“Pass through this brief patch of time in harmony with nature, and come to your final resting place gracefully” — Marcus Aurelius
Yesterday at work, my boss Bruce was telling me how his friend passed away over the weekend. Bruce explained that on Tuesday his friend felt a little light headed, but didn’t think anything of it. By Thursday they found his friend passed on the floor and quickly rushed him to the emergency room. By Saturday evening he was dead. The doctors said it the most aggressive staph infection they have ever seen. In a little over a week, Bruce’s friend went from being healthy and alive, to being incapacitated by a rare disease. No One saw this coming.
Bruce wasn’t sad. No quite the contrary. Instead he was stoked out of his mind to be outside working. Bruce said in a very upbeat and chipper voice: “What world we live in. We are the lucky ones. We get to be outside, watering oak trees. We get to enjoy the nice view and preserve this ecosystem. Just think of how amazing these trees are going to look for our grandkids, and how other people are going to be able to enjoy these oaks because of the work we are doing today!”.
His words came at a precarious moment. While he was stoked to be out water trees. I was not. I was winded from carrying jugs of water up steep hills to water these pesky trees. I was sore and miserable. I was not thinking how lucky I was to be watering these damn trees. I was pondering why on earth I decided to be a biologist who restores oak trees. Being lucky was the last thing I would have called myself.
Bruce had a point though. We were lucky to be outside. We were lucky to be able to water these trees. We were both able bodied people. We were both able to enjoy the natural beauty around us. Bruce’s story and attitude painted a clear picture. It was time to be more grateful.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is being happy for what you presently have and where you currently are. It is finding reasons to smile with your present situation. It’s looking for the light in the darkness and finding reasons to be happy, no matter what your present state is. It’s essentially taking a look around you and thinking, wow that’s actually pretty nice. There are some nice things going on my life.
Gratitude is like most things in life where it’s easy if you practice it for a while but really hard to start. If you’re not used to taking in the good around you, then being grateful feels weird and pointless. You typically encounter a lot of internal resistance. You’re first thought is not “wow, I am so happy it was sunny today”. Instead it’s something like “The fact that it was sunny today isn’t going to get rid of my student loans. Who the fuck cares if it was sunny, I have more important things to-do than being happy for the sun shine”.
When you first start practicing gratitude, it feels like a monumental chore. Between the difficulty of finding stuff to actually be happy about and the constant thoughts of “this is pointless. Being grateful for small random things isn’t helpful. I’m tired of this hippy garbage”, it can be an overwhelming experience at first.
Fortunately practicing gratitude is easy and has loads of beneficial health effects! It makes you happier. It helps prevent depression, and it increases the outlook of your world view. Practicing gratitude will help you embrace each day and really notice the little moments of joy around it. It is the easiest way to having a more fulfilling life without any major life changes because you’re just noticing how awesome your current life is.
How to Practice Gratitude
1. Decide that you want to be grateful: The first step is always the hardest, and that couldn’t be more true than with gratitude. Practicing gratitude is really easy if you actually want to be grateful for the world around you. If you want to be grateful for the life you have, then it’s easy to incorporate this exercise.
If you want to be miserable however, then it’s really hard to find small joys to be grateful for. You just can’t be miserable and grateful. The two conflict. Therefore you have to decide. You have to make a conscious decision, and say to yourself “I want to be more grateful for what I have. I don’t care if I hate 95% of my life, you bet your bottom dollar, I’m going to be stoked for that 5% that’s going right!”.
2. Look for small things to grateful for: Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to be this monumental task. If you start small, and starting by being grateful over really small, inconspicuous details over your day if becomes an easy habit to build. It’s as easy as being grateful that you woke up and got to experience the day, or happy over a small detail of the day (like the sunshine or rain, or being able to talk to one of your friends). It could be being grateful you had a form of transportation to work, or excitement that you had to walk to the store and see more of your neighborhood.
3. Start small and work your way up: When you start to practice gratitude, you want to start small. Decide to find 1 thing out of your day to be grateful for. If that is to much, then decide to find 1 thing out of your week to be grateful for. However you do it, start small and work your way up. You don’t want to smother yourself with gratitude. Instead you want to slowly find little things to be grateful for. As you get good for finding 1 thing, then aim for 2 things. If you’re strong with 2 things, then aim for 3. Make sure to-go at a pace that it’s easy for you and makes you comfortable.
4. Pick a condition of when you will practice gratitude: Okay. This step is important and most people who write on this topic get it all wrong. Most people give generic advise like “pick the first 5 minutes of your morning to practice gratitude ( I’m looking at you miracle morning!) ” or “schedule 10 minutes to be grateful during your lunch break”. I don’t know about you all, but scheduling gratitude does not work for me and makes it seem like some monumental task. You know when I pick to be grateful? When I’m standing in line for the grocery store and bored, or when I’m waiting for my computer to turn on. For me, I decide to be grateful for 1 thing in my life when I have a few minutes of downtime. If I zone out, or am waiting for a meeting to start, or am scrolling through my phone, I decide to find 1 thing to be grateful for before moving onto my mindless activity.
If you are a person who knows you can schedule this in, then great. Decide that as you close your eyes at night, you are going to find 1 thing to grateful about. However, if you hate scheduling stuff as much as I do, then simply decide: If I get bored today or zone out, then I am going to find 1 thing to grateful for before doing whatever I was going to-do. If you practice gratitude this way, you’ll easily incorporate it into your life without needing to stick to some weird gratitude schedule.
5. Stay consistent, and restart the practice as many times as needed: Gratitude is not an all or nothing activity. It’s easy to keep practicing gratitude if you habitually form it into your life, but just because you miss a few days does not mean you stop forever. No. Instead, practice gratitude on a daily or weekly basis. If you miss a few days or a few weeks then no big deal. Start up again the next time it’s on your mind. The more you practice, the more you notice the beneficial effects. However, periodically practicing gratitude is still better than not practicing at all. I don’t care how many times you forget to be grateful. Pick one thing to be grateful for right now and start the practice again. Heck, choosing to practice gratitude when you realize you forgot to find something to be grateful can even be your condition of when you practice.
Gratitude is important. It helps us notice the things we have and really has the potential to turn our life around if we keep up with the practice. Gratitude has been shown to fight depression and I have noticed that it’s overall harder to be negative when you’re constantly finding stuff to be happier about. I encourage you all to start practicing gratitude today!
Find 1 thing to be grateful for right here and right now. It can be as small as being grateful that you can consciously choose to be grateful for something. It can be as morbid as being grateful you didn’t die of a staph infection this weekend. Just pick something to be grateful about today! If you really want to be adventurous, then try to incorporate gratitude into your life using the steps above.