I really need to get better about this blog series…
Usually after the holidays, I’m in a bit of a funk. It’s cold, I have to get back into the daily grind and there isn’t a vacation/holiday/celebration on my radar. This year was no exception. I was somewhat dreading Monday, not wanting to face reality again (not to mention the single-digit weather).
Then Sunday morning, I changed my perspective (although admittedly it wasn’t intentional). Turns out at some point in the night, my furnace decided to stop working correctly. When I woke up, it was a chilly 55 degrees. I layered up, put on a large pot of coffee and reached out to my landlord.
Within a few hours I had heat again. And for some reason, all I could think was how lucky I was. I had the means and resources (even down to an incredibly responsive landlord) to warm up within just a few hours. How many things do I complain about, even if it’s just internally, that someone would love to have? How many things do I take for granted?
That’s what kicked off my gratitude/intention journal (I even found this baby on clearance!), which is something I’d had in mind anyway since it’s one of my 30 Before 30 goals.
I didn’t want to restrict this to just things I’m feeling grateful for on a given day, in part because it’s more far-reaching than that. I’m also hoping to track successes, if you will, of being intentional with my attitude. If I go into work or a date thinking that it’s going to suck, then I’m likely going to have that outcome. My attitude has the capacity to make a situation better or worse, and ideally I’d like to have more of the former than the latter.
Back in November I attended a Happiness Summit in town. (Yes, I’m dedicated a Saturday to a free seminar on happiness. But it was so worth it — and let me cross something off my 30 Before 30 list!) Two things stood out to me that are very much in line with this topic.
The first was based on research from Sonja Lyubomirksy in The How of Happiness. Our level of happiness is generally based on three areas. One is genetics, which accounts for 50 percent. What’s interesting, though, is that only 10 percent of happiness is a result of your circumstances while the remaining 40 percent is based on intentional activity. My attitude and actions really can play a big role in how content I am, moreso than the circumstances I’m experiencing.
What was also interesting is one of the presenters (the author of What Happy People Know) spent a few minutes talking about gratitude. Specifically he outlined the difference between gratitude and appreciation, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since.
According to Dr. Baker, with being grateful there’s often a sense of obligation to someone or something. And that’s not meant to have a negative connotation. As an example, I’m incredibly grateful for my family. That comes with a sense of obligation in that I would be there for them at the drop of a hat, no questions asked. It’s like you want to reciprocate what this person or thing brought to your life. That’s what feeling gratitude is about.
Appreciation, on the other hand, doesn’t have any strings attached. You can appreciate, for example, a great piece of art or well-written article or green buds on the trees (if only we were so lucky!). I don’t have to do anything with that feeling other than enjoy it.
It probably just boils down to rhetoric, but somehow that distinction changed my perspective on maintaining a gratitude journal. I’ve often been really bad at keeping such journals because, let’s face it, some days are just crappy and it’s hard for me to channel an attitude of gratitude. But if I can find one thing that I appreciate — a good cup of coffee, a great quote from a book or even a working furnace — then perhaps I’ll see the good after all.