How To Practice Gratitude - Xmas Special 2014
By Leo Gura - December 22, 2014 | 20 Comments
How to use gratitude to cultivate true happiness
Happy Holidays! This is Leo for Actualized.org, and in this special holiday edition video I want to talk about how to practice gratitude.
Gratitude is a topic you hear talked about a lot. If you’ve immersed yourself in personal development even a little bit through literature, self-help books, YouTube Videos or seminars, you’ve probably noticed that many people talk about gratitude these days.
There is a reason for this. The Psychology Movement, which has been really active over the last 20 or 30 years, has done quite a lot of research on gratitude. They’ve done some studies and sciences on this stuff where they actually took people and forced them to do a daily gratitude journal or to just think about the things they are grateful for in their lives.
Some of these studies lasted for a whole month. These people were queried about how happy they are in their lives. They were queried at the beginning of the phase, before they were doing any gratitude work, and at the end of the phase after 30 days of gratitude work. They discovered that there is a 20% increase in overall happiness and satisfaction with life.
This is a pretty cool finding, and also very popular. That being the case, one of the cliché things people say in self-help is “practice gratitude”. There is something here. I am going to talk about how to use gratitude effectively and what you should be grateful about. I will also talk about some of the ways in which it doesn’t work.
The Trap Of Building A Perfect Life
There’s a trap we fall into as we are going through our lives, when we’re not doing personal development and we’re unconscious about what we’re doing. The trap is trying to build the perfect life.
I’ve got caught in this trap a lot. When I first started, it was about building an amazing career. Then I figured, if I get my career into shape and I get that perfect, I’m going to make sure I have a perfect business too. I’m going to get my finances into shape as well.
I want to have a perfect career and perfect finances, and then I’m going to have a perfect place to live. I’m going to buy myself that dream house in that dream place. I’m going to set it up perfectly inside. I will have a nice car and nice furniture.
Then, I’m going to have a perfect relationship too. I’m going to work on myself to get this relationship going. After I do that, I am going to have some perfect hobbies as well. I will be really great at music and meditation. I will be very well read and smart. Then, I’m going to have some amazing friends.
You get into this syndrome of constructing the perfect life. I actually think that this is one of the things that draw you to personal development – after you study a little personal development, you see that you can actually do this and it’s possible.
It’s actually possible to go out there and construct a very amazing life. The problem with this is that it becomes like a rat race. It’s almost as though the more you try to get there, the less you’re actually getting there. You can compare this to trying to hit the light barrier.
As far as we know, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. The interesting part is, as an object approaches light speed, it actually requires more and more energy to make it go faster. The way this limit is regulated in nature is that this object with a certain mass will require an infinite amount of energy in order to make it go at light speed.
This is impossible. No amount of energy like that exists. You would need the energy of the whole Universe to make it go so fast.
It’s kind of like that with trying to construct the perfect life. The more you try to put everything together perfectly, the more it starts to backfire on you. You actually discover that you don’t have that much control over life.
You have control over a lot of things in your life. However, you don’t have perfect control. You can’t set everything up perfectly. Even if you somehow did that, life is always shifting, changing and morphing. Even if you do manage to construct the perfect life for one day, the shit will hit the fan the next day, month or year.
Something gets out of line. If you’re always paranoid about trying to put everything perfectly into place, your life becomes very stressful and unhappy, rather than happy. The whole reason you’re pursuing this perfect life scenario is because you think it would be heaven on Earth. That would be perfect happiness.
What you actually learn after trying that for a few years is that it’s never going to work. This isn’t possible. It’s like trying to take a bullet and making it go at light speed. You’re never going to be able to do that, because it has mass and requires too much energy to hit that peak.
This is the problem here. Gratitude is really effective for combatting this tendency for perfectionism in your life and personal development. This is where I really like to use it. Yes, you have to go out there and build that awesome life. We are all about that.
This is important. However, you also have to accept that life is pretty good right now. You don’t need the perfect car to make your life perfect. You don’t need the perfect wife or perfect boyfriend to make your life perfect.
