Appreciation vs. Gratitude

This week I’ve been reading Kate Northrup’s new book Do Less (and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a chronic do-er like me!). I want to share something that really jumped out at me, that may be helpful to you. She recommends focusing on appreciation, as opposed to gratitude. She says “appreciation has an even more attractive vibration than gratitude because it’s purely about noticing what we like about what’s in front of us instead of gratitude, which is often about liking what’s in front of us as compared to what could be in front of us or what used to be in front of us.”

This is a really fascinating distinction to me. I’ve talked before about the importance of gratitude (here) and I still think it’s vital to feel and express it, but she makes a very interesting point. Appreciation may be an even more powerful tool. Appreciation feels easier and lighter to me than gratitude. I think this is because often when I’m grateful for something, there’s a tiny bit of fear mixed in. Like, I’m grateful that we’re all healthy (because that might change in the future).

Gratitude can also involve judgment—I’m grateful for something because it benefits me in some way—but appreciation just is. It’s the difference between being grateful for sunshine on your beach vacation (because rain would keep you inside and that would suck) and appreciating how the sunlight sparkles on the water as you sit by the ocean.

Northrup says, “I can simultaneously feel an energy of gratitude that my daughter is taking an awesome nap that I know will last another 40 minutes at least. But this is more in contrast to how it used to be when her naps were unpredictable and often lasted only 20 minutes. Do you see the difference? … How I feel about my daughter napping right now has to do with the moment but more in terms of how this moment relates to a moment in the past and feels better than it used to. … Both of these feelings have a place, for sure, but what we want to be shooting for as often as possible is pure appreciation for what’s in front of us, as opposed to gratitude for what’s in front of us in contrast to how bad it could be or how bad it used to be. Make sense? It’s a quarter turn that will make a world of difference.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear your take on this! Hit reply to this email and let me know, or comment below!

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Weaving a "Tapestry of Contentment"

I finally got a book I’d been hearing about for a while, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and it’s lovely! I’m finding it enormously comforting, like a cup of cocoa on a cold winter's day. It’s beautifully written and immensely inspiring.

I've been feeling frazzled, and so was Breathnach when she began writing the book.  She says in the preface, "I shared the revelations that came while trying to reconcile my deepest spiritual and creative longings with often overwhelming commitments to family and work."

I'm underlining all over the place as I read, and I wanted to share some of the insights that have particularly resonated with me so far.

She talks about six threads that, woven together, create a “tapestry of contentment.” Isn’t that a beautiful image? The full quote reads: “There are six threads of abundant living which, when woven together, produce a tapestry of contentment that wraps us in inner peace, well-being, happiness, and a sense of security.” Who wouldn’t want that? I’m in!

The threads are gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty, and joy.  The book is organized by date, with one entry per day; she focuses on each thread for two months, so I’m currently reading about gratitude. Breathnach recommends counting your blessings, and says, “See if you can’t get to one hundred. So much good happens to us but in the rush of daily life we fail even to notice or acknowledge it.”

This really struck me. It’s so true, and it’s something I’ve talked about here before. But I continue to find it difficult to be grateful consistently. One of the tools she suggests is a daily gratitude journal, to help us maintain that focus. I’ve started one, and am trying to be more aware of all the little things there are to appreciate—even on off days. My life is so rich and full of goodness. It's a shame to pay more attention to the minor irritations or parts that are not going well and miss the greater good.

Something else that really struck me was this: “much of my struggle to be content … has arisen when I stubbornly resisted what was actually happening in my life at the present moment.” Oh, that is so me. I resist reality all the time—how about you? I’m always thinking about how to improve things, remove things, or attract new things, so I often go about in a haze of vague dissatisfaction.

Breathnach talks about the importance of accepting what is. She explains that when you surrender to reality, a softening occurs. “Suddenly I am able to open up to receive all the goodness and abundance available to me because acceptance brings with it so much relief and release. It’s as if the steam of struggle has been allowed to escape from life’s pressure cooker.” That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And it makes complete sense to me.

Further, she adds, "blessing whatever vexes us is the spiritual surrender that can change even troublesome situations for the better. … If you're sick and tired of learning life's lessons through pain and struggle, blessing your difficulties will show you there's a better way."

