“Life is a gift and our work is to learn to receive it.”
Imagine for a moment that you have two friends you have gotten gifts for. When you give a gift to the first friend he or she is elated. You see their face illuminated with gratitude and joy as they receive the gift. They shower you with words of gratefulness for the gift. It is easy for you to see how happy you have made them simply by giving them something. This in turns makes you feel wonderful and happy.
When you give a gift to the second friend you are met with hesitation upon their face. Immediately you are surprised because you know you took time and energy out of your life to get and give this gift to this friend. Instead of saying thank you and lighting up they seem to shut down and be filled with a sneaking sense of “Is this it?” Then they ask you if there is another size, color, version, or even a receipt because they are unsure if they will actually have use of it. You are saddened and disappointed by their response. You had hoped the gift would bring them joy and instead they seem unsatisfied and maybe even slightly offended that the gift was not perfectly “right” for them.
Holding these two friend in your mind and heart which would you want to get a gift for again? Obviously, the first one who immediately loved and accepted your gift. It was painful and disappointing to get the second friend a gift. So why put yourself through misery again? From that point on you feel good about getting gifts for the first friend and do so often. And with the second friend you shy from giving gifts and are worried about pleasing them so you withhold your own joy and abundance when you are around them.
This is how the Universe treats the grateful and ungrateful. If you were the Universe which person would you want to reward with abundance? Again the one who immediately cherished and celebrated your gift. With the second you would withhold from trying to please them. Knowing it to be path to disappointment.
This is why being grateful for everything is so paramount. When we practice gratitude for all the infinite abundance in our life the Universe is overjoyed to bring us more. When we question the gifts and treat them with dissatisfaction or a “not good enough” attitude it is like telling the Universe to stop trying to be of service to us and our life. We literally shut down our own abundance when we focus on the lack and forget to acknowledge the abundance.
I am mostly writing this for myself. Though now I am pretty good at being grateful for many things in my life there is an area I am still working on. For much of my life I have had a difficult time appreciating gifts from others. All because of my past perfectionist and overly-particular nature. In the past my sense of self-opinion and self-expectations were always so high it made it hard to appreciate anything. I was so lacking in reaching my own overachieving perfectionist expectations I could only see lack in all areas of my life. Never enough. No matter how well I was doing. If whatever gift I received was not exactly what I wanted I met it with subtle disdain.
Growing up my Mom eventually just had me pick out every gift I ever got. She learned it was much less disappointing to just forego any sort of surprise and just have me tell her exactly what I wanted.
This wasn’t only limited to gifts, it also included the food my Mom provided for me. I was so hard to cook for and feed that my Mom literally had me create a cookbook of food and meals I would eat and appreciate. My poor mother. I was such a picky perfectionist child. I can only wonder at the patience she had to cultivate with me.
I am ashamed to even admit this. I am hoping that by sharing my ungrateful picky past self that not only can I atone for my past behavior, but maybe I can be of service to others seeing this in their own life. Whether within themselves or within someone they love and care for. Compassion and forgiveness often creates the space we need to transform.
Even now I have to practice accepting everything with joy and gratitude. So often I immediately judge it and shut myself down to the abundance in my life. The perfectionist. The judger. Always quick to jump in. My monkey mind is quick to perceive the gift as lacking. Instead of appreciating it purely from the standpoint of the fact that it was “given” and “gifted” to me. Someone used their thought, time, and energy in my honor. If I cannot accept everything that is given to me with true appreciation why would the Universe ever want to give me more? How could I honestly consider myself deserving and worthy of a grand and magical life if I cannot appreciate all of it? The big and the small. The perfect and imperfect. The good and the bad.
Furthermore, if nothing is ever enough I cannot actually appreciate the gift of the present. I am either leaning into the future, striving for more because my mind has determined that what is presently present is lacking. Or regretting some past insufficiency. Once again missing the gift of the present.
I now know that this is a state of mind. Lack/scarcity and abundance are both mindsets. I can choose either at any moment in my life. Gratitude and presence can be cultivated. And I have been consciously building these gifts of life into my life with a fervor like never before. Almost like my life depends on it. Because in a sense it does. I cannot live in the future. And I cannot live in the past. So whatever I didn’t have then has no true bearing to now. And whatever lies in the future stays in the future until it arrives in the now. Ultimately, I can only live in the present.
Lack & scarcity is like stagnation that must be consciously cut out. I let go of lack & scarcity, surrender it to the void, and let it peacefully lay to rest.
Abundance and growth are like life. I renew abundance and growth in each moment through gratitude and appreciation for everything as it is (not what I want it to be).
(Looking closely at the divine beauty of nature effortlessly pulls me into gratitude.)
