You probably know you have things to be thankful for, but if you’ve got big plans for your life, it can be hard to stay focused on them. You know you have people in you’re life you’re thankful for, but when they nag you about the things you’re stressed about, it’s hard to remember you love them.
If you’re an ambitious person, striving for your next step is how you stay alive. Avoiding people who drag you down helps keep your mind right (except for that sometimes, when they know you well, they’re just shining a mirror to your beautifully imperfect self…darnit).
So, it is possible to be grateful and ambitious? To love people, and to keep them only as close as you need them to? To receive the lessons you need with an open heart, while protecting your self-worth at the same time?
The answer, I think, is in observing the little things, and through mindfulness, cultivating a natural sense of gratitude throughout the day. As you walk down the street, look up from your phone and notice the beauty, the kindness and the humor that constantly surrounds you. Make your ambition purposeful, and when possible, compassionate.
In a New York Times op-ed piece, David Brooks considered two types of people – those who are situationally grateful, and those who he calls “dispositionally grateful.” This second group “takes nothing for granted. They take a beginner’s thrill to a word of praise, at another’s good performance or at each sunny day. These people are present-minded and hyperresponsive.” People with a naturally grateful disposition are engaged with the present moment, noticing small beauties around them and taking pleasure in others’ success, as well as their own. They are good teammates and friends. They are mindful.
One common mindfulness practice for cultivating thankfulness is creating a “gratitude list.” The idea is to spend time in a focused manner detailing various things, people and truths, large or small, that you’re glad you have in your life. It’s a super effective way to gain some perspective quickly when you’re feeling dissatisfied, or sad, or jealous of that annoying co-worker who seems to wake up naturally perfect every day. When you look at the list and consider your life without the things on it, it’s like a pep talk you just gave yourself.
As the saying goes, if all the world put their problems in a pile, you’d probably gladly take yours back.
Mindfulness can help us be more attuned to opportunities for gratitude in each day, and also more thankful for both small kindnesses and big successes. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to actively pursue our dreams, we can never say – or feel – that “thank you” enough.
“In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)