Learning to Appreciate Life
Expressing gratitude is important to our well-being. Unless we accept and appreciate what comes to us in life, we will never receive the benefits of contentment and happiness. Authorities on the benefits of gratitude encourage us to consider how recognizing what we have, versus what we think we need and want, can change everything.
I don’t know about you, but in general, there wasn’t a lot of joy in my early life, and little gratitude. Because of my family’s expectations, I learned to work and focus on accomplishing things, as that was how I received reinforcement from my parents and teachers.
My father brought in a good living. But my family almost never expressed gratitude, except for a standardized “grace” said at dinner time. So I didn’t receive much training on being appreciative of life.
I became a doer, but never really stopped to enjoy the journey. I finished one task, and automatically went on to the next thing. I never celebrated my accomplishments, or thought of being grateful for my many opportunities. Sometimes, I spontaneously felt good about something I had competed; but other times, I had difficulty remembering what were my accomplishments.
During my early career, much of my professional work was interesting, but I was never passionate about it. I spent time complaining about my job and the people I worked for.
I became tired of this bland existence, and decided to follow a more spiritual path. Unfortunately, I took the old attitudes with me. So rather than only focus on doing my job, take care of the family, and fix things at home, I was now regularly attended spiritual classes and read spiritual books. Now I had more things to do.
Tools for Growing Gratitude
In the last few years I have tried to be aware of my tendency to focus on just doing. And instead I take time to adjust my attitudes and appreciate my life, and accomplishments. My wife has been helpful by saying, “Enjoy yourself,” when I begin to do something. This helped me to be aware of my mind-set. Consequently, I am taking time to appreciate my life, and am enjoying it more.
Another tool, which has been very useful in raising our awareness, is Mary Jane Ryan’s book Attitudes of Gratitude. This book showed us the power of positive thinking and expressing gratitude for what is in our life. This is opposed to concentrating on what we believe is missing, or what we are being deprived of. And this book helped me to focus my attention on things I enjoy, rather than focus on what I’m not able to do, or what I don’t own.
Enough is Enough
Mary Jane notes gratitude causes us to feel we have enough. Whereas, ingratitude leaves us feeling deprived. We are always looking for something else. If we are grateful, we feel full, complete and adequate. We sense we have everything we need and deserve. Consequently, we approach the world with a personal sense of value. She states:
“Gratitude makes us feel good because it helps us widen our frame of vision. Under depression and stress, we can develop tunnel vision, seeing only the problem, that difficulty. Addictions of all sorts come from a sense of deprivation, a feeling of lack that the user believes can be filled with substance or activity, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, shopping, sex, or food. Caught up in lack, we feed the need but never feel truly satisfied because of course our substance of choice can’t fill the lack. Consequently we continue to want more, more, more.”
Mental Blocks to Gratitude
Ms. Ryan notes two significant blocks to the development of gratitude. These include anger and resentment, and expectations. She says:
“Nothing blocks feelings of gratitude more than anger and resentment. That’s why the practice of gratitude requires the work of forgiveness. …. Trying to force ourselves to feel grateful when such strong negative feelings exist only compounds the injury. .… For only forgiveness can move us out of the victim stance and free us to move on. Depending on the kind of wound suffered, this may require deep psychological and spiritual work.”
As far as expectations are concerned, she says they make us blind, so we can’t even see the true blessings of our lives. She states:
“Expectations are the killers of gratitude and joy. … Having hopes, dreams, and visions for the future are one thing; it’s important to have goals and schemes pulling us into the future. But we need to be careful that such envisioning doesn’t get in the way of appreciating the things we have in the here and now. Let’s not miss the beauty of our actual lives while we’re lusting after a mythical perfect life. If we expect someone or something outside ourselves to make us happy, we lose our power.”
According to Ms. Ryan, expressing gratitude is important to our well-being. Unless we accept and appreciate what comes to us in life, we will never receive the benefits of contentment and happiness. She encourages us to consider how recognizing what we have, versus what we think we need and want can change everything.
If we take time to express gratitude for what we already have, it fills us on an emotional and spiritual level so we no longer hungry for something else. One of the greatest gifts of gratitude is getting us off the consuming treadmill – where we find we are doing more or having more, and enjoying it less.
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