Last year I got sick suddenly, nothing serious, but it was unexpected and hit me hard. I was healthy and joking around on a Monday and then ghastly sick by Tuesday morning. It took two trips to the doctor to begin to feel like a human being again. During that brief and thankfully curable illness, I had a recurrent thought that when I got better I would never complain about silly minor aches and pains again. You can imagine how well that went.
I got better, and then quickly forgot all about my promise to not complain. Why is that?
It seems we acclimate to the good things in life. Health, the latest techno gadget, a new job . . . these sought-after things lose their shine once we have them for awhile. The fancy psychological term for this is hedonic adaptation. After the newness wears off we accept these things as part of our everyday life. We lose our appreciation and awareness for the world around us over time.
At a recent mindfulness workshop the presenter shared an example of what I would call extreme gratitude. He used the example of being grateful for your non-toothache. You probably do not have a tooth ache today. Be grateful for your non-toothache. I don’t know about you but I am not at the level of gratitude practice where I can wake up and give thanks for not having a toothache. But it is a humbling thought to consider and it would be nice to stretch myself, because who knows? Knowing that it is possible to be grateful for an absence of physical suffering might help me to get there someday. Remembering my temporary illness last year helps me feel some level of gratitude today.
If you started working on developing a gratitude practice at the beginning of the month you might have noticed a shift in your attention by now. For me, there have been multiple times when an ordinary moment was elevated to special status.
I have collected three more empirically based exercises for us to continue to appreciate the good things in life.
Savoring Gratitude in a Joy Jar
Clear glass jar
During the holidays at some of the department stores the cashiers rang a bell when a customer made a charitable donation. Gratitude sometimes rings a bell inside my chest. It feels like joy. It is sometimes accompanied by goose bumps but that is not typical. Bell ringing or goose bump gratitude goes in the joy jar. Notice that awesome feeling when something special happens and take a moment to write a description on a sticky note and put it in a decorated glass jar. My plan is to review these moments in July to savor them all over again (I can’t wait until next January!)
A Week of “3 Good Things”
I sometimes call this routine “What Went Well and Why.”This simple week long exercise takes only five minutes per day and can produce long term effects on happiness. Every day for seven days choose three good things that happened to you and add a brief description of why you think it happened. For example today I got a back row spot in yoga, even though I was late.(score!) I think it happened because I have been friendly in the class and made a joke about having to sit in the front row. A classmate offered his spot out of kindness.
Extra Credit Exercise
The Gratitude Visit
The Gratitude visit is an activity developed by Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology. He is a psychologist, researcher, professor, author, . . . all around psychological superhero. He developed this assignment first for his students and it quickly became the most highly anticipated part of his curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania.
Take a moment to remember a living person who years ago did something or said something that positively changed your life. Picture the person’s face and access the good memory from your past. Write a paragraph (approximately 300 words) to specifically express your thankfulness to this person for what he/she did and how it affected your life. In your letter include what you are doing now in your life and how often you remember what this person did or said.
I hope this month has increased your awareness of the little and big things that bring you joy. Please stop by next month to consider ways to increase your connection in February!
Additional Reading to be Grateful for:
Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being by Martin Seligman (2011)