The Welcome Stillness
I’m sitting in my nice warm house which is now quiet after a long day of all sorts of activities. The kids are asleep and just as their crying had raised my blood pressure only a few hours earlier, the present stillness makes me miss them. I am grateful for them. I am grateful for the life we have together.
It’s interesting how, at least for me, these quiet moments open the door for gratitude. It’s not with big swells of emotion, either, just a calm, still sense of wonder and, well, gratitude. Sitting in the living room, for example, and I look over at the couch and I recall the moments when my family has sat on that couch having a nice time. I’m grateful for my family, for those moments, and for the couch that enabled those moments. And just as these moments are thrust upon me, usually like this one, at the end of the day after the kids are asleep, we can also access these still, grateful moments intentionally throughout our day.
Hitting the pause button once in a while to reflect basically manufactures gratitude. What a wonderful practice! What’s more, it’s not complicated. You don’t need some fancy technique or a book to study or a guru or anything like that! There are tons of positive health outcomes associated with gratitude, but I think the reason why this awesome emotion eludes us so frequently is because we don’t intentionally make space for producing it.
It’s interesting that the word “mindfulness” has really blown up in recent years. Beyond the buzz-wordiness, we must recognize that people are interested in mindfulness because people aren’t very good at being mindful and that makes our lives less than optimal. It’s easy to see – in our fast-paced, high-frequency, impulse reaction world, it’s legitimately difficult to be mindful. And when we aren’t mindful, we basically just gloss over the splendid detail of our lives en route to our next soda pop or whatever.
So here’s what we can do: pick a time, or a regular interval of time (would be great to use a timer even) when you’re going to stop whatever you’re doing if only for a few seconds and place your attention on the world around you. I used to be the kind of guy who never took breaks at work, but those days are long behind me for multiple reasons that I won’t explore here (but maybe in a future blog post!). Now I take regular, scheduled breaks when I’m at work and one of the things I do on these breaks is to move my attention to my surroundings and I consider how these surroundings enable some aspect of my life. The couch in my living room is a great example of this, another might be if I’m sitting in my car during one of my breaks, I just observe how the car makes my life better by safely getting my family and I to the places we need to go.
The more you do this, the more you’ll just start doing it unprompted. At work you may see Jim come walking down the hall and you think “Jim always wears fun socks that make me smile”. Or maybe you walk past the coffee machine and you think about how nice it is that there’s a coffee machine near your desk (Okay, do we really need to more deeply express our love for coffee?).
It’s the combination of being more mindful of the world around you and allowing that increased awareness to create gratitude by considering the positive connections between you and the world around you. It’s the little things like Jim’s fun socks and the big things like your kids or your very existence in the universe. Intentionally making time for gratitude can greatly improve your level of happiness and satisfaction throughout your busy life.