“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault
The dictionary doesn’t make much of a distinction between “contentment” and “happiness,” but we think the difference is obvious.
To us, happiness is a feeling of euphoria or joy that is wonderful to achieve, but not possible to maintain all the time. However, it is possible to be content, meaning you’re satisfied with the way things are going for you, even if you’re not over-the-moon giddy at any given moment.
Of course, most of us would rather live in a state of constant happiness than simply being content with our lives. But there are many among us who would love to be able to move from a state of depression, anxiety, anger or frustration to contentment.
We’re not here to claim that achieving that goal is easy – for some people, it’s definitely not. Regardless of whether it’s caused by an illness or health issue, family history, personality challenges, or medication, drugs or alcohol, depression is a serious medical condition that needs specific, targeted treatment. Those who experience it need our love, support and encouragement to get through it and emerge safely on the other side.
But for others, a large factor in whether we achieve a state of contentment and times of happiness centers around our attitude. Which is why, as we head into Thanksgiving week, we want to spend a few minutes discussing gratitude.
First off, what is gratitude? The dictionary defines it as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Not bad. So how do we make this an intrinsic part of our daily life?
According to Mark Pettit, a time management and business coach at Lucemi Consulting, “An attitude of gratitude means creating a conscious mindset and habit to be thankful, and express appreciation for, every aspect of your life, both big and small. ... When you have a gratitude mindset, you feel more confident, positive, optimistic, happy and joyful about the things you have, and the people that matter most.” (https://thriveglobal.com/stories/5-ways-to-cultivate-an-attitude-of-gratitude/)
OK, you may be saying to yourself, that sounds great, but how do I actually DO it? Mr. Pettit offers five ways to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude:”
1. Choose to focus on appreciation.Isn’t it amazing how surprised people are when you express gratitude? (And what does that say about the current state of our society?) The next time you’re about to leave your favorite coffee shop, restaurant or retail store, try going up to the barista, server and/or manager and telling them how much you appreciate the great service they provided. Watch their eyes get wider and a smile spread across their face as this expression of gratitude hits them out of the blue.
Now imagine yourself expressing your appreciation to others in your life – your spouse, your coworkers, your children, your parents, your neighbors, etc. – not just once, on days like Thanksgiving, but frequently. It’s easy to see how much more positive our world would be if we chose to focus on the good things in life instead of the bad.
2. Choose three things to be grateful for every day.Counting your blessings isn’t just reserved for Thanksgiving. Whether you write them down in a notebook or on a Post-It note, or sit with loved ones and say them out loud to one another, the important thing is to be intentional about stopping and acknowledging the things you’re grateful for, even – and maybe especially – when you’ve had a bad day.
They could be small things like a warm shower in the morning or your favorite hot beverage on a cold day. They could be things you take for granted, like the safety of loved ones as they commute to and from work, or the sunshine – even when the wind is howling outside. Whatever they are, take time to notice and appreciate them.
Mr. Pettit says, “The repeated process of expressing gratitude every day is what matters most. This might seem strange or difficult at first, but you’ll notice after a few days and weeks it gets easier to identify and express gratitude for those three things you’re grateful for.”
3. Surround yourself with grateful people.This one is obvious, but it may be one of the most difficult to achieve. It’s true that we don’t always get to distance ourselves from negative family members or coworkers, but most of us do get to decide how to spend our time and who to spend it with (another reason to be grateful). Gradually, over time, weed out the negative people in your life and hang out with ones who boost your positivity. Then send them a note of gratitude for the impact they have on you.
4. Be intentional in the present.Only we get to decide how we want to feel at any given moment. While it’s true that outside influences can shape our attitude, the degree to which they do is up to us. Instead of spending time thinking about what you don’t have or haven’t achieved so far in life, stop and take stock of what you do have and what you have been able to do. If it’s not enough to shake loose a sense of gratitude, try a guided meditation app like Headspace or Calm, which have short exercises to help you step out of damaging emotions when they arise and keep them from overwhelming you.
5. Change your thinking.For some people, this can be the most difficult part. It can mean overcoming lifelong habits of dwelling on the negative. But the effort it takes to make that change is worth it, and if there’s anything we should have learned in the past 18 months, it’s that life is short and death is final. None of us want to look back and think “If only I had known it was the last time I would see them, I’d have told them ...”
As we prepare to sit down and reflect on what we’re thankful for this week, our greatest hope is that more of us can find a way to make gratitude a regular part of our daily lives.
Start by thanking the cook who prepares your meal and those you’re with for sharing their lives with you. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the response you get in return. (And if you already do this, thank you. We’re grateful for you!)
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!