You might not spend time consciously visualizing your future, but I bet you have a pretty clear idea of where you’re going; if you’re like most Samovarians, you’ve got ambitious goals to complete before 2013 is done. So let me ask, on a scale of 1 to 10 how close are you to living your ideal life?
Grab a piece of paper and write down your number. Be honest — you don’t have to share the number and you aren’t being graded.
Got it? Now answer the next question. Why isn’t your number lower?
We spend so much energy optimizing, tweaking our habits, our exercise routines, our showers, all to squeeze out just a little more juice. Don’t get me wrong, these tools and tips are great — your Ikigai demands it.
But the truth is, you can’t “lifehack” your way to happiness. Happiness can only be found in the life you already have.
And the root of happiness is gratitude.
Picture a cup of your favorite tea. The number you wrote down earlier represents the fill line. The empty space represents what I call The Gap: our unsated desires. The Gap drives countries to war. The Gap creates the will for peace. The Gap created F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, Beethoven’s 5th, and Michelangelo’s David.
But when we fixate on The Gap, we breed frustration and disappointment because The Gap is infinitely large. It’s Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox. With every step we get halfway to the destination, and the destination remains forever in the distance.
Even if each step feels great — blasting through the to-do list, driving the new car, making big plans and bringing them to life — the problem is these feelings don’t last.
The solution is to take in the whole cup by remembering to experience gratitude for the half that is filled.
How To Experience Gratitude
Here are three tools that I use to feel more gratitude every day.
1. DRINK TEA MINDFULLY — The act of brewing and drinking tea can become automatic, but when we savor the experience with our full attention, we become more grounded in the present moment. The feel of the pot in your hands. The complex aromas teasing your nose. The warm ceramic on your lip like a soft kiss. Tea reminds us of the joy of being human. Nourishment, warmth, vitality, the humble cup of tea delivers this, and more. A simple mindful tea practice can make a huge difference in your day. Imagine the impact over a lifetime.
2. KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL — Get a notebook (I like Moleskins). If that’s not convenient, a piece of paper will do. Date the page and write down your 1-10 life satisfaction number. Next, jot down everything you feel grateful for. We usually ignore our physical being until there’s a problem. Now‘s your chance to appreciate it. How about the toothache you don’t have? The cold you got over? Pay attention to what’s working. How about your relationships — which ones are going well? Your home — what’s good about your living situation?
Aim for at least 10 things you’re grateful for, but if all you can find is one, that’s okay! Even one is a start. And it’s fine to list the same things every day. The point is to focus on what you are thankful for. Once you begin your Gratitude Journal, stick with it for at least 5 days. I don’t write in my Gratitude Journal every day, but I refer to it a few times a month, and I make lists a couple times a year.
3. ACKNOWLEDGE SOMEONE, DAILY — John E. Southard wrote, “The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.” Try to spend a few minutes everyday, giving attention to someone important to you: boss, employee, client, parent, child, sibling, friend, lover. Taking time to appreciate the people in your life is like turning on a fusion reactor; you can feel your bonds getting stronger and you unleash tremendous energy.
A simple, “I love you!”, will bring out the sun, but see if you can go further. Try to be very specific with your acknowledgement. Avoid saying things like, “You’re so great!”, because great is a value judgement, great is a label. At the end of the day, we’re all chasing after the same things. We want to feel valued, to feel connected, to feel loved. So rather than labels and judgements, think of a need that this person has met in your life and focus on that. Try, “I really admire how you ___.” Or even better, “When you ____ it makes me feel ___ . Thanks!”
Keep two principles in mind: be as specific as you can, and be sure to talk about how it made you feel. Even if your schedule is completely booked, finding just five minutes to reach out and tell someone what they mean to you could be the most important thing you do all day.
The truth is, you cannot fill The Gap. The Gap is insatiable, interested only in the distance between where we are and where we want to be. By practicing gratitude we forget about the future and let go of the past, stepping out of time to wake up in the present moment. In the present moment we can savor both the emptiness and the fullness of our cup. And only in the present moment can we truly find happiness.