“When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need.’”
–The Dalai Lama
People who complain a lot are usually unhappy people, unless complaining makes them pseudo happy. True happiness eludes them, just like everything else in life.
Over the years, I have heard people begin statements like this:
- “I will be happy when…” or
- “I would be happy if…”
Happiness for them is contingent on something else happening or on acquiring something they do not presently have. Like a perpetually receding tide, the future moves away faster and faster, leaving them high and dry. They risk becoming bitter and resentful people because life hasn’t worked out for them the way they want or according to what they think they deserve. The future they were chasing was in reality an illusion and a delusion.
What we often fail to realize is that happiness relies on or is based on contentment.
Contentment is not future oriented. It can only be experienced in the present; right here and right now, in this moment. Our ancient ancestors on the savannah or in the shadow of retreating glaciers felt content when they were warm, dry, safe and satiated. For the moment, everything was right and good.
Gratitude is a critical ingredient to contentment, joy and happiness.
Gratitude is an attitude, a practice and an emotion. There are many aspects to gratitude. It is an awareness and appreciation for the people in our lives and for what we have and for the good that has come to us by chance, good fortune and from our hard work and effort.
Gratitude is the acknowledgement and appreciation of the good that has been given to us by others. We are thankful for the undeserved kindness of others who share themselves and what they have out of the goodness of their hearts. We allow ourselves to be touched deeply by their beneficence and good will and return it with our heartfelt thanks.
It is the simple acknowledgement and appreciation of whatever is good in one’s life. I am reminded of the Irving Berlin song “Count Your Blessings” sung by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. I’ve always thought that along with maintaining a sense of humor in the face of hardship, it was one of our oldest coping skills. We are often far richer than we think we are.
Finally, the attitude and practice of gratitude is ultimately an affirmation of the goodness of life itself. Gratitude for our own lives and that we are alive. Gratitude for the life of those whom we love and the time we have with them. And, if they are gone, it’s gratitude that we were graced with their love and presence even if only for a little while, making life fuller and less lonely.
We need to share our experiences, joys and sorrows.
People need validation. We need to express our thoughts, emotions and concerns. We need to share our experiences, joys and sorrows. When injured, ill, hurt or grieving, we seek comfort. When some people come to therapy, they are hungry for empathy and understanding. They long for their stories to be heard and valued. Some people act as though no one has ever really listened to them.
As we go through our day, we can easily feel taken for granted. For some, a compliment is as rare as a leprechaun or unicorn. Children are not the only ones who can go neglected, unseen and unheard. Perhaps that is why so many people seem so hungry for validation, even preoccupied with seeking it. They may be unaware of it, even as they act out negatively, just as children will. They have been hungry since childhood. Sadly, many people do not get it in their marriages either. Invalidation is one of the conditions that contribute, support and sustain mental illness and personality disorders.
Gratitude takes us out of ourselves.
It invites us to open our eyes and look around us, to see goodness and beauty. It invites us reach out with kind regard. Feeling and expressing gratitude is a validation of others and a validation of life.
A Morning Gratitude Exercise
If your loved one is nearby, pause a moment and listen to their breathing. Allow yourself to be aware of their presence with you. Grateful for their life and the life you share together. Allow yourself to think and feel how amazing it is, what a miracle their love for you is. Think about all the ways their loving presence enriches your life in the past and now.
|DO …||THINK …|
|As you wake each morning, allow your eyes to open.||I am glad to be awake.|
|Gradually allow yourself to become aware of your breathing.||I am glad to be breathing.|
|Stretch and move.||I am glad to be sensing, moving, thinking and feeling.|
|Listen to the sounds around you.||I am glad to be aware. I am glad to be alive.|
|Breathe in and out.||Each breath signals a new beginning.|
If your loved one is gone, think about one moment you shared with them. Think about what a blessing it was to have them in your life for that time, and to have them in your heart right now.
Gratitude not only deepens our appreciation, but opens us to the sacredness of love and kindness. It opens our hearts to more deeply cherish our lives and our loved ones. Gratitude is a critical ingredient to contentment, joy and happiness. It is something you can touch and taste now and at any time. Don’t wait. Go Well.
David Agee, LMSW, is a therapist at the Pine Rest Traverse City Clinic. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Detroit, an MDiv at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. and an MSW from Grand Valley State University.
As a therapist, David is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, narrative therapy, motivational interviewing, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, and mindfulness based cognitive therapy.