It is easy to be and feel abundant and magical when everything in life is going well. It is incredibly easy to fall out of abundance and into lack, scarcity, and negativity when things are not going well. I’ve built up several practices/rituals that I use on a regular basis to keep me in an abundant state despite the ever-changing weather of life. Here they are:
- Gratitude journaling (verbal and/or written)
- Upon waking I begin listing things in my head or out-loud that I am grateful for. It can be anything. I try to be creative & unlimited in my gratitude and have fun. [I.E. I am grateful for my bed. I am grateful for the sleep I got. I am grateful for my partner. I am grateful my hilarious bed-head hair. Ad infinitum.] A simple tool I use is to just count off 10 gratitudes — 1 for each finger. Since I do this upon waking it makes it simple to get to 10 without losing track in my awakening mind.
- I truly first learned this as a child. My Dad would ask me almost everyday to tell him three things I was grateful for. This is a fun thing to do with a family-member, partner, friend, or colleague.
- Writing down three things I am grateful for. Even though I did this verbally as a kid it wasn’t until I discovered The Five-Minute Journal that I began to write it down. The structure of that book allowed me to build the habit and now I freehand write this into a blank journal daily. I do this first thing in the morning. This combined with the mental/verbal gratitude-ing sets the tone for the day. It can also help pull me out of a funk if I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. **Scientific research shows that doing this even once a week has a strong positive effect. If daily gratitude journaling seems like too much start with a once a week commitment.**
- I have also been experimenting with writing out gratitudes digitally on my computer/smartphone in Simplenote or Evernote. I usually bump it up from 3 gratitudes to 10+ when doing it digitally from my computer because typing them is much faster than longhand. I have created a “Gratitude Journal” note and each day I enter the date and then capture my daily gratitude to forever be held in hyperspace. 🙂
- A part of me will still feels like writing it out by hand is more personally powerful — something about the hand-mind connection and physically writing it down and capturing it in a physical manifestation. At the same time I realize this may also be my inner monk that is still beholden to making things a true task so that I learn to slow down enough to actually appreciate and be present to what I am doing. For now I am content to experimenting with with both hand-written gratitudes in a physical paper journal and switching it up with a digital/hyperspace version and let intuition guide me to what is best for me each day.
- On particularly tough days, if I can get myself to sit down and write out as many things I am grateful for it can literally save my day and shift me into a much better (and happier) energetic way of being. I am not always able to do this. I too have off days, but the more I practice this the less frequent and the shorter the duration of the days of suffering.
- Giving gratitude as part of a priority in all areas of life
- Telling everyone I come into contact with that I am grateful for them, their time, their energy, their presence in my life.
- This is hard to do 24/7, but the more I consciously practice it the more natural it comes.
- I like to get creative and be flexible with this too. Sometimes it is as simple as complimenting someone on their smile, shirt, shoes, scarf, etc. Sometimes I like to randomly call someone and just lay some deep gratitude on them. Both can be fun and rewarding. The random phone call seems to really supercharge both their day and mine.
- Sending a gratitude text, email, or social media message. I personally love this one. I love the idea that when you send an email or social media message of gratitude it forever lives in hyperspace. It’s like building up gratitude chi on the interweb. Sometimes it is best to do this privately via text or email, but other times it feels wonderful to publicly display your gratitude for everyone to enjoy. This can have a ripple effect too — bringing awareness to another (even a stranger) and gifting them with remembering what they are grateful for in their own life.
- Asking “What is one thing you are grateful for today.”
- This is a powerful technique I use with my Phoenix. When she and I are reunited after our workday or time away from another we ask this question FIRST; before anything else. This again sets the tone of our mutual experience in our mutual space together. In the past we would leave it up to chance and say whatever came to mind first. Leaving it up to whatever comes to mind first is a great way to let someone’s bad day ruin your good day. By being proactive in this way with this question we have learned that we can consciously create an accepting, peaceful, and loving home life that encourages the best in the both of us regardless of whether our individual day was great, bad, or anything in between.
- This can be done with whoever you are cohabiting with (family, roommate, etc.). This could also be a very powerful tool to use at work with colleagues. Variations could include: “What was the best part of your weekend, morning, yesterday, etc.”
- Stretch-goal: Try this with a stranger or someone you just met. 🙂
- This is a deep subject for me. Something I’ve practiced on and off most of my life thanks to an early start from teaching/training by my father. In the last several years I’ve really built up the daily habit of both written and verbal affirmations. This is beyond the scope of this particular article. I am putting together a more elaborate and comprehensive resource on this and will share it when it has enough material to stand on its own. You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay is a book I return to time and time again for affirmations (in case you want a good resource to jump into now).
- I believe that meditation washes away past & future disruptive energies while grounding you in the present. Thus, allowing you to better cultivate gratitude as you are experiencing the gift of the present and being present.
