We live in one of the richest countries in the world. Most of us – certainly if you’re reading this – have running water, a roof over our heads, cable television. We have every reason to be grateful. Yet, somehow, gratitude is illusive. Living in gratitude, everyday, no matter what, is a daunting challenge. And because we are used to living in such a relatively privileged condition, we so often forget. We even question why gratitude is so important. Even the most miserable and miserly and ungrateful among us are still living an okay existence, at least materially.
The argument for gratitude can be made by considering what life would be like without it.
It’s easy to become single-mindedly focused on the things we want to achieve. The raise we’re hoping for, the new job we’re pining after, the relationship we wish we were in, the home we want to someday own. We are a society that’s all about that – What do you do? What do you make? Where do you live? What do you drive? If we let it, these things can define us. But gratitude is the catalyst for setting events in motion to “get” these things. If we’re filled with grasping energy because we want the next thing so badly, we effectively cut ourselves off from the happiness that we’re hoping to access. What’s more, if you’re constantly reaching your bleeding discontent into your life as it is right now. So instead of sitting in dissatisfaction of where you are in your life right now, why not stop resisting and look for reasons to be thankful.
So far as we can tell, it was Carl Jung who first said, “What you resist persists.” It’s easily illustrated with the “don’t think of a pink elephant,” imperative. However, in context now: Take the example of overeating. If you promise yourself you are not going to open that box of cookies, no matter what. Those cookies will stay in the box until they go stale, rot, and turn into a chalky dust. Nobody’s going to get you to eat those cookies. Not nobody, not no how. If this is how you’re thinking about junk food, then junk food is top of mind all the time. And the likelihood of you dipping into that cookie box is much greater than, say, if you lived in gratitude. In this case, you could live in gratitude for your body. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, there’s merit to taking a moment and giving thanks for your healthy body, just as it is right now. You could give thanks for your legs, which carried you to and from work. You could give thanks to your heart for beating and your lungs for breathing, without you having to think about it. Giving thanks to your healthy body is not only important, it’s essential. When we’re thankful for where we are right now, we’re poised to change. Change begins with gratitude and acceptance of who and where we are right now.
In the case of the cookies, you can even give thanks for cookies. And, really, who wouldn’t? When you step into gratitude when it comes to cookies, you are more likely to be present for all the deliciousness in every bite. The way the chocolate melts in your mouth, the way the corn flakes crunch and get stuck in your molars, the way the marshmallow caramelized against the baking sheet. We’re really grateful for Momofuku Milk Bar’s corn-flake cookie. When you focus on every single bite, every bite will be that much more fulfilling, in your belly and in your mind.
If this is hard, think of one thing a day for which you can feel gratitude. If you don’t feel it just yet, just think it. You will start to feel it eventually. And feeling grateful will make life that much more enjoyable everyday.