A few days ago, I spent the afternoon in a quaint mountain town with three of my friends. It was great. We went apple picking and then walked in and out of a few of the unique shops. A wooden sign in one of these shops caught my attention. It said “someone else is happy with less than what you have.” My first observation was the irony that the shop owners are trying to sell something that says buying things will not make you happy. My win is that I gave this sign a bit more thought and let the message sink in. Instead of walking around the store and making a mental wish list of all of the items I want, I took a moment to think about all that I have to be grateful for, both material and otherwise (all of the cliché stuff crossed my mind…family, friends, health, etc.). Interestingly, taking a moment to focus on things that I often take for granted immediately made me feel calm and content.
That feeling led me to think about how powerful this statement can be. Nothing earth-shattering, it’s just a simple reminder to be grateful. This reminder to appreciate our lives, despite the imperfections, is something that we can’t hear often enough. For example, rather than complain about the seemingly constant supply of dust coating the floors of my house, I should be grateful that I have a house to clean. Rather than dreading doing laundry, I should appreciate that I have clothes to wash and running water with which to wash them.
Beyond the material things, this sign also made me think about bigger picture of want verse contentment. How is it that some people are never satisfied while others are genuinely happy even in difficult situations? More importantly, how do we shift our perspectives to be more like the latter group? My guess is that it takes practice and conscious effort. With that in mind, I began brainstorming some ways to get in the habit of gratitude. A few of the ideas that crossed my mind were:
- Set a daily alarm and spend a moment each time it goes off thinking of something you appreciate
- Begin keeping a gratitude journal and add at least one thing each night before bed
- Create a gratitude calendar adding to it each day and recalling what you’ve added on this date in years past. If you begin it today, next October 9th you can see what you wrote today and then add a new item below it. October 9th 2015 you’d read two lines of history and add a third, and so on. The calendar wouldn’t need to be elaborate. It could be as simple as 365 index cards each marked with a month and day, or a notebook with each page dated with month and day.
I think my favorite is the calendar because it allows us to remember people or experiences that have made us happy in the past as well as appreciate those that do in the present. If you’ve got other suggestions please let me know.