- I do Transcendental Meditation religiously but I also love Headspace, Yoga Nidra, and other guided meditations. [Special note: I believe there is a type of meditation for everyone. The key is finding one that works for YOU. There are dozens if not hundreds of different types of mediation. What works for me may not work for another. Just keep exploring until you find one that clicks. That’s what I did.]
- Massage & Yoga (or any kind of bodywork)
- Massage and healing touch grounds me in the pleasure of being in the human body. Bodywork always reminds just how much of a joy it is to be in a human body. I cannot help but feel grateful from the experience of massage (before in anticipation, during the actual massage, and after from the lingering effects).
- Yoga is about breath and being in communication with one’s body. This deep connection to the life-force of breath and our life vehicle (body) always pulls me into the present and into gratitude.
- Almost any exercise makes me feel grateful during and after. Sometimes I dread it in the beginning, but once my body awakens to the movement I light up with gratitude and am most often left in the feeling long after the exercise has ended.
- Whether it’s a short stroll through the neighborhood looking at the plants and trees or a full-blown excursion into mother nature, there is something innately divine about nature that reminds me of the privilege of being alive and gratitude naturally blooms within.
- Even intently gazing at a plant, flower, or bouquet indoors draws me into the presence of gratitude.
- The book Gratitude by Louise Hay
- This book of short essays on gratitude was introduced to me by my Phoenix (Blog & Instagram). We have both found that just picking this book up and reading a few pages puts one into an incredibly powerful state of gratitude. Reading this book is a great way to pull oneself into gratitude when in need. Also, a great daily practice to keep that gratitude muscle flexible and strong.
- [Special note: This book is of the metaphysical/spiritual nature. If that is too “magical” for you then check out the books below. They are much more the along the lines of Academic/Psychological/Philosophy/Human-Potential]
- The book Mindset by Carol Dweck and the book The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday
- Both of these books remind me that EVERYTHING is an opportunity for learning, growth & transformation. Even the stuff that really sucks in life (set-back, loss, disappointment, health-challenges, etc.). Returning to the ideas, principles, & frameworks in these books empower me to be grateful for the trials, tribulations, & growth-opportunities that always come with life & living.
- Taking a picture of a gift I have been given and sending it to the gift-giver along with a thank you note. This can be done through email or text message. Or even on Facebook and other social media. I believe acknowledging and demonstrating your gratitude has a compounding effect. It can also be positively infectious to others when you share it publicly.
- This is my version of the traditional thank-you card one would mail. I believe that sending an actual physical thank-you card is still incredibly powerful and important too. But this e-version is more realistically going to happen with the ever-increasing speed of most peoples lives I think. It is also an awesome way to document gratitude over a lifetime. How fun would it be to look back over your years of email, Facebook, and other social media and see all the things you and others were grateful for?
- This is also the best technique I have come up with for appreciating gifts from others. However, I am still looking for more good ways to heal this area of gratitude in my life. Specifically, what do you do when you get a gift you do not think you will actually use? How do you stay in authentic gratitude? If you have any techniques, tips, tricks, or thoughts please send me an email or leave me a note on my Facebook page.
The art of maintaining gratitude empowers the embodiment of joy, abundance, wonder, wisdom, integrity, compassion, love, & many other states of grace.
I have decided to live the possibility of being incredibly great at gratitude. I am committed to gratitude as a life-skill I will continuously master. I have put this skill down as one of the main things I want to accomplish this year and take with me as part of my core authentic way of being for all years going forward. Feel free to to join me in this endeavor! 🙂
On that note, please share any good gratitude resources you have discovered. I would be incredibly grateful to learn from you! Personally developed techniques, books, online resources, etc. — anything gratitude I am interested. An email or Facebook message/post sharing your resource would be greatly appreciated!
And along a similar line of thought & action, I would love to put together a collection of personal short essays and stories on gratitude that I can compile and share here as source people can use whenever they need some gratitude inspiration. If you have a good story or essay in you that you would like to gift the world with please send to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “gratitude” in the subject line.
FINAL THOUGHT: Unconditional gratitude is an investment that never fails. Gratitude that is unattached to outcome, or gratitude that is not tied to the reaction or response of another person, place, thing, or experience will always pay dividends to the one in gratitude.
In gratitude & service,
Justin David Carl
“Gratitude is the way the heart remembers–remembers kindnesses, cherished interactions with others, compassionate actions of strangers, surprise gifts, and everyday blessings. By remembering we honor and acknowledge the many ways in which who and what we are has been shaped by others, both living and dead.” -Robert Emmons, from his book Thanks!
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” –Voltaire
Here is a compilation of resources related to gratitude that I believe are worthy:
- The Five-Minute Journal
- You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
- Gratitude by Louise Hay
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday
- Thanks! by Robert Emmons
- Living in Gratitude by Angeles Arrien
- The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
- Trancendental Meditation
- Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep Meditation) [Book & Audio]
- Headspace (Meditation App)
- Happify (Happiness App)