Those of you who may be new to this blog might be unaware that the “T” in the acronym SMART stands for thankful. I included it precisely because I know without a doubt that the practice of gratitude and thankfulness is essential to a happy, fulfilled and content life. At the same time I am also aware that just about every person I know and every blog I read with a focus on happiness, simple living and minimalism reports that a fundamental concept to the philosophy is appreciating what you have right now (in other words, “gratitude.”) What I find a bit surprising is that even though so many of us admit that it is important, something holds us back from the actual practice of it on a daily basis. Could it be possible that practicing thankfulness every day and making thanks living a habit, is the key to creating both a great minimalist lifestyle and a happy life?
I started asking this question after my post last week for my SMART Living 30-Day Gratitude Challenge. For this one month I am asking everyone to put a special focus on gratitude and I’m helping by linking gratitude posts from dozens of different blogs around the blogosphere about the subject. I figure that if we each read one every single day that will help us keep our awareness on this important practice. Then last week my post was “Fifty Things I’m Grateful For Today” where I also suggested that each of our readers (you!) make your own list. While the feedback from the post has been positive, what I’m not hearing is that everyone is taking the time or making the effort to create a list of their own. Why is that?
We’re busy—I get that. We’re stressed—I get that too. But if I were to ask any one of you if you wanted to feel more happy, less stress, and more appreciative of what’s in your life right now, how many of you would say no? With that in mind, I’ve decided there are three gratitude blocks that keep most of us from taking on this relatively easy yet effective technique to make their life more rewarding.
a) They don’t believe it’s that easy or helpful.
b) They don’t think they deserve to have a happy and content life.
c) They are afraid of how different their life would become if they actually loved their life right now.
So what do you think? Do any of these feel familiar? If not I’d like to hear other reasons in the comments below. But let’s assume that one of the above gratitude blocks is the reason you haven’t gotten started on this gratitude challenge. Just in case, I’m going to address each issue with some compelling motivations that might highlight why some of us don’t live gratitude as fully as we could.
Let’s address block #1 first. It’s possible that you’ve never read about the many benefits that practicing gratitude can add to your life. So here are several scientifically proven results you can expect:
a) You’ll feel significantly better about life as a whole and more optimistic about your future.
b) You’ll have fewer health complaints like colds or flu—along with a revved up immune system;
c) You will probably exercise more (nearly 1.5 hours per week);
d) You’ll sleep better and longer;
e) You’ll be less materialist—appreciating experiences and relationships rather than “stuff”;
f) You’ll have more connections to other people and the world around you;
g) You’ll be more alert, enthusiastic, determined, attentive and energetic;
h) You’ll be more likely to reach important personal goals;
i) You’ll be better able to stay in the present moment and focus on the good you are experiencing right now in spite of any difficulties you might be experiencing.
Anyone who reads this list can hardly say the benefits aren’t worth it. But is it easy? If you consider the amount of time required by all the studies, the investment is relatively easy in light of the overwhelming benefits. So what are you waiting for? Here is a link to a few practices to get you started.
So what about gratitude block #2? Do you really believe you deserve to have a happy and content life? While I’m sure there are many approaches to this question, several studies suggest that people who don’t feel deserving of good or happiness have the lowest self-esteem. Think about it—if you don’t feel good about yourself for many reasons, even if you agree that developing a gratitude habit would be beneficial—you won’t do it because you don’t believe you deserve the reward.
Another argument people use to support ideas of not being worthy of happiness is that they are afraid too much happiness or contentment will lead to a disaster. Some believe that as long as they don’t get too happy, or thankful, or content, they will never be pushed into a place where that gratitude is challenged. But thinking your life is better or safer because it is only mildly happy, is like locking yourself in a padded room and thinking that is a full life. Gratitude allows us to appreciate the moment in front of us no matter what. While it doesn’t keep challenges from happening, it does make us see those challenges in the best possible light. And that is a powerful tool to have no matter what.
The final gratitude block is fearing what our lives might become if we embraced the benefits of gratitude in every way. The truth is, if we embrace the fullness of gratitude in our every day lives, it will change. While most of us would say that is a good thing, it’s easy to imagine how such a change could turn some people’s lives upside-down. For example:
- You’d have to stop complaining about anything.
- You could no longer hold regular pity-parties for yourself.
- You’d have to stop worrying about having, being or doing enough.
- You’ll have to come up with new conversation topics.
- You’d have to stop comparing your life and circumstances to everyone else.
- You’d have to give up feeling righteous about your sacrifices.
- You’d have to stop being judgmental about other people and their actions.
- You’d have to give up being a martyr for fairness.
- You’d have to start appreciating the mystery of Life just as it is.
Okay, so I’ll admit that some of these could definitely shake up a person’s life. But again, remember the benefits and make your choice.
In case you are wondering where I came up with these three “gratitude blocks” it’s fairly simple—I found them in my own head. These are some of the things I’ve used in the past to not to live as fully grateful as I could. And because I’ve used them, chances are good, so have you. The big question is, do we want to let them hold us back?
Let’s face it, many of us have gotten used to our lives they way they are—good or bad. And many of us would rather keep things the way they are than change them, even for the better. Living every day filled with gratitude will change us, there’s no doubt about it. But many believe, me included, that it is worthy of the time, effort and focus to make it happen. Ultimately, if we want to live SMART for the next 365 days, today is the day to put gratitude to the test and just do it!
Bonus Video: I Look Where It Is Good by Alice Herz-Sommer