I never really got gratitude. I would hear people talk about how practicing gratitude made a huge difference in their lives - they were happier and more fulfilled - but I never truly understood how that came about.
I always thought I was grateful. I give real thank yous, I am [usually] polite, and I mean it. I genuinely appreciate and acknowledge other people and the things I have in life. But I didn’t see how expressing gratitude could be as transformational as people referenced; I didn’t see what was in it for me.
Then, suddenly and by degrees, I experienced a shift, and realized that what I had been thinking of as gratitude was really appreciation (not quite the same thing) - of external things, of situational experiences, of other people. Appreciation expressed as acknowledgment is definitely good (and important), but not exactly true gratitude.
Acknowledgment is an act, but gratitude is a shift.
And once I learned how to access the shift of gratitude, that thing I never really understood became a game-changer in my life.
I thought that those people who spoke so highly of the happiness and fulfillment that comes from gratitude had some sort of special ingredients that I was missing. But it turns out, they don’t. I had all the ingredients in my life for gratitude and you probably do to. The key to gratitude is a matter of shifting your perspective and feeling that important distinction between gratitude and appreciation.
Here’s what happens…
1. Getting Stopped in Your Tracks Happens
If you’re future-oriented like me, this is huge. In focusing forward on the horizon/goal/next steps there’s momentum and progress, yet what’s what’s right here right now gets missed completely sometimes. For some of us, it takes a forced pause to get present. Sometimes it’s an occurrence- like a near-miss of a giant tree getting blown to the ground but missing you (actually happened to me the other day). Or losing someone. Or the color of the sky (which caused me to stop midrun to take the photo above). Or an inspiring act of kindness from someone. Sometimes it’s learning something we can’t ignore- like a sobering medical diagnosis. Or a private truth someone confides. Sometimes it’s a relationship- like a friend or loved one in need. Or a bolt of connection you feel with someone you didn’t see coming. These moments force us to pause, get present and pay full attention.
2. Sudden Perspective Happens
Hearing a story of someone who’s overcome bigger challenges than we have or has found utter joy and success with far less than we have, suddenly we see the things we easily have/do with a new appreciation, right? Feeling ease, happiness or love after we once felt struggle, sadness, or loneliness instead- we get the stark difference in comparison. These moments spotlight the contrast between what is and what could otherwise be.
3. Feeling Significance Happens
In those moments of pause and contrast, we can be moved, touched or inspired by what is. This takes some mental/emotional openness, and is the game-changer. We can experience a profound moment of a-ha appreciation that fills what normally feels insatiable in a unique way, clearing the lens through which we expect things from the world, allowing us to feel joy.
Or we can just keep plowing forward, missing or dismissing it.
This is a choice.
Every Day Happens...
Many days I do get it now- it’s not lost on me, because I've created space for those three things to occur. I am struck by the generosity or beauty or uniqueness or wonder of something or someone. Or the inextricable connection between people, moments and seemingly unrelated occurrences right along with the individuation of them all. These things hit me like a smack in the head (or gut or heart). Wow. Awe. Joy. ..not lost on me.
I could’ve been easily hit by a falling tree the other day, but wasn’t… not lost on me.
I was diagnosed with cancer, then 10 weeks of process and a surgery later, didn’t have cancer…not lost on me.
I have a family of amazing people who communicate, support and are truthful with one another unconditionally... not lost on me.
I have the ability to make a huge difference in people’s lives in a powerful and unique way… not lost on me.
The color of the clouds against the sky as the light changes is beautiful in a way humans can’t replicate… not lost on me.
So now I get this elusive word, and its secret perk I never understood in those three things happening together...
Being Present + getting Perspective + feeling Significance = [not-lost-on-me] FULFILLMENT.
...as in filled up in a unique way that brings an unparalleled internal clarity and peace.
Many days I don’t get it. I get caught up in my head just like you might. I move too fast, focus forward or back too much, and I miss it. Great things might be all around me, and it IS lost on me. I always try to show my appreciation - but gratitude is something I've built practice for so that it doesn’t get lost.
Check out the four steps I use daily, and see what you think. My experience? 10 days of this, and you're looking at life through a different, clarified, beautiful lens...
Meanwhile, take a breath, look around, and get the amazingness in and around you right this second- it's right there.