I like to think of myself as a grateful person. I’m quick to thank others, and have even caught myself thanking inanimate objects like my faucet when water pours out. (What if it didn’t?) But I’ve noticed something recently. When I think about some of my greatest blessings, sometimes there’s a silent “but” attached, that I try to keep hidden away.
I have a job and my bills are paid. (But my work isn’t always fulfilling.)
My wife is perfect for me. (But I wish she’d change this about herself.)
We have a beautiful home. (But there are a thousand undone projects driving me crazy.)
My car is in good shape. (But I wish it was newer.)
My children are my greatest gift. (But parenting is relentless. I have no time for myself.)
I’m healthy. (But I wish I was skinnier.)
I have more than I need.
But I want something else.
My Dad always said if you hear a ‘but’ in a sentence, you might as well ignore whatever the person said in front of it. And I’m starting to wonder what that little word might be doing and undoing in my heart and mind.
Am I living a falsely grateful life?
I just finished a book called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. Shawn is a neuroscientist and former professor at Harvard. His book is the product of more than a decade of researching what makes a person feel happy and fulfilled. The basic premise is that success is the result of happiness, rather than happiness resulting from success. And the book is filled with Harvard studies that have scientifically proven that happiness is a choice. Our circumstances account for only 10% of our longterm happiness. The other 90% is created or avoided in our mind. This is why you can find such joy in third world countries, and such suffering among those who seem to have it all.
If it’s true that we can create happiness by the way we look at things, why are so many people miserable? Simply put, just because it’s common sense doesn’t mean it will be a common experience. Happiness and fulfillment require specific choices. They require specific action.
Achor lays out a challenge that’s calling out to me, especially as we enter the holiday season. I thought you might benefit from it, too. You likely already know that habits are formed by repeating the same action for 21 days in a row. So for the next 21 days, I’m conducting a self experiment to see if I can create the habit of living gratefully, and how that might change my life.
The rules are simple:
1 – For 21 straight days, name three things you’re grateful for.
2 – You can’t repeat yourself in that time.
3 – You must be specific. (Rather than saying, “I’m thankful for my health”, say something like, “I’m thankful I was able to run around with my kids today”.)
Their conclusions are that in 21 days, you’ll have developed the habit of being grateful. And for those who live life gratefully, research goes on to promise a longer, happier life, increased memory, energy and creativity, significantly better relationships, and even some benefits beyond what you might guess. In one experiment, participants’ eyesight actually improved by 10% – and focus groups estimated their ages to be an average of 3 years younger than just a week before! (Yes, please.)
It all sounds great. I wouldn’t complain… but it’s not what I’m after.
I want to live my life eyes wide open to the blessings gracing me and those I love.
I want to see the good around me for what it is, with no strings attached.
I want gratitude to pour out of me freely, rather than saving it for special occasions.
I want to live in a way that says thank you.
For the last few years, something’s been missing for me at Thanksgiving. Rather than anticipating it like when I was a kid, it sneaks up on me now. The week feels rushed and frantic. I race to finish work. Then there are a thousand errands to run. Jennifer locks herself in the kitchen. I do my best to hide the mess in our house from our guests. And as we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, I feel like I’m sliding into home plate. It feels more like an event we pulled off than a day set aside to spend time together and count our blessings. We have a blast with friends and family, and I eat my weight in potato salad and dressing…
But in the chaos and the noise, gratitude becomes an afterthought. And it’s not as authentic or deeply felt as I know it should be, given the life I’m living.
Can a mind be redesigned in 21 days?
Can a heart be changed?
What if we were diligent and deliberate about practicing thankfulness?
Could it truly alter the way we see and live our lives?
Can gratitude release something to us we can’t receive any other way?
I’m about to find out, and it would be awesome to me if we did it together. You may even want to ask your friends and family to join you. STARTING TODAY, list 3 things a day for the next 21 days to develop a habit that is scientifically proven to improve your life. It’s easy, and what do we have to lose? At the very least, we’ll approach Thanksgiving Day having already counted our blessings.
That leaves more time for pie… and that’s something to be thankful for.