You don’t need the perfect career. Even though you can be working on all of these things and having a desire for all of them, it’s still cool to stand back and realize that you’re good with what you have right now as well.
In fact, there are a lot of things you’re forgetting about. There is so much that your mind forgets about. There are so many things that you haven’t accomplished in your life. There are so many things that you have, or that you were just given without the need to work for them.
Maybe, this is because of where you grew up, who your parents were and all of these other circumstances. These things were largely not constructed by you. However, you are benefiting from them. This is where gratitude really comes in.
Gratitude Is Not A Replacement For Work And Discipline
Gratitude is not to be taken as a replacement for work and discipline. This is another trap that I see some people falling into, especially with the more “hippy—ish”, “airy fairy” or “new age” type of thinking. Certain circles among personal development are sort of into this new age stuff.
Their mindset there is – “I’ll just be full of gratitude. Everything is perfect and great. We’re living in this amazing time. Everything is beautiful. Every situation or person is beautiful.” They take this mindset and it might work great for you if you honestly believe that.
What then happens is you use that as an excuse to actually avoid doing any hardcore personal development. Hardcore personal development means you have to identify problems and challenges. You have to go and fix those problems and challenges.
If you have low money in your bank account, that’s a real challenge. You should go and fix that at some point. If you have a bad career that you hate and you tell yourself that everything is nice, you’re actually lazy to go out there and change careers because you’re just too scared. Deep down, you’re too scared to make the career transition.
This isn’t serving you well. Don’t fall into this trap. You still need to practice hard work and discipline. Analyze your life. Have goals. All these things are still very important, but also practice gratitude. This is not an either—or, it’s both.
You practice gratitude with something commonly known as a gratitude journal. You can keep a physical or digital journal. I personally have one on my laptop. I don’t like using cell phones for taking notes. There, you can write stuff down.
Write down exactly what you’re grateful for. The idea is to make it short and simple. It’s literally like creating a list. What does it look like?
Let’s say you get up in the morning and you go finish your morning routine such as showering, brushing your teeth and having breakfast. You then go to your computer and type down five or ten things that you’re grateful for.
This can literally be a bunch of random stuff. I am going to give you a list towards the end of this video about some of the stuff you should really consider being grateful for. That’s basically it. You write them down, you think about them a little bit and then you close your computer and go off with your day.
The idea is just that practice, right there. It can take you as little as two minutes to do this exercise. If you do this on a daily and habitual basis, it will increase your happiness. Gratitude basically makes you feel like you don’t have to seek or chase anything anymore.
This is a really important element to being happy. In order to be happy, you cannot be chasing after happiness. If you’re chasing after happiness, you cannot be happy in the moment.
If you think that you will actually catch happiness in a certain period of time, you’ll realize that you’ll never actually catch happiness. Your brain and mind are constructed in a way that they are always coming up with new goals.
There is always the next thing you want to seek. Even if you do achieve something, your happiness will be very short lived. You will feel it for a day or two, and then it will be gone. Then, you have to chase it again for a year or two in order to achieve it. Once again, it’s gone in another day.
This is really a losing battle. Instead, try to be happy right now, in the exact present second. Are you happy right now? As you are reading this or listening to the video, are you happy? If you are, then you’re happy. If you’re not happy, then you aren’t.
Chasing something is not going to make you happy. You have to learn how to make yourself happy right now. Part of this is to just accept what the present moment is, without needing to change it. When you need to change something, then that’s a neurotic tendency.
It’s a neurotic tendency to always have to change stuff to suit you. This is a very neurotic and self-observed way to live life. A better way to live life is to just think it’s cool right now. It might not be perfect the way it is right now, but who said that life was about making it perfect right now?
That’s not now it works. Why don’t I just be cool with what is? It’s a much smarter way to go about it. Gratitude helps you do this. One of the things to do to practice gratitude is to keep a journal.
