“The aim of life is appreciation;
there is no sense in not appreciating things;
and there is no sense in having more of them
if you have less appreciation of them.”
- G. K. Chesterton -
Does anybody have time to appreciate or even notice the little things anymore? With all our distractions life seems to pass us by at light speed and we easily forget to appreciate or give thanks for the moments we live in, and the things we have however great or small they may be. Whatever your thoughts about the holidays you are perfectly in your right to make them as good or as terrible as you would like - but I recommend against making things terrible, or at least worse than they need to be. So in the vein of making life good, or less terrible, let's take the prompt of this November's most famous holiday, Thanksgiving, and aim at appreciating whatever we can find.
I do want to caution, though it probably goes without saying, stay away from appreciating anything malevolent, that would be silly and probably sociopathic. However, because bad things happen, and will happen, we must find a way through them. I mean, it's not like we have been experiencing a pandemic, wars, or political and social unrest. One way through is to count our blessings, as per a study out of the University of California Davis (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Not only does this study suggest that the practice of "counting blessings" can increase positive emotions but one's quality of sleep - who wouldn't be thankful for that? Another article out of Judgment & Decision Making (yes that's real) suggested a number of ways to improve "positive emotions" and even one's "sense of engagement and meaning". The article suggests the following practices: "writing letters of gratitude", "practicing optimism", "performing acts of kindness", "meditating on positive feelings towards others", and even using your "signature strengths" (Miron-Shatz et al., 2013).
I know, those suggestions can sound a bit Polly-Anna or cliche, but here is the rub, there is a growing body of research suggesting that these things actually work! And, I suspect that if you gave these a shot, over time (weeks or months) you will notice improvement, and maybe even find yourself in a state of "thanksgiving". These practices are not easy and will require a desire, willingness, and intentional effort to grow. If thanksgiving is more than a day, then it must be a lifestyle, and these practices must accompany the ins and outs of our day.
So, what if there's bad stuff? Well, if we are willing to look closely enough, and allow enough time, we can find something worth appreciating. C.S. Lewis, a great 20th-century writer, puts it this way; "We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is "good," because it is good, if "bad" because it works in us patience, humility, and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country." The second part of Lewis's quote, seeing patients, humility, and contempt for the evils of the world as hope producing virtues earned through hardship, is admittedly difficult. But it is especially so if we don't take the time to quiet our minds and reflect, at least enough to attempt the previously stated suggestions. I admit this can be tiring. Growing and getting better is rarely easy, but what's the alternative? and what is it that you really want? I know that life is full of hardship, but life is also full of beauty and we ought to find it.
Do not let thanksgiving be an option, let it be the only option! It is practical after all, I mean who doesn't want to feel grateful about their family, friends, circumstances, or even the bizarro world they live in. The Chesterton quote at the beginning of this article suggests that the "aim of life is appreciation", and that "there is no sense in not appreciating things". This is so obvious, and maybe that's why it's so easily missed. But where do we start? What should we appreciate? Well, start with the obvious and keep it simple, appreciate what you have, and not what you don't. In this way, and with the aforementioned suggestions, we can sustain gratitude and thankfulness. Broadly speaking, if we work to increase our positive emotions we can improve our mental health, which consequently betters our relationships (Cohn & Fredrickson, 2010) - Who in their right mind wouldn't be thankful for that?
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought,
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
- G. K. Chesterton -
Cohn, M. & Fredrickson, B. (2010). In search of durable positive psychology interventions: Predictors and consequences of long-term positive behavior change. Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 355-366
Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Count- ing blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377–389.
Miron-Shatz, T., Diener, E., Doniger, G. M., Moore, T., Shaphire-Bernstein, S. (2013). Charting the internal Landscape: Affect Associated with thoughts about major life domains explains life satisfaction. Journal of Judgment and Decision Making, 8, 603-616