I was thrilled to see that another tool she recommends is a morning ritual! She says, "give yourself the gift of one hour a day to journey within. You need enough breathing space to allow your heart to ponder what is precious. Or perhaps you can let your imagination soar to the twilight where dreams first dwell. … This much I know: if you go deep enough, often enough, something good is bound to come back to you." And this: “Stressed souls need the reassuring rhythm of self-nurturing rituals.” Yes!

I’m going to enjoy savoring this book each day for the rest of the year. I’m sure there will be plenty more insights and ideas to share with y’all! Meanwhile, I’ve got some creative projects brewing, including a big one that launches in April, so for the next few months I’ll be posting here every other week instead of weekly. Talk to you in mid-February!

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The Big 7 Ways to Boost Happiness (Quickly and for Free!)

I just got these 7 tips on how to boost your happiness in Sonia Sommer’s “Wellness Wednesday” email and had to share them with you! Here’s what she says:

I used to struggle with depression and anxiety. For years. If this is you, I know how it feels mate. I thought I'd stay like that for my whole life.

But I didn't.

These days, I jump out of bed feeling joy. Even when life serves up the shit sandwich, emotions pass through very quickly and I go right back to my new baseline of genuine happiness.

You're supposed to feel happy most of the time too. That's why I've been throwing joy spaghetti on your walls lately, so that something will stick.

It's actually natural to feel joyful. Stress and anxiety are an unnatural state.

Joy tip #4 the Big 7

My fantastic colleague Brian Johnson sent me this and I have to share it with you because it's a beaut summary of many of the methods I used to create my happiness baseline. 

This comes from a compilation of research by Neil Pasricha, author of "The Happiness Equation."

If you do any of these seven things for two straight weeks, you will feel happier.

Three Walks + The 20-Minute Replay + Random Acts of Kindness + A Complete Unplug + Hit Flow + 2-Minute Meditations + Five Gratitudes

Let’s take a super quick look at our Big 7 ways to boost our happiness and remember that science says the Happiness Equation STARTS with happiness.

It’s Happiness —> Great work —> Success NOT Great Work —> Success —> Happiness.

1. Three Walks. Exercise is as effective as Zoloft in reducing depression. Even just three brisk walks can do the trick! Remember that *not* exercising is like taking a depressant and get out there and MOVE YOUR BODY.

2. The 20-Minute Replay. Writing for 20 minutes about a positive experience is a GREAT way to boost your happiness. Scientists call it savoring. Groove the good stuff!

3. Random Acts of Kindness. Did you know that THE fastest, most reliable way to boost your mood is to do something nice for someone else? Yep. Find ways to do something nice!
 
4. A Complete Unplug. We’ve gotta make waves. Fully on. Fully off. Repeat. Are you training your RECOVERY as much as your “on” phases? Remember that it’s not that we work too hard but that we don’t recover enough. 
 
5. Hit Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tells us that the optimal state of human experience is found when we are engaged in activities that stretch us such that the challenges match our skills. Too much challenge = anxiety. Too little = boredom. The right match? FLOW. Find it!
 
6. 2-Minute Meditations. Meditation is huge. I meditate every single day because it's changed my whole life. You don’t need to be a levitating monk in the Himalayas to experience significant benefits. Even just a couple minutes a day keeps the gremlins away.
 
7. Five Gratitudes. As Neil says, “If you can be happy with the simple things, then it will be simple to be happy.” Find things to be grateful for and focus on them often. What are YOU grateful for today?

Thanks Brian. That's awesome!

I'm loving the 20 minute replay. It's like mainlining joy !

Which ones are you going to try today ?

xox, Sonia

Aren’t those tips amazing? If you’d like more info on Sonia Sommer and what she offers, check out her website at www.soniasommer.com.

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Counting My Blessings

It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.
— David Steindl-Rast

In my last post, I talked about the idea of creating resolutions in honor of my birthday, to “keep me on the path of increased growth and happiness; guidelines to give me more direction as I go about my daily life.” I’ve come up with the first one:

Be grateful.