I haven’t kept a gratitude journal for quite a while. I did a couple of 30 day challenges where I was actually keeping the journal. I did this as an experiment to see whether this will make me happier. It was. The other thing I don’t like is having too much routine in my life.
For me, keeping a journal all the time can be a bit of a hassle. Instead of this, I am now incorporating a mental gratitude exercise into my morning routine. I’m not writing anything down. As soon as I wake up, I try to come up with three things I’m grateful for in my mind.
These can be both big things and little things. This brings us to the next point – the distinction between big things and little things. This is also very important.
The Distinction Between Big And Small
Sometimes you will want to be grateful for something really big. Maybe you’re really grateful that you’re alive, healthy and you don’t have cancer. This can be an amazing thing. This is a really huge thing to be grateful for.
You can also be very grateful for something tiny and minute. You could be grateful about waking up in the morning and lying there, cozy and warm – just right there, in the moment! It’s a very simple thing. Maybe you can be grateful for the nice toothbrush you have while you’re brushing your teeth. It’s comfortable to hold in your hands.
Maybe when you go to drink your coffee you can be grateful for this warm cup of coffee. It’s the perfect temperature, just the way you like it. It has the right amount of milk in it. It has the right amount of sugar in it and it’s perfect. You can just be grateful for one perfect cup of coffee.
The big things are important to be grateful for. The little things are also very important. They might actually be more important. Do you know why? It’s the little things you take for granted the most a lot of times.
The present moment for you, right now, is constructed out of little things. It’s not some epic thing. Of course, you can be grateful for making a million dollars last year. You might think of it as a huge accomplishment. You might never get that again in your life. It can be a great thing.
However, how often does that happen to you in your life? It doesn’t happen very often. Instead, be grateful for the stuff that happens consistently and frequently. If you’re drinking a cup of coffee every day and you always have it pretty much the way you want, you can be grateful for that.
That’s going to be like happiness that you accumulate every single day. You don’t need some sort of epic thing to happen to you. You don’t need to buy a hundred thousand dollar car. You don’t need to buy a new house. You don’t need to get a new career. These things happen very unfrequently.
That’s why the little stuff is important. This is where you want to focus your energy and attention. I like to mix it up. In the morning, I will have one big thing and two little things that I’m grateful for. Maybe I’ll have two big things and one little thing. Try to mix it up like that.
That’s it. Literally, it takes me 30 seconds to do this in the morning. It’s a mental habit. You have to train yourself. Sometimes, you’ll forget. You have to try again until you get it more solid. That’s something that I’m experimenting with presently.
I can feel that it does increase my happiness a little bit. It makes me more appreciative of just how amazing life is. It’s so easy to take it for granted. There are tons of things to be grateful for. I want to help you generate some of those ideas right now.
The List Exercise
The exercise that you are going to do for this video is this – you’re going to come up with a list of 100 things you are grateful for about your life. Gratitude can be something very personal. It doesn’t have to be generic stuff.
People say things like – “Oh, I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for my health.” Make it very specific and custom tailored to you. What is it in your life that’s really special to you and that you would really hate to lose?
Personally, one of the things I’m grateful for is that I got an amazing education when I was young. I often forget about this. I really studied hard and worked my ass off. In many ways, this put me where I am today. It set the foundation for so much.
I am so glad that I did that. I am so glad that I worked so hard when I was young. This is a very emotional thing for me. I can be really grateful for that. I could have not done that. That was a very deliberate choice I made. I am really grateful I made that choice.
I am also really grateful for the time that I live in. We are living in the 21st Century now. This Century is an amazing time. We have so much stuff now that we take totally for granted. The technology, knowledge and information we have are so cheap or free. Technology is so cheap and virtually free in many situations.
It’s really amazing that we’re living in this time. The political climates that we’re living in are so much better than they were 100 or 500 years ago, let alone 2000 years ago. This is all the kind of stuff you can be grateful for.
