Being Grateful

Art by Albrecht Dürer

Art by Albrecht Dürer

I think I've been trying to figure out myself and my relationship to the world since I was about 17. About 20 years of introspection. That's... maybe too much.

I got into spiritual stuff when I was pretty young because I was deeply anxious and it impeded a lot of what I wanted to do and how I interacted with people. Some of this had to do with my parents, but some was probably built in. I thought if I figured myself out, I could finally live as my true self without anxiety. But it never really worked out, despite throwing a lot of weaponry at it, including therapy, intensive meditation, supplements, exercise, and more. Those things helped, but it usually felt like I was dealing with symptoms rather than the core of the thing.

There are a number of studies that extol the virtues of gratitude. Start a gratitude journal! It will make you notably happier! But that always felt like work to me. It made gratitude into a job, and so, even after trying many times, I tended to avoid it. I didn't disagree with the ideas, whenever I stepped back I realized my life was really pretty great. I just couldn't make it a consistent habit.

But one thing I've done recently has changed this. Pretty dramatically in my experience.

I spend a lot of time being critical. I'd go so far as to say 999 out of a 1000 thoughts are critical. I am constantly noticing things that are out of place, that could be improved, that are bad, that are dumb. This is hugely useful in a working context, it makes you detail oriented and motivated to improve things. But if you can't shut that voice off, it becomes overwhelming and exhausting, coloring your whole experience. If you are almost only noticing the bad things, life seems... pretty bad!

But how do you change the ratio? How do you get to, let's be optimistic, and say, 5% grateful/positive thoughts? 5 thoughts out of 100.

In the past, I would try and convince myself that life was good. But it felt fake. I was already convinced that things were shit, so saying things like "life is amazing" felt false. Like I was a bad salesman trying to pitch an unimpressed customer.

But a recent realization has changed this. You just have to go to the extreme, foundational basics. You have to get down to the sensory experience. Breathing is... cool actually?

Stay with me.

Right now, you are alive. The fact that you are alive is remarkable, actually. Feel your hands, notice the sensations surrounding them. The air as it touches them, their place in space. You are currently operating a body that is an incredible machine. You are the god of a kingdom of specialized cells, waiting to navigate you around earth. Notice your environment. How cool is it that you are here? It is objectively interesting that you exist in this space, right now.

If you can follow this, and legitimately appreciate it, you can re-center yourself in any moment. Any moment you feel overwhelmed or anxious, you can bring it back to the incredible-ness of existence, and build on that. Suddenly, the fact that you are in this stressful meeting with the CEO is really, really cool. It's not a scary thing, it's a remarkable experience.

Any time I catch myself feeling tense or tight, I realize that I'm caught up in some dumb thought process that is highly critical. I come back to how cool it is that I'm here, and then that I'm having whatever experience I'm having. And, man, I am super grateful.

I'm really lucky.

Best of luck changing the ratio, and Happy Thanksgiving!