump on that one. We let these problems overshadow everything else that is going right in our lives, even though we were managing just fine without worrying about the current problem while we were fighting the one before it. If we can take a step back and take the time to appreciate the good things in our lives we can realize these problems are small fractions of the lives we are living. We still handle them, but they do not dominate our thoughts.

Pay Attention

Since week 4 you have been practicing maintaining awareness. Paying attention to how situations and interactions make you feel. Looking at the world around you and how the different pieces interact. Now turn that attention to your life and look at everything you have going for you. Honestly pay attention to your health and your friends. Notice all the food available to you at the grocery store, or the fact that you can get where you want to because there are roads for you to use. Don’t compare to what you think other people have in their lives. You really don’t know what’s going on there. Pay attention to what you have in yours.

Now take a moment to pay attention to the problems you are facing. How many of those fall under the category of “first world problems?” How much have you been thinking about how things would be OK if you just found that special someone? Or if you would just be able to find a better job? These are only small parts of your entire life, regardless of how big they seem. You are so much more and have so much more given to you every day. Pay attention to those things. Give them the time they deserve. Then go after your dreams with a clear mind. But don’t let the fact that you don’t have them yet dominate you.

In some situations it may feel like allowing ourselves to feel grateful and satisfied with our lives as they are means that we are giving up on the things we want. Pay attention to this feeling and don’t let this feeling mislead you. Being grateful and happy for the way things are right now doesn’t and shouldn’t mean you will stop trying to improve and go after your dreams. It simply means you are in a good spot right now, which gives you strength and confidence to go for your next step.

Happy & Fulfilled Doesn’t Mean No Problems

It is clear that some people who seem to have everything aren’t happy. And others who have almost nothing never stop smiling. Life is always changing and it will always include some type of challenge. Good things will come and go. So will bad things. The only thing we can do is pause in the joy of the good things when they happen and give them our attention and appreciation. Don’t take them for granted. Don’t ignore them because you’re on your way to a bigger prize. As you pay attention to more and more of the good things, you may find yourself a little less stressed. The bad things won’t affect you as easily.

When bad things happen know that they are only a small part of your life. Don’t reject them, but look at them for what they are. Use them as an occasion to test yourself against the challenge. There is always something to be gained from a challenge. Sometimes it’s a lesson to learn, other times it shows you new paths and possibilities.

What Do You Think You Deserve?

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor that has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. One key item she learned from her research is that the only defining difference between people who are happy and those who aren’t is that those who are happy believe they deserve to be. [1]

Most people would automatically say that they think they deserve happiness. But what does it really mean to deserve to be happy? It means you let yourself feel it. It means you no longer feel guilty for having a good time rather than taking care of some chore. It means that even if you feel eyes on you, you take advantage of the opportunity. It means you take care of yourself. It means you don’t let someone or a perception make you feel dumb for having a hobby or talking to someone different. It means you take the time to appreciate it when it happens.

Deserving to be happy doesn’t mean that you should automatically get everything that other people have. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be blissful every waking moment. And it doesn’t mean you’ve already accomplished everything you want to.

Deserving to be happy means that you have the same worth as everyone else. You get to seize opportunities when they come. You get to enjoy what you earn and work for.

It’s the Little Things

By now it should be clear there are many important pieces to your life. And the little things can go a long way. Just as it’s important to notice the little things, you can bring a great deal of joy and happiness to the world simply by doing little things. Being kind, letting someone go head, or holding the door for a stranger are all easy ways to add a little bit more.

Practice Suggestions

  • Call a good friend you haven’t talked to in a while
  • Do something nice for someone. It can be really small.
  • Having a good time? Relish in that feeling. Remember it.
  • Lift your chin – look up at the world when you’re walking around.
  • Pick one thing each day to take note of that you’re happy about. Think about why it makes you happy.
  • Smile at someone on the street.
  • Make a list of the things you are grateful for.
  • If something sucks, is it a blessing in disguise? How can you use it to your advantage?
  • Notice your health, recovery, friends, family, good weather, a relaxing morning, a car, warm water, someone let you in on the freeway…

Note: Some people slowly acquire the habit of feeling generally bad most of the time. When something good happens, it then seems wrong to feel happy. In those moments it’s important to grab ahold of the happiness. Know that you do get to feel happy and you’re going to enjoy it as long as you can. The feeling may pass, but that’s OK. Just pay attention and notice each happy moment. Know that you, like everyone else, get to experience these moments. Over time the bad habit will be broken.

[1] 2010 TEDx Houston: The Power of Vulnerability.

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