Monday, October 19, 2015

5 Ways to Practice Appreciation

by Geraud Staton

There are hundreds, if not thousands of lists out there about what you should do to be happy. Sometimes, the list is 10 items long. Sometimes it's 15. Sometimes it's 7. Sometimes it's only 3. And nearly every one of them has at least this one item in common:

Appreciate what you have.

Some of us think that we do just that. We love our car when it's raining and we don't have to walk. We love our spouse when he or she does something amazing for us. But that isn't enough.

1. Remember that nothing lasts forever.
There are a couple of reasons people don't appreciate their health, their spouse, their financial situation or the origami bird that your son gave you. The first is that you believe that what you have will be there forever.

Go find a 70 year old and ask her how much she misses her knees. Then, go ask a 40 year old. You may get the same answer! When I was younger I could run and jump and not care about anything. I assumed I would always be healthy and when I got to a point that I needed to do something about it I would. But that time creeps up on you. You don't often get warning. One day I was jumping over the second floor balcony and rolling onto the ground below. Today, if I have to step down off of a two foot drop I cringe at how much it's going to hurt or how ungraceful I'm going to look. Knees: gone.

Your beautiful car will get a dent or a scratch. Your wife will wonder why you don't tell her you love her. Your friend will get a job in another state. Your job will have layoffs or get sold to some larger firm. Someone you love will die.

Before those things happen. Take the time to enjoy them while you've got them!

2. Truly observe those things around you.
Look around you. No matter where you happen to be, you are surrounded by stuff. If you're lucky, a lot of that stuff is yours. Pick a random item. Maybe it'd your old laptop. Maybe the sweater you're wearing. Or is it a pair of shoes that you just recently purchased.

How does it make you feel? How did you feel the first time you used it? Was it a gift? Is there some way you can improve it, such as cleaning or organizing it, ironing or polishing it?

What about something that DOESN'T belong to you. Look at the city street you're on. Or the field. Or the window of your office. There are things out there that have benefited you. The trees outside your window supported the life of you and all your loved ones. The streets of the city got you to where you needed to go and support so many events and businesses that you use regularly.

Pay attention to the world around you and notice the positive things. The city may be dirty today, but just as there are always negatives there are also always positives. You just have to chose what to concentrate on.

3. Keep a gratitude journal.
Yes. Like you, I used to keep a journal. I recently went back and looked at it. If I didn't know who those journals belonged to and I had to describe the owner, I would have said something like this:

"This is a guy who hates everything. His friends are shit. His lover is unreasonable. He has the worst luck on the planet. But also, nothing he's written about is that bad, so that probably means he's a whiner that sits on a rock looking into his empty hands like Gollum and wondering why everyone was out to get him. Also, note to self: do not invite that guy to your party."

It's time to cut out the whining. Especially to yourself. Want some evidence:
There was a study done by psychologists Robert Emmons, Ph.D. and Michael McCollough, Ph.D. Their study was called Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. The results have been sited as proof in talks, papers and scientific studies on emotion to this day. In the study, the two had people keep either a weekly or daily journal. The participants were put into three groups. One group kept track of positive events, one group tracked hassles, while the other tracked neutral events. At the end of the 10 week study the scientists found that those that kept a positive journal reported fewer health issues and exercised more. They felt more joyful and energetic. According to the study, the positive journal writers were 25% happier. The results for the daily journals were even more pronounced!

You can purchase the actual study here:

Keep a gratitude journal. Even if it's only a sentence or two. It will help you focus on the things that are positive in your life.

4. Don't compare yourself to others.
We tend to operate using the fallacy of association. This just means that you assume that, because A is a B, and that A is also a C, than B must always be C. It's like saying:

A: "My friend Joseph..."
B: " Asian..."
C: "...and loves milk."

Thus, Asian's love milk!

This sort of thinking could be said to be the base of all racist, classist or ageist thoughts since the dawn of time. But it's also one of the main reasons we dislike ourselves. We associate a lot of things to a single trait, and usually one we don't have.

"Sally is incredibly fit and has so many friends. I could never get a figure like hers (and thus, I will never have her kinds of friends)."

"Dave makes so much money, and he and his family go on so many adventures. I don't make that much (and thus, I will never ever ever be able to go on those kinds of adventures)."

Usually, we don't even stop there. Sally is fit and has friends and goes on adventures and has a nice car. You are not that fit...and then the list of things that are crappy about your life start to fill your head. And the truth is, some of the comparisons aren't even true! Sally doesn't have a nice car. You might actually prefer your car to hers. But you want a new one because yours is making a weird rattle. So, you give her car an instant mental upgrade. Comparing yourself to Sally has made you feel like crap. But it also have taken away your hope. You have no intention of getting that fit. None at all. So, you are resigned to not have any of the other things that you perceive fitness gives.

Leave Sally and Dave out of your daily comparisons. You'll be much happier for it.

5. Compare yourself to others.
Ok, there is a caveat. Compare yourself to the right people. Maybe you DO want to get into great shape. If that's the case, perhaps Sally becomes your measuring stick. This is especially useful when you aren't close associates. You don't want to be comparing yourself to close friends constantly. That breeds envy and a sometimes unhealthy level of competition.

But, if Sally works across the hall, you can use her for inspiration! Or, you could use people further outside of your circle. Want to be as financially successful as Richard Branson? Go find out what he did. Want to be charming like George Clooney? Find out ways to become more charming. These people can be used as examples for you.

Just remember, one things doesn't necessarily lead to another. If you want wealth like Branson, then go for it. But don't think that it takes that sort of wealth in order to have a family like Branson's. Those are two different things!

Are you appreciative? What could we do to be better at it?

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