Everyone wants to live a more fulfilling life.
Think of all the books that have become best sellers due to our desire to make our life more meaningful. There’s “The Purpose Driven Life,” “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “The Power of Positive Thinking,” “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential,” and many, many more.
Barnes & Noble even has a “self-help” section due to the popularity of these books. This begs the question: Why do we have such an appetite for books on how to improve our lives?
We live in the richest, most comfortable time period in the history of society. We live longer than ever before and have access to amenities that 100 years ago people didn’t even know existed. Even with all these advances, though, there are still so many people who live unhappy, unfilled lives. If that sounds like you or someone who you care about, one thing that you can work on starting today to live a more fulfilling life is gratitude.
When people think of things that they want to feel more commonly in their lives, the answer usually isn’t gratitude. If “Family Feud” were to survey 100 Americans on what emotion that they want more of in their lives, the answers would probably be happiness, peace, joy, calm — these are the emotions that we want to cultivate. While it might be overlooked, gratitude is often a precursor for those emotions that we so often prioritize over it.
David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic monk from Austria, put it perhaps best when he said, “It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
You see, we don’t just all of the sudden become joyful or happy. Instead, those emotions are the product of us practicing lives of gratitude.
So what makes gratitude so hard? After all, if we live in the most affluent time period in history and have access to so many things that you would think would bring us joy, why do so many of us experience a void of gratitude?
Well, one thing that kills gratitude is comparison, and that is something that we so often find ourselves doing. It can be really hard to be grateful for my vacation to the beach when the Jones’ just got back from Hawaii. We will never life lives full of gratitude if we are comparing the quality of our life to those around us, because there will always be someone one upping us.
A second reason we don’t feel grateful is because we often don’t cultivate a life of feeling grateful during the ordinary moments. Most of us know that we are supposed to feel grateful for the big moments. You are supposed to feel grateful when you get the new truck, the new house, get a big promotion or go on an awesome vacation. But do we practice feeling grateful during the day-to-day, 9-to-5 moments of our lives?
If gratefulness is so important, how can we begin incorporating it more into our lives?
We must be intentional to slow down and make ourselves think about the things that we are grateful for. Start a gratefulness journal where every day you jot down something that you are thankful for. Or, set an alarm for a specific time each day to remind yourself to stop and think of two or three specific things that you are grateful for. If you think that your child takes things for granted, have a time as a family where you stop and state one thing that you are grateful for. You could do this before dinner or before you go to bed.
The key is to be intentional to practice being grateful. As you do, see how gratefulness leads to joyfulness.
•Mischa McCray is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Send questions or topics you’d like him to discuss to firstname.lastname@example.org.