Posts Tagged ‘appreciation’

‘Tis the season to be grateful.

Gratitude, I have found, is a very powerful tool. It has the power to relieve my stress and infuse me with joy. It increases my empathy for others. It restoreth my soul.

I have much for which I am grateful: good health, a sound mind, a solid income, a safe home, a well-suited and loving partner, and an interesting and quirky group of friends. Oh, and my cat; she’s a hoot.

For me, though, gratitude didn’t come easy. It took practice.

I was raised to see only the flaws in my life, those elements which could be improved upon, especially in myself. As a result, for most of my life, when I would look around, I’d only see what needed to be fixed, not what had been accomplished. In the beautiful wilderness of my back garden, I saw only the weeds. Though I have nine published novels, they only represented my failure to catch on with a larger audience. And as to my cooking skills, well, in them I only saw what I lacked when compared to other, more inventive chefs I know. Across all my successes, only the lost opportunities were visible, the deeds left undone. With this mindset, it was really difficult to feel grateful about what I did have.

But then I started practicing gratitude, actually forcing myself to see the good in things. Eventually, I began to appreciate what I had more and, as that increased, the primacy of the flaws decreased, for gratitude really is a zero-sum game. I can’t appreciate something and obsess about its flaws at the same time. I can still see the flaws, of course, but by being grateful for a thing, I take it as it is, not as how I think it should be.

Once the seed of gratitude takes root, it sticks with you, and those flaws? They are transformed from negatives into opportunities to make the whole even better, even more worthy of gratitude. I still want to improve what can be improved, but the little things—the dandelion among the roses, my lack of mastery with sauces—they stay little things; I no longer inflate them beyond their true importance.

So, during this season of holidays, where we wrap up our gifts as well as the year in general, I heartily encourage you to stop, take a few moments, look around, and concentrate on the good parts of your life, for there are many, even when things seem pretty bleak.

There is good in every day, and in every yesterday, and in every tomorrow. Cherish it.



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Back when I was a theist, a few times each year I would go on a fast. From sunset on the first day to nightfall on the next, I would take in nothing but water. It wasn’t easy but then again, it wasn’t supposed to be.

There are many days when I’m so involved in a project that I simply forget to eat until 2 or 3pm. But, of course, we humans are contrary creatures, and never appreciate a thing until we are deprived of it. As a result, during a fast I was always hungry right out of the gate, and hungrier by the next afternoon than I would have been under other conditions.

The main purpose of a fast, in my estimation, is to enforce an atmosphere of introspection, and to instill a sense of gratitude for the most basic things in life. By intentionally depriving myself of food, the most basic requirement, the mind quickly turns inward. Reflection and meditation come easily, and the things that plague our everyday lives lose all importance in comparison.

I have extended this practice to other areas with good effect. When life begins getting to me, I go on a “modernist fast” in an attempt to reboot my thinking and my perspective. If you are interested in simplifying your life, I recommend this heartily. Some things I have done in the past:

  • For a week
    • Give up junk TV shows, news shows, or turn off the TV altogether
    • Take mass transit everywhere, and walk to places whenever possible
    • Give up a vice, a guilty pleasure, dining out, etc.
    • Wash all dishes by hand (sounds goofy, but it’s rather meditative after a while)
  • For a day
    • Give up food
    • Turn off your Blackberry
    • No internet!
    • Do as much as you can by hand

I’ve even gone so far as to try to go the whole day with limited use of electricity. I tell you, spend a whole evening without it—no television, no stereo, no dishwasher, just sitting around with your loved ones, talking or playing a game by candlelight—and your perspective really changes. After all, some people live like this every day.

I find that these Modernist Fasts help me keep my priorities straight, and show me just how much in life I have to be grateful for. Gratitude and humility—appreciating what you have and realizing how lucky you are—really help build inner peace.


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