I have a good life. No, I have a great life. At least that’s what I keep telling myself when I’m stuck and Dave and Busters watching my kids go nuts and having zero control over it. In reality I’m just sitting there thinking to myself, “what the hell am I doing here?” Why can’t I be cliff diving somewhere? Why can’t I be on a romantic dinner on a deserted island with a supermodel (yes I’m married but my wife gets it)? Why can’t I be running with the bulls in Pamplona or dancing the night away at some random night club in Budapest? Why can’t I be doing all those amazing things that “happy” people are always doing and are probably doing right this second? And despite all of my good fortune, health, and fantastic support system from wonderful people, why is it that more times than not I’m thinking of this “other” life that doesn’t exist? That’s when I step back I try to practice gratitude.
How do I practice gratitude?
Oddly enough literally as I was writing this my 3-year-old son walks into my office to show me a picture he made. He’s wearing his little pajama pants and no shirt. Obviously I’m biased but this is clearly one of the cutest kids in the entire world. While this moment may have lasted 30 seconds it probably just made my day. It’s a moment like this I try to hold onto. It’s a moment like this that I try to think about when my mind wanders. Because a moment like this was my reality, and it is my reality. It keeps me grounded and it also allows me to appreciate all of the other things I have in life. What are the main things?
- That I have my health.
- That I have a wonderful family in my wife and two boys.
- That I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, food on the table, and can provide that for my family
- That I enjoy what I do for a living
- That I have a flexible schedule
- That I have a wonderful extended family in my parents, siblings, and in laws
This list can go on and on but I think that you get my point. It’s moments like knowing I’m safe inside my house when there’s a storm or that the heat works when a blizzard hits that I can step back and say thank you. It’s when a stranger comes up to me and says “hello” that I can be reminded that there’s good in the world. It’s at these times I can in fact practice gratitude, and I swear to God I try to practice it a little bit each day. But you know something? Practicing gratitude can totally suck sometimes. You know why? Because it just can. Shit gets in the way and I can get in a stupidly annoying bad mood for no reason whatsoever.
What about when practicing gratitude sucks?
I’ve come to realize that sometimes no matter how much spiritualistic and materialistic wealth I can gain in the world, it’s never enough. It’ll never prevent me from dreaming. It will never prevent me from wanting more. I can practice gratitude for 6 hours and then five minutes later I might think to myself “why don’t I have that in my life?” Or all of the thoughts of how cute and great my kids are will completely be negated by the fact they’ve been screaming the same phrase for 30 minutes consecutively directly into my ears thus making me want to strangle them. I may gaze at my wife one moment and then see her 3 seconds later doing something that nauseates me. These are just simple facts. It’s the way life is. That no matter how much I can appreciate life and try my best to live in that moment, other moments happen and sometimes these moments truly piss me off, make me sad, or give me a ton of anxiety. However, the difference between when these moments would happen 20 years ago as opposed to now is that rather then dwell on a life I’m not leading or hope of “something else” I’ve managed to contain it all a hell of a lot better these days. So how do I do it? There are two things that I think truly help and here they are:
1. Be in the present
People say this all the time. “You gotta live in the present.” “The present is all that matters.” While I agree with this stuff to an extent I’m also a realist. Our minds wander in the past, present, and future all of the time. Personally I think trying to retrain the brain to only think in the present will only make things worse. To me being in the present is simply letting my thoughts flow in and out as they happen regardless of those thoughts being about the past or future. This is often a key element to meditation. If you try to manipulate your thoughts it generally makes it worse. So what I try to do is allow the thoughts to happen. If I’m feeling bad then I let myself feel bad. I generally find that the feeling of “feeling bad” tends to go away quicker if I just allow myself to feel that way than if I try to shift my focus to something I’m grateful for or try to tell myself “it’s OK, life’s awesome, look at all you have in the world.” Personally I think that’s a bunch of crap. There’s a time and place for those gratifying thoughts but I’m not so sure you should be trying to think those when life’s a mess. The brain works how the brain is going to work. So I don’t care if you’re a multimillionaire with the best possessions, schedule, “life” in the world, you’re still gonna feel like crap sometimes and all of this “gratitude” stuff ain’t gonna fill that void. The point is, don’t try to fill it. Realize you are human and feeling bad is part of the gig. Allow yourself to feel it.
2. Remember that the “grass is greener”
Along the same lines of being in the present is knowing that certain things in life are merely fantasy. Here’s a funny example for all you men out there. Ever dream of being a pornstar? Seriously. What guy hasn’t? In your head you just think it’s this amazing thing. You get to have sex with beautiful women and get paid for it. What you don’t realize is that at least 15 people are watching you, there are cameras on you and frankly I don’t want to get into all the other nasty details that come along with this profession. The point is that fantasy is always better than reality, always. And it’s simply because in a fantasy you are in control. You decide what it’s going to look like. Sure I want to be a rockstar but are all rockstars happy? No. Most of them lead lives that I could never handle. Most wind up drug addicts because they’re constantly seeking more and more highs out of life. Keeping yourself grounded and knowing that a fantasy is just a fantasy tends to help.
Remember that practicing gratitude is a great thing but also remember that using it as a tool to feel better about stuff can be destructive. It’s like a ticking time bomb that will eventually go off if you keep trying to block all negativity. Let it flow through. One of my favorite quotes is and always will be, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” I couldn’t agree more.