At the end of this video, I want you to sit down with a piece of paper, notebook or laptop and actually come up with a list of 100 things you are grateful for in your life. Don’t stop until you do all 100 of them. Don’t be lazy and just do 10 or 20. The point of gratitude is to actually help you see that there’s lots of hidden stuff that you’re missing. You’re missing a lot!
If you’ve never done a gratitude journal exercise before, what you’re going to discover when you actually sit down and force yourself to do this is going to look like this – “Oh, damn! I can’t believe I forgot about this thing here, and this thing there. Oh, and five years ago, I got that achievement or accomplishment. Ten years ago, I had that cool thing happen to me that I’m really grateful for. Oh, what about my family? What about that dog that I had in 5th grade?”
All of this stuff will come flooding back to you. This is important if you’re a personal development junkie like I am. You’re very future oriented. You’re always focusing on the future. You always want more and more. How can I get more money? How can I get a better car? How can I get more knowledge or a better career?
This is kind of like a retrospective. You take a look back. You slow yourself down. You get a little bit more contemplative and pensive. It’s a really cool state to put yourself in. what I really want to end on here is kind of my list of things to be grateful for.
This is really a list of categories. In your list I actually want you to get more specific than this. This will give you a lot of ideas and, hopefully, trigger a lot of stuff for you.
The first category is your home and just the coziness and comfort of wherever you are living. How amazing is it that you get to live in this comfortable place? You’re sheltered from the weather, heat and cold. It’s so comfortable and warm there.
You’ve got your comfortable furniture and carpeting. You’ve got nice windows and lighting. You just have this amazing place you’re living in. think about it. Ten thousand years ago, you would be basically living in the forest or in the grasslands somewhere. You would perhaps be in a hut, but perhaps not even in a hut. That’s huge.
How about your family and parents? Think about all they allowed you to do. Think about all the things they taught you. Think about all the love they gave you. Think about all the amazing adventures they took you on.
Think about how caring, nurturing, compassionate and understanding they were, or how patient they were with you. Think about how much time, energy and money they put into you. If you say things like – “My family was dysfunctional, my father told me some nasty stuff and my mother was a little abusive to me.” Think about it.
Even if you had an abusive mom or angry dad, there is still a lot that the family enabled you to do. This goes for the most abusive families as well. It still played a critical function in your life. There’s plenty of stuff for you to be grateful there.
How about your education? I already covered my education. It was very important to me. Think about how you were educated, the things you learned, the teachers and professors you encountered or the cool friends that taught you stuff. Think of all the stuff you learned and all the books you read.
Maybe there’s that one particular book that really changed how you think about relationships. Maybe there was that one book that really changed how you think about history or philosophy. I’m sure you’ve got a couple of those.
Think about the pets you have and how much enjoyment and love they give to you – dogs, cats or whatever your thing is.
Think about the marvels of modern food. Modern food is pretty unhealthy. Also, think about what you can do with food now that you couldn’t do 10 thousand years ago. The kinds of foods we have right now are amazing.
If you took an apple off the shelf of an American grocery store, and you handed it to a caveman from the past, the caveman would salivate on it. This apple would be the most precious thing he has ever been given to in his entire life.
The apples we have now are gargantuan, juicy and sweet. Take a look at one of those crab apples, which are the size of a golf ball and hard like a rock. They taste sour. That’s what a caveman apple encounter was like.
Just remember all the amazing food you’ve got. Take a look at what you have in your pantry. Take a look at what is there on supermarket shelves. Recognize how cheap it is. You can go and get a meal for literally five bucks.
For ten bucks, you can get a pretty great meal. For twenty bucks, you can get an awesome meal. Just think about that. Think about all the options you have there and all the amazing variety of food. Think about how much you enjoy it and your ability to enjoy it as well.
How about the media? We live in a media soaked culture. There’s a lot of bad stuff coming from the media. Still, there’s the ability to have entertainment so cheaply and easily. It can entertain you, thrill you, bring you to tears or make you laugh.
All of this stuff is available now. It’s so cheap, it’s virtually free. You have access to all of it in HD now, with widescreen. Think about that. Think about the affect media, movies, drama, plays music or documentaries have had on you.
