Tiny Practice. Big Impact.
I love this season for many reasons, the best of which is the feeling of basking in gratitude, giving, and reflection.
I am a generally content and grateful person with a predisposition toward optimism, but notice that when I intentionally cultivate an appreciative mindset, my access to joy and positivity SOARS!
But it’s more than that.
Cultivating an appreciative mindset can help you be a better listener, develop empathy, solve problems with greater ease, and be more generous.
It also might help you sleep better, have more energy and focus, collaborate better with others, and have a more balanced perspective which leads to a broad-mindedness that can help you build mutually beneficial relationships.
These are all improvements that I have noticed for myself as I deepen my commitment to cultivating gratitude.
You might be a person who already has an appreciative mindset or a gratitude practice. If so, let’s jump on that positivity train together!
Or, you might be thinking, “here we go again…more talk about gratitude!” If that’s the case, bear with me, and know that many of the people I love the very most are naturally cautious, cynical and might even be described as pessimistic or suspicious. I can appreciate these qualities deeply because I appreciate the way a sharply discerning mind can help me see a bigger picture and avoid suffering “pollyanna syndrome.”
That said, I’ve been experimenting with purposeful gratitude for many years, and I stand by the idea that cultivating an appreciative mindset has profound positive impacts that are well worth the risk of sometimes being “pollyanna-ish.”
The bottom line is that training my brain to be grateful gives me an advantage.
- It means I can learn from all of my experiences, good and bad.
- It means I can develop empathy for people who I don’t know and who appear to have very different values than mine.
- It means I can find my way to seeing the bigger picture, even when my brain wants to fixate on what is immediate.
But, gratitude is a muscle, and we must exercise it regularly for it to become strong.
Here are four levels of gratitude that I encourage you to bring into your life and cultivate daily:
1. Appreciation for the little things.
- There are so many tiny blessings all around us. Right now, I’m sitting in a comfortable chair with the sun streaming through the window. I have a cozy blanket and good light. I have a cup of tea next to me and a working computer on my lap. (I could go on.)
I don’t take these things for granted. I know very well that these are privileges and that they are temporary. It is for this very reason that I pause and soak in the goodness.
2. Appreciation for the big things.
What is big and what is small? That’s not for me to say. But I begin my practice by taking stock of the things around me, and then move my attention to things like…
- Being thankful that I am healthy and pain free, and have access to quality care when I need it.
- Being deeply grateful that I have a loving family, and that we are close and truly enjoy being together.
- Being profoundly appreciative for my larger community of friends, co-workers and clients. The list goes on and on.
Number 3 is where things get really interesting.
3. Appreciation in the face of ambivalence.
- Relationships are fraught with ambivalence. We always have to make trade-offs, and these can be hard. For example, last night I was feeling annoyed because my son was late coming home. On the other hand, I was happy that he was out surfing and enjoying the gorgeous sunny day, and I was so thankful that he is a person who takes action and lives a full life!
- There is always an up-side. I love being able to put things in perspective and choose gratitude. Truthfully, there was no urgency for my son to return from surfing. Eliminating my annoyance in the moment helped ME enjoy the day more fully too. When he returned, I was excited to see him.
4. Appreciation for (even) the hardest situations.
Life can be challenging. We all know that.
- There are people who make things hard on us.
- There are unfair dynamics that persist.
- There are acts of violence that don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason.
Sometimes, it all just feels like too much to bear. These are the hardest things to address, but I find that even with these complexities, when I pause to think about what I am learning or how I might be able to help, it serves me well. These proactive thoughts position me to keep my head above water so that I can be part of the solution, rather than sink with the ship.
Let me give you a workplace example of appreciating the tough times. I had a manager who seemed to take pleasure in making my job difficult. Every day was a test. He was masterful at finding every little thing I was doing wrong, but gave me no guidance for how to correct my mistakes (among other things). I came to wonder whether he hated me, or hated women in general, or was simply oblivious to the impact of his actions.
I stayed in that situation for almost 18 months before quitting. Sitting outside my little apartment after the fact, I felt a mix of emotions. I was anxious about being unemployed, and ashamed that it had come to that. But I was also FREE and had learned a very important lesson: I never again wanted to work for a person like that, and I would do anything to ensure I never had to!
Now it’s your turn for gratitude practice. Actively appreciate a little or big thing, something seemingly ambivalent or real challenge. What did you learn or how have you improved as a result? Please share you story!
With the end-of-year and holiday season ahead, I encourage you to take time for appreciation and gratitude. Review the goodness in your life. Cultivate a bigger perspective, and share your joy with others! Doing so makes the world a better place.
(Thanks to Paulina Nikolova for the artwork. Atoms are tiny, with a big impact!)