I have to tell you, I live a wonderful life. I am doing the most interesting job in the world (for me), I have a beautiful family, my kids are thriving, my health is good, and money flows on its own. I just spent a long period of being in the same place as my wife, Chameli. This does not happen often, as we both travel a lot. During this period of togetherness, the only thing we could find to do was to laugh and be grateful. Every day we wake up, we look at each other and say: “Oh my god! I cannot believe we have such a good life.”
When you hear someone super grateful for their life, like this, there is a tendency to think, “You have a good life because you are lucky. I am not so lucky, and therefore I’m not as happy as you.” It is not really accurate, though. When your life feels fantastic, it is not just because you are lucky. It is because you have developed the capacity to see things that way. You have developed the capacity to live in gratitude, rather than complaint.
You are not a Syrian refugee. You are not living in a war zone. You are not a victim of an oppressive political regime. You do not have a terminal illness (or at least most people reading this are not in those circumstances). Just to have the physical space for you to sit down, relax and read this blog, you are already in the luckiest 10 percent of the world’s population.
I do not just feel I am in the top 10 percent, I feel like I am one of the top ten luckiest people in the whole world. Of course, part of this is luck. But the other, and probably more important part is the purposeful practice of letting go. Letting go of thoughts, letting go of beliefs, letting go of being right, letting go of points of view, letting go of complaints, letting go of struggle, letting go of problems you do not need to solve, problems that you can just let go.
Focusing on what is wrong with your life, blaming other people, and dwelling on the difficult things that pop up daily is intrinsically unhealthy. We all have parts of us that see the world in this way. But focusing on it too much is an addiction: to being a victim, to seeing the world in that way.
The practice of gratitude is not just something we feel sometimes as an emotion and have no control over. It is a discipline that we cultivate by making a conscious decision. In the same way, a recovering smoker might say, “No. I’ve decided, and made a commitment. I will not smoke this cigarette.” Then he throws it away. That is a discipline. My definition of discipline is this: it is something you do not necessarily feel like doing, that may feel counterintuitive or unnatural, because you have made the decision that this is the best way to live. Most smokers understand clearly that quitting smoking is good for them, and it is what they truly feel and want, but oftentimes, once that fleeting feeling is gone, they keep on smoking. Discipline means staying loyal to what you said you would do, long after the mood has passed.
There is an old saying that my grandmother used to tell me: “Count your blessings.” These three words actually carry great wisdom. It is still as applicable today as it was when I was a child.
I would suggest this practice for all of us. Make a list, and then tell somebody five things that you are grateful for, things that make you one of the luckiest people on the planet. It is a practice of celebrating your good fortune.
There is a very interesting dynamic I have noticed when the mind is running in an atmosphere of complaint. It tends to magnetize difficult things. I do not really know if it is the habit of complaint that exaggerates those things when you focus on them, or if complaint actually brings difficult things into your life (like a magnet). In the same way, if you live in gratitude, you focus more on the good things in your life, or perhaps gratitude magnetizes more good things and brings them into your life. I am not sure I fully understand the relationship between complaining and misfortune, and gratitude and good fortune, but what I do know is this: people who are grateful, celebrating, and in service, mostly have good things happen to them, things that they feel good about. And people whose minds are trapped in complaints and pessimism seem to have a lot of disappointment.
In my coaching practice, I do not want to be a shoulder to cry on for my clients. I do not want them to tell me all of their worries and problems. I want to teach my clients to unplug the machine that thrives on complaint, and instead to give energy to the machine that thrives on gratitude, celebration, and love.
When people tell me, “Why should I feel grateful? I’m not as lucky as you. I don’t have a successful job and good relationships like you. My life sucks.” I want to tell them: “Well, maybe I have a great life because I‘ve been practicing gratitude for so many years, and when so challenges happen I learn to overcome them quickly. That is what has created a good life for me.”
We all think sometimes that we want more stuff, and that stuff will make us happy, but you are much better off counting and appreciating the good things you already have. You will feel much richer if you become grateful for the good things that are already here.