How about technology? Are you grateful for it? We literally live in the most technologically advanced time ever, probably in the history of the Universe. The technology that we have just in the last 20 years is so mind blowing and amazing. It’s so easy to take it for granted.
All the cameras, cell phones, computers, cars and planes we have, you can go through them and create a list of 100 things just in the technology category that you can be super grateful for. Don’t just think about modern technology, but think about technology such as electricity as well.
How cool is that? When was the last time you felt grateful for electricity, air conditioning or birth control? Think about what your life would be like without birth control, air conditioning or modern factories producing all of these industrialized and cheap products.
It’s a cliché, but health is something you start to appreciate as soon as you encounter health problems. I’m getting older now. I’m noticing a little bit of health issues. I’m not as healthy as I used to be when I was younger, just because the body is aging.
Even in your thirties, the body is already starting to age. I’m becoming more and more conscious of that. When you start to take pills, you then notice how nice it was when you didn’t have to take them. That’s cool.
Think about that. Think about your physical body as well. Think about the use of your hands, feet, legs and the fact that you have your vision, hearing, ability to taste, move around, run and the energy levels that you have. All this stuff needs to be really thought about to be grateful about it.
Think about biology, chemistry and physics as well. Are you grateful for these things? If you study these and then you take a look at life, your perspective on life changes.
Biology is amazing. If you study biology and think about the vast complexity of stuff that’s going on in your body, you’re amazed that it works pretty flawlessly. Billions and millions of cells are just moving together.
It’s a mind-blowingly amazing and vastly complex organism standing right here. It’s all working together quite flawlessly. It’s pretty amazing. Think about chemistry and all the ways the molecules interact. Think about how it works. It also works quite flawlessly.
Think about physics. Think about how the physical laws work and everything moves in certain coordination. It follows certain patterns and it has these amazing ways in which stuff works, down to the quark level and really subatomic particles. If you study this stuff and think how all of it works in such an amazing way, you can’t believe that this is what reality actually is.
This is how it’s structured. It’s quite amazing to be grateful for that because honestly, you couldn’t imagine a Universe where you didn’t have the kind of biology, chemistry or physics that we have. You can imagine much worse Universes with much worse types of physics, biology and chemistry in it.
We’re lucky to live in this very rich and almost perfectly designed Universe. This Universe really enables us to do so much.
Are you grateful for psychology, your mind and personal development? I hope that you are. I hope that you can find at least 100 things to be grateful for about psychology, the power of your mind, the ability to change your life, growing, learning and mastering yourself.
To me, this is all amazing stuff.
How about your country, state and city? Are you grateful for that? The place you live in is amazing and it’s so easy to take it for granted. The politics, laws, court systems, police systems, fire departments and medical systems are all part of the society you live in.
No matter how bad you might say your society is, it’s still amazing. Modern society, even in the worst country, is still amazing compared to what societies were like one thousand years ago. It really is amazing.
There is so much to be grateful for about how society functions, especially now. It’s now very popular to criticize governments and to bicker about what governments in other countries are doing. In the end, realize that society is extremely positive overall.
Society promotes your development and growth. Basically, it allows you to live the kind of life that you live, even in very bad societies. If you live in a first world country, you should be so amazingly grateful for that and all the little details about that.
How about the economy? That’s really a part of society too. Regardless of all the people who complain, bitch and moan about it, the economy is amazing. The fact that we even have money which allows us to have me doing something over here, and have you doing something completely different over there, and then exchange it is amazing.
You can earn lots of money in it. There’s an abundance of money. There’s no limit to how much money you can earn. If you want to earn money, you can go and earn it. No one is really stopping you. It’s quite amazing.
How about the time we live in, the 21st Century? You can think about all the amazing stuff about the 21st Century that’s new, fresh and has never existed before. From the technology, to the political system, different cultures or media, there is so much to be grateful for, like the fact we live now instead of 100 years ago or more.
