Practicing Gratefulness

A heart with the word "Enough" inside of it.

It is easy to get down about our lives, when we are constantly bombarded by the media and advertising.  Successful advertising preys on us to intentionally make us feel that we are missing out if we do not buy the products they are selling.  The media continues to grow to levels that never could have been imagined 30 years ago. 

In addition to the classic three: print, TV, and radio, we now have the biggest of them all; the Internet.  Within the internet we have many professional content producers as well as amateurs joining the mix.  It seems everyone has an opinion to share, and hypocritically this blog is no different.

Information Overload

The amount of content we are bombarded with everyday is so strong that we are automatically filtering what is important every minute of the day.  We are quick to realize the difference between content and paid advertisements on websites.  Yet it still takes energy to focus on what it is we really are interested in, without getting bogged down by the rest.  It also can be hard when we see things that pander to our emotions.

For instance let’s say we are watching a sporting event on TV and the coach calls a timeout.  We all are conditioned that we will have to watch a commercial.  Most of us generally do not pay too much attention to it and many turn the sound off.  Yet many of us still watch the now silent ad to make sure we don’t miss the action when the game still comes on.  Car companies constantly advertise on TV, and even without sound you still see the shiny new cars racing around.  Even if you are content with your car and never had a single thought that day that you needed a better car, just seeing the new cars on TV triggers something in our brains telling us that our car is not as good.

Most of us can control ourselves not to buy many of the products beamed at us daily. Yet this still takes a psychological toll in comparing what we have, to what we perceive other people have.  If we didn’t know there was something better, or didn’t think our neighbors had something better, we would be much happier.

How much is Enough?

If we can become content with what we have then we can be better suited to not let ourselves be dragged down by what other people have.  The secret is to be thankful for the things you do have.  It is too easy to see something missing in our life and think that we can’t be happy until that need is met.  If someone else has something we do not, we may feel that they must be happier than us. In turn we must be missing out.  It is important to try to live in the moment and be content with what you choose to do in life.  Be thankful for the intangibles that money cannot buy, such as relationships with friends and family.

Focus on What is Important

One way to overcome all of this is to really think about what is important to you and only those closest to you.  Then you can make a plan to live your life under your own values and aspirations.  A great way to start is by getting rid of all the possessions that serve no value.  A lot of us collect things that only take up space and overwhelm us.  If we can unload these things we now have some physical space in our home and emotional energy freed up. The more we can simplify our livest the more time we can have to stop around and smell the roses.  Sometimes just having the time to sit on a bench at the park and enjoy the nice weather outside can be very satisfying.  Sometimes putting down the electronics and taking in the space around you is all that is needed once in a while.

How Video Games Relate to Real Life

Any gamer out there has experienced a game that is just challenging enough, but not impossible, to make you play as hard as you can to win.  Many games allow you to earn rewards, such as powerups or in sports games the ability to buy better players.  In some of these sports games your goal is to build the best team you can with the best players you can get as a result from winning games.  It may take playing 100 football games to get the points to purchase these players.  Along the way this is very exiting and the hours put into building this team go by fast thinking about how amazing it will be to have the best possible team once you get enough points.

What is interesting is that once you finally get all the best players you hoped to have you suddenly are not interested in playing the game anymore.  The whole pursuit of getting the best players was the actual excitement, but once you have them the game is too easy and not a challenge anymore.  Surprisingly it is no longer fun to play the game, and so you go to the video game store and buy a new game where you will start at the bottom and repeat the process.

Oddly real life is not all that different.  Many of us work hard to earn money to buy the things we think we need to be happy.  We think one day if only I make enough money life will be easy and I will be happy.  The problem is, if any of us actually get to that point, we might be let down and become bored.  More alarming, if all the money in the world does not make us happy, what can we possibly achieve that will? Does that mean something is wrong with me? These are natural questions that we all struggle with.

Celebrations are Important

Throughout life there are opportunities for real rewards just like those you got from video games.  It was a great accomplishment to finally finish and graduate high school.  If you went to college, graduation there too was a big deal.  If you played sports anytime you won a game you felt this same feeling.  The problem is when you start working you only have your paycheck every 2 weeks to celebrate.  But most of us do not celebrate it, as we expect it to arrive consistently as it has for many for many years.  There is nothing new or exciting.  I think this may be why some people want that next promotion so bad. Its more the sign of achievement than the actual increase in pay. The reinforcement that we are doing good work.

So we only think if the check became much larger would we feel happiness.  Maybe we should really make a celebration everytime the check comes.  It doesn’t mean we need to go out and spend money, but we can be grateful for the check arriving and think about all the hard work we put in to get it.

Example: Retired Athletes

You may have noticed how many athletes have a hard time facing retirement from their careers.  Many hang on much longer than they should only to then go on to coach, commentate, or anything else they can do to stay relevant in the sport.  For their lives, they equated happiness with their sports achievements.  Once this is no longer available, it is scary to wonder if they can be happy again.

We also know about the great pressure athletes are under in their sport.  I believe one of the main reasons for this is their success in victories has always given them happiness, but the higher up they move in the competitive levels the harder it is to keep winning.  If they suddenly cannot win as often, they may feel they cannot be as happy as they once were with frequent victories.  It could even become a burden feeling the pressure to win for the fear of not being able to be happy if they were to lose.

Simple Inhibitors to Happiness

You may be perfectly happy enjoying your day and feeling good about decisions you have made in your life.  Then you see someone that has more money than you.  It doesn’t matter if its a neighbor, colleague, someone on TV or the Internet.

Even if you are happy with your earnings and it allows you to lead the lifestyle you want, sometimes you might wonder am I not trying hard enough to become rich and successful.

This is a hard one to wrestle with.  There are some people that are extremely lucky and end up wealthy without much work or sacrifice, but most that are surely worked extremely hard.

So the next time you get down this line of thinking, remember all the things you do have and enjoy doing.  That trading away some of that would be no guarantee of riches anyways.

Instead be thankful for the time and money you do have.  Most of us can’t have large amounts of both.  When in doubt choose time.

Modern Day Conveniences

Despite all of the pitfalls listed above, we still have so many advantages.  A King had the best of whatever existed in his time.  Generally there was very little for the proletariat. Think of all the modern day conveniences we have that King’s did not: air conditioning, modern medicine, TV, Internet, movies, cars and international travel.  We have endless opportunities of where we can go and what we want to do in our lives.  Yet we are not happier for it. Simply for the fact that there are some who have so much more than the rest of us that the standard of a King has been raised.  We see the sports cars, mansions, yachts, and private jets and realize that we do not have as much and therefore are not as happy.  Yet if we took everything we have now and went 400 years into the past we would be brimming with happiness.  The next time you feel down, try to remember all the things that you do have instead of only those that you don’t.

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