In a way, we’ll all be dead tomorrow. Welcome to this blog!
Of the many, many people that live today, there are many that don’t really live today. They are living in the future. Or rather, they are living in the future they imagine. Not all the time but often, through their hopes and desires, they’re seeing weeks, months or years ahead. They overlook the people and things that are present in their lives today. As I am sometimes guilty of this, I’ve learned there are some downsides to it.
First of all, the future is mostly outside of our personal control. We do have some influence, but we could never know or influence all of the countless elements that shape future events. And whether the future ends up looking to our liking or not, we may also not even make it there; through a stroke of bad luck we may be injured, or worse. What’s more, fulfilling wants tends to not be that fulfilling. A substantial part of the experience of ‘getting something you want’ is the actual wanting. Once you get it you no longer ‘want’ it, and it becomes normal to have it. Oscar Wilde said there are two tragedies in life: not getting what you want and getting what you want. When you don’t have something you want, be it a partner, a house or a boat, there’s hope it will fulfil you. When you do get it and it doesn’t fulfil you, that hope evaporates, and you’ll have to look for something else to want and give you that rush. And then you get it. And it becomes normal; then you’ll look for the next thing, and the next thing… without ever truly being fulfilled. Lastly, your body and mind are constantly changing. Moment-to-moment and day-by-day you’re becoming a different person, and the more time passes, the more different you’ll be. You, as you are now, won’t exist in the future, and the future-you may not even want or appreciate the same things.
Does all that sound bad? It sounds a little dreary to me. However, unless I were an existential sadist – which I think I’m not? – I wouldn’t be writing this without some solution in mind. If a future-orientation won’t, in all likelihood, fulfil us, let’s start looking somewhere else.
The largest share of all our experiences in life comes from our normal environment. In that sense, the common, usual things around us are the most important things in our lives. However, to paraphrase Wittgenstein, they are kept secret from us through their normalcy. The bulk of our life is literally hidden in plain sight. But we can meet it where it meets us – today. Here; now. A great way to do this is by being grateful.
Gratitude takes us from a future-orientation back to the now, to appreciate what’s around us in the moment. Doesn't it usually seem to go like people only 'realize what they had when it’s gone’? That doesn’t have to be the standard; you can follow that big yellow taxi and realize what you have today. The future may not be in your control but being grateful is. Gratitude expert prof. Alex Wood explains that any moment not experienced is lost, and, since life is finite, lost moments are tragic.
Beyond dodging the ‘tragedies of life’, an attitude of gratitude has numerous benefits. Grateful people tend to be happier in life and their relationships, they experience less stress and they sleep better. They are generally more resilient and more able to maintain their wellbeing, as they deal with challenges and adjust to change better. Gratitude helps a person look for the positive side to things, which in turn helps them feel more grateful. The best part? Gratitude can be trained.
Here are some ideas if you’d like to consciously incorporate gratitude in your daily livings:
Set one or more daily alarms, and give it a label that reminds you of appreciation. When it goes off, take a minute to assess how much joy and gratitude you are bringing to the moment.
A gratitude journal (with or without prompts) or bringing gratitude to other rituals, e.g. thanking for the food before you eat (this doesn’t have to be religious, for instance you could think how much it takes before you can even eat it). You could do appreciation affirmations, when you wake up or go to bed.
Make a ‘gratitude bowl’ (could just be a soup bowl (without soup)) and put in it written-down experiences and things for which you are grateful or that made you happy. You can pick out random notes from the bowl later and think about them again.
Express your gratitude to people. Write a letter of gratitude to someone, and tell them what they mean to you and what you appreciate about them. Compliment your partner about what you appreciate in them, the more specific the better. Expressing gratitude to your partner’s responsiveness to your needs helps them feel needed, and often has a positive impact on relationships.
Incorporating gratitude for the current moment doesn’t mean to ‘not have goals’ in your life. But don’t only have goals, or you may get sucked into an unhelpful future-orientation. If you’re planning something, enjoy the planning, too. If you want something, enjoy wanting it, too, and once you have it, count it among the things you’re grateful for. You can read the parable of the businessman and the fisherman as a further illustration of this blog.
Let’s start today. What are you grateful for this moment? Let us know in the comments! Until next time.
—to the Extraordinary, you