Can you even imagine what your life would have been like if you had lived 10 thousand years ago? It would have been quite miserable. You think that you have problems now. You have no problems at all compared to the problems you would have had 10 thousand years ago.
Think about that.
Think about the freedom and safety you’ve got nowadays. Even in countries that are politically instable, there’s still a lot of safety. It’s way more safety than you would have had just 2000 years ago during the Roman days.
During the Roman days, your city could be sacked by a local city. There were literally no countries. Cities would fight other cities. They were city—states. Countries were cities. They could destroy you. They could come and rape and pillage your entire village, family or place that you live, without any legal justifications or anything like that.
It was quite chaotic. Think about the freedom you’ve got now. Literally, you are free to do so much right now – almost anything! There are very few limits as to your freedom, especially if you live in a first world country.
Think about your safety and how safe you are right now, relative to all the potential dangers you could have faced just a couple of thousand years ago. Think about how safe you are kept by our society. It’s really quite amazing.
Think about awareness and sensation. You are aware right now. You are an aware thing or being, however you want to call it. There is this thing, which is awareness. It’s your entire visual and spectral field, everything you’re feeling, hearing, seeing and tasting. It’s everything you’re noticing and thinking.
There’s awareness there. Awareness is amazing if you really think about it. You can spend the next 10 years thinking about awareness and begin to go on deeper and on more profound levels of understanding the fact that awareness exists, and just what it really is.
It’s a very mysterious and magical thing, as well as sensation. The fact that you’ve got it is amazing. Imagine if you were an ant and how much limited your sensation and awareness would be. We don’t really know, but we can kind of assume that an ant has a much more limited field of sensation than a human being does.
They don’t have as rich of an eyesight or hearing. Maybe they do, I don’t know. Maybe they have really good smell. I’m pretty sure they don’t have the same kind of nice eyesight that we have. They also don’t have the kind of brains we have which allow us to have even deeper levels of consciousness.
What if you were like a bacterium? Think about how limited a bacterium’s sensations and perceptions are. It’s very limited compared to what we’ve got. You can think about it like this – if what you have right now is a 4K display, a bacterium is like a 20 pixel by 20 pixel display, compared to the 4K display that we’re looking at through our eyes.
Think about how amazing that is, to be living in this very rich universe of sensations and experiences. It’s so cool.
Lastly, be grateful for your life. Be grateful for life itself and the fact that life exists and you are a part of it. Be grateful that you got the chance to be here when a trillion other organisms didn’t. Be grateful of the fact you grew up, lived through your childhood, there were so many dangers, and you escaped all of them. You persevered and you made it here until today.
Here you are now. You’re living and breathing in this moment. It’s this amazing and magical thing. There are a lot of other life forms around you. All of them are somehow affecting one another. We live in a Universe on a planet that allows for life.
What if the Earth didn’t allow for life? What then? There is so much we take for granted here. What if we lived in a Universe that just couldn’t sustain life at all because of the physics that were there? Or what if the biology or chemistry just wasn’t right? What if the kind of life that was sustained wasn’t as rich as the kind of life that we have?
The fact that you’re able to be here, that you’re a human being and not some other animal or creature, is amazing. You are a human being, one of the most intelligent, advanced and stupid life forms that we’ve encountered so far. Think about that. Think about how grateful you should be for the fact that you’ve got this life.
Think about how grateful you should be for the time you have still remaining in this life, no matter where you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20, 30 or 70 years old, you’ve still got time remaining. That right there is something to be really thankful about.
These were some of my thoughts on the categories. I hope this jogged your memory. I want you to come up with your own unique list. Go ahead and do that at the end of this video. I encourage you to post your results down below in the comment section. I’m curious to see what kind of unique and cool things you guys can come up with within your lists of things to be grateful for.
This is Leo, I’m signing off. Go ahead and post me your lists and comments. Click the like button to like the video. Share this video with a friend or on Facebook. It’s the holiday sharing spirit. Come and sign up to Actualized.org.
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