Happiness, Mindfulness

The Happiness Catch-22: The Best Way to Appreciate Something You Have…. is to Not Have it

How can I be grateful on a regular basis when everything in our life is totally fine?

Think about when you were sick, or hungover and you thought: oh just to feel healthy again, it’ll be amazing! Or if you’re a runner and you injure your leg and suddenly feel this overwhelming nostalgia for those days, wild and free, running through the hills. Once I’m back running, you think, I’ll be in a total state of bliss-y joy.

And then you get better. And then your leg doesn’t hurt. And we go back to our normal lives, and suddenly your focus is on the bus that arrives late, or your shirt shrunk in the wash. And that feeling of appreciation for working lungs, a helpful colleague, or your kickass blender quietly fades in to the background.

This example is magnified exponentially for those who experience considerable loss: recovering from cancer, losing a loved one or coming back from war overseas. For these people, suddenly the fact that we’re able to do everyday tasks like drive to a store and buy fresh food is an absolute miracle. To some it feels like a gift from the heavens to have a warm bed to sleep in, or having friends and family nearby.  How can we, the lucky folks that simply call this the daily grind, harness this same level of appreciation for what we consider an average day?

This is what I consider a catch 22: to be most grateful for what you have, is to not have it.

I remember hitting a deer on a highway during a weekend ski trip with a friend. It was terrifying and saddening to see my beloved car smashed up, as well as killing a beautiful animal. But within 10 minutes or so, I felt this wave of gratitude pour over me. It feels weird to say but I almost felt happier and more grateful after the accident than I would have if I hadn’t hit the deer. “We’re safe and unharmed, and that’s all that matters. Cars can be fixed. If someone else with a smaller car had hit the deer differently it could’ve been much worse!” Weirdly I actually appreciated the incident, as it jolted my perspective on how ridiculously lucky I am to, well, not in be impaled by a deer hoof.

It all makes me wonder if it’s inherently human nature to focus on the 1% of things that went wrong in a day, rather than the 99% of things that went right. How can I feel grateful that a Richter-scale tilting earthquake didn’t in fact cause devastating destruction in my city today? Or that my phone did all the amazing things it does without exploding? Just look at statements like “Make America Great Again” that suggest life in a 1st world country isn’t already great, relatively speaking.

Without any kind of triggers in your daily life, it’s hard to remember to think: ‘wow, I’m sure thankful this burger I’m eating isn’t poisonous,’ or ‘sure glad I live in a time when I can do all my Christmas shopping without having to put on pants.’

I don’t claim to have the perfect solution, but here’s a couple ideas I can think of that work me.

Daily Gratitude Journal

Many habit bloggers say that a daily gratitude journal (there is definitely an app for that) is an excellent means of generating appreciation for all the good stuff that happened in what may have otherwise seemed a normal, uneventful day. What I like most about the journal is that even after a few days, you’ve used up the obvious ones so you have to get creative. Like “I’m glad for this period of time where they’re actually making good Star Wars movies again,” or “I’m grateful I live in a time when Mexican restaurants are locally plentiful, for I love burritos.”

The Red Light

You could try my Red Light Theory, where each red light you come to (driving, walking, biking, whatever) is the signal for you to think of something you’re grateful for at this very moment. I like it because the idea of “just be more grateful!” fizzles out really quickly without any built-in daily reminder.

Gratitude for our Stuff

Or the Marie Kondo method which I’ve written about before. She says we should give thanks to our stuff. When you arrive home and stick your coat in the closet, give a silent thank you for keeping you warm all day. Or for your microwave that miraculously heats up lasagna leftovers in 2 freaking minutes.

Don’t Forget about 1000 Awesome Things

I loved this website by Neil Pasricha. Every day he posted a new ‘awesome thing’ such as wearing clothes right out of the dryer, and the satisfaction of a good sneeze.   I think someone should take on this legacy and continue the list indefinitely, for the happiness benefit of mankind.

Any other ways to set gratitude reminders? I’d say there must be an app for this…but I think the last thing we need is another app. It’d just be another *ding* reminder on top of the countless you receive *ding* already. Well for now, maybe be grateful about not having a gratitude app.

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