This is a quick one on the importance of practising gratitude.
I’m not going to deny the fact that I’m a miserable bastard. I’m prone to feeling sorry for myself and believing life keeps throwing shit cards at me; every time I overcome one hurdle I’m already tripping over another. I know there are a lot of people who think like this. Those of us who have, unfortunately, been a little on the rapidly deteriorating side of mental health are very familiar with it. It’s helplessness, it’s pessimism (that we like to call realism because, let’s face it, we live in a shit world and things are more than likely going to go wrong more often than not – that’s just the way life is), it’s feeling oh-so tired of all the bullshit because when will it end? When will I get my walk in the park, when will I get my rainbows and butterflies? When will life slow down for me, when will I finally catch a break?
It feels like a storm and it’s never ending; sometimes I would have a fleeting burst of happiness and joy, and I’d clasp my hands around it in a desperate attempt to hold it close to me before it disappears forever, but it always flies away just as fast as it came. So I’ve learnt to not hold on; I let it come and go as it pleases. I don’t force it to remain, because the little happiness I do get I want to remain genuine, and I hope that it chooses to stay longer and longer. If I’m happy, I feel it. If I’m sad, I feel it. I don’t pretend it’s something else.
In amongst all the bullshit, though, there are ways to find something closer to happiness. Just like you can think your way into a bad mood, you can also think your way into a semi-good mood. One of the most effective ways of doing this is through gratitude. As a species, we are never happy with what we have and we’re always looking for more; consequently, we’re always dissatisfied. But stopping to really absorb the good that you do have does wonders.
No matter how low you feel, there are always things to be grateful for. I want to make it clear, however, I am never someone to say ‘you should be grateful because somebody else always has it worse.’ I don’t believe that, because all pain is subjective. When I talk about gratitude, about your own life, about finding things to be happy about, it is never ever in comparison to anybody else. Your life and your hardships have nothing to do with anybody else; there is no such thing as ‘be happy; someone else’s life is more shit than yours.’ Not only is that insulting to the other person, it does nothing to help you. Another person’s suffering does not negate your own. Not only do you still feel horrible, you now also feel guilty for feeling horrible. Yes, there are people starving to death, but that doesn’t make your pain any less valid, no matter what it’s about.
I digress. Let’s think of gratitude as a source of light in your life.
Imagine this. Over you is a dome. Around you is pitch black, you can barely see a thing. Above you, in that dome, is a tiny little glimmer of light; it doesn’t give you much to work with, but it shows you there’s something bright beyond what you’re locked in. Now, you can sit down and let it be. You can sleep when the glimmer disappears and wake up when the glimmer reappears and you can go on and on and on like that for the rest of your life until you die, being guided by that tiny little shred of light and just accepting that that’s all it is. You can be happy having that glimmer just guiding you, telling you when to sleep and when to wake up. Or you can decide you want to see what’s beyond the dome of despondency; you can chip away at the crack, you can believe that there is more for you. The more you look for them, the more these little cracks start to form in the shell that keeps you encased in darkness, and it’s up to you to open it up to more.
I know it’s hard. Sometimes you want to believe there’s more, but you can’t. Sometimes you don’t even want to look out of fear that you don’t find anything and then you end up worse than before because now you’ve just confirmed there’s nothing for you, thereby destroying any semblance of hope you once had. The darkness is comfortable. You reject the idea that you should be grateful for something as small as being able to get out of bed in the morning, because it’s so tiny and pathetic, but sometimes even the simplest tasks are the hardest to do. Sometimes you can’t even get out of bed, and that’s okay, because you can still be grateful that you were able to wake up and decide you weren’t leaving your bed that day. You see how easy it is?
Obviously I’m biased towards writing things down (a post on journaling is pending), but there’s a reason for it. If I was to tell you to write down three things you’re grateful for every single day (pretend a life-coach or an expensive therapist told you to do it because, let’s face it, you’re not going to listen to me), you might say ‘no, shut up’ or you might try it.
You might type it into your phone notes, which is fine…but I wouldn’t advise it. I would advise writing it down on paper, in a book that you can hold and look back at. I don’t want it to be something that you can store in the same place that you store the source of a lot of your anxieties. Your collection of gratitude should be kept away, separate and sacred, to remind you that this is all life is about. This and only this; it is your path towards finding happiness more often than not. You’re not going to close your notes and then open up the cesspool of degeneracy that is your Twitter timeline and then go back to your notes. When you’re practising gratitude, you’re devoting just a few minutes of your undivided attention to thinking about that, to writing it down, and then you’re closing the book and putting it away until tomorrow. You can engage in the degeneracy throughout the day, but always come back to what you’re truly grateful for that day. What’s that? You’ve had a shit day and it’s hard to think of something? Even better! This is the time you remember that even the tiniest things – had a hot shower, felt warm in the morning, saw the sun shining through your window, spoke to your friend for a bit, opened your eyes to another day – hold so much weight and carry so much light in our lives.
Life isn’t just made up of the big things, the commendable events that you can scream out to the world. It’s all the tiny things that get you through the day. It’s the good, the bad, and everything else in between. It’s not just the huge, noble goals that were achieved, it’s all the important things that keep you going.
We all strive for happiness, but happiness is not a destination; it is a feeling. It comes and goes. You have context, you apply your own perception to it. Life is going to be shit sometimes, it’s going to be amazing other times – you make every situation what it is.
You can choose to find the good, or you can stay closed up in your little dome, but the sun will continue to shine regardless.