So simple, yet something I have trouble remembering to do. I really want to focus on it, though, as it’s a direct route to happiness. Multiple scientific studies back this up. According to an article in Psychology Today, gratitude

·         Opens the door to more relationships

·         Improves physical health

·         Improves psychological health

·         Enhances empathy

·         Helps you sleep better

·          Improves self-esteem

  •           Increases mental strength

Yes, please!

An article on happierhuman.com that references the results of 40 studies on gratitude says, “A five-minute a day gratitude journal can increase your long-term well-being by more than 10 percent. That’s the same impact as doubling your income! … According to gratitude researcher Robert Emmons, gratitude is just happiness that we recognize after-the-fact to have been caused by the kindness of others.  Gratitude doesn’t just make us happier, it is happiness in and of itself!”

When I’m counting my blessings, I feel so much better about everything. I’m more satisfied with my life, less critical and judgmental, and more relaxed. Plus, as I said in a previous post, Zoom in on the Good, when I consciously seek things to appreciate I seem to encounter them more and more.

I enjoy paying attention to stuff I often take for granted. For example, every time I go with one of my parents to a doctor’s appointment or surgery, I’m reminded what a blessing good health is. I’m also constantly grateful for my son and husband.

But it’s easy to be grateful for the wonderful parts of your life. What’s difficult is to find silver linings in the tough times. I think, though, that that sort of “attitude of gratitude” might be the most powerful. If we can find some tiny thing to be grateful for in the midst of difficulty, it can spur optimism and hope, and make the tough time more bearable.

I’ve been reading Gabrielle Bernstein’s book May Cause Miracles: A 40-Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness. In it, she talks a lot about the power of gratitude. The affirmation for Day 11 is “I am grateful for this moment.” She recommends you repeat it to yourself throughout the day, and I’ve continued to use it. Not only does it help me appreciate ordinary pleasant moments that I might have missed, it also helps me reframe challenging moments. I try to see how I could be grateful for that moment. What could it teach me?

Or, failing that, I use the old “at least I’m not…” trick. No matter what’s happening, it could always be worse, so voila: instant gratitude. Plus, when I think to myself, “Could be worse…” I remember a scene from one of my favorite movies, “Young Frankenstein,” when Igor says, “Could be worse; could be raining” and it immediately begins to pour. Makes me laugh every time, and that always helps.

I’m also trying a written gratitude practice. In my evening journal, instead of recounting everything that happened (which seemed to result in complaining more often than not) I now focus on the positive. Ending the day by giving thanks feels a lot better than rehashing what went wrong.

Painter and creativity coach Tracy Verdugo does her gratitude practice in the morning. When I interviewed her for my book on morning rituals, she said, “I used to wake up and think about work right away, which was stressful. Now I’ve created this habit of being thankful first thing instead, and it’s a much better way to start my day.”

Do you have a gratitude practice? I’d love to hear about it!

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Zoom in on the Good

I’ve been participating in The 100 Day Project, where you choose an activity and do it for 100 days, posting on Instagram as you go. Many of the projects are art-related; I decided that mine would be to create something new every day, either with art or words.

The first few days I was pleasantly surprised by what I produced. Then on Day 8, I hit a wall. I’d been busy and wasn’t able to do anything until late in the day. I had an idea of what I wanted, but what ended up on the paper did not match the vision in my head at all. I really didn’t like and didn't want to share this piece. However, there wasn’t time to start over, and I wasn’t about to miss a day so early in the project.

Then I discovered that if I zoomed in tight on one corner, I liked what I saw—a lot. So I took that picture. And it struck me that this could be a sort of metaphor for life. No matter what the big picture looks like, we can always zoom in on at least one detail and find something we like. We can focus on that area and feel appreciation for it, which shifts us into a positive mindset of gratitude rather than a negative one. And even if nothing about the big picture changes, if we stay focused on that feeling of gratitude for what we do like, we will feel better.

Appreciation and gratitude are so powerful. Studies have shown that feeling grateful actually improves our physical and psychological health. That’s pretty amazing. And in my experience, when I consciously seek things to appreciate, I seem to encounter them more and more.

So my reminder to myself, for the rest of this project and beyond, is to zoom in on the good whenever possible.  As this quote from William Arthur Ward puts it, “Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” Happy Thanksgiving! ;-)

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