Sources of gratitude are like buses, there is always another one coming
Long ago, in a past life, I was one very resentful, scared young man. I was lonely, unhappy most of the time, probably depressed without diagnosis and basically unwilling to believe that love was something meant for me. I just didn’t make room for happy thoughts, and believed that if I just exposed myself to the stuff that I wanted, I’d be happy.
But I really didn’t know what happiness was. I didn’t know what it looked like. I knew what brief periods of joy or exhilaration looked like. I knew the pleasing sensation of weed. I knew the uncomfortable disorientation of alcohol. I knew the buzz of sex. But all of that constant vacillation between pain and pleasure was making me tired.
I wanted to make a change, so I started seeing a therapist. Within the first few visits, he told me his impression of me. “You seem to me like a man who can hardly wait to jump out of his skin.” I never forgot those words. That was when I realized that I was tired of pretending. Tired of being angry all the time. Tired of waiting for other people to change.
Over the next two decades, I did workshops, seminars, read numerous books, wrote volumes of journals, therapy, group therapy, meetings, meetings, and more meetings. I had spent decades suffering at my own hands. I had to train myself to know the difference between suffering and not suffering, and I was willing to take the time to figure it out. I had to know what I was feeling. I had to know what I was thinking.
All of that work made me aware of things to be grateful for. That work on conscious self improvement opened my eyes to what was instead of what I thought was the way things were. I stopped making dire predictions. I started to notice what I could be grateful for. I started to develop a bias in my perception of my life, a bias to notice what I could be grateful for before I’d notice the stuff I could be unhappy about. I started to make a choice about being happy, being grateful, being content.
I learned along the way that the universe is a reflection of everything that I’m thinking and feeling. I learned that if you push really, really hard on the universe, be prepared to duck, because it always comes back. As I began to notice where my gratitude comes from, I also began to notice how I created suffering by my own hand. I began to take responsibility for my choices that led me to my disposition.
Most of this gratitude was in my mind. in 2008, I started to write a gratitude list every morning. I started to notice some core concepts like, “I’m alive”, “I have enough”, and “I am at peace with myself”. Noticing that I’m at peace with myself meant that I was going to act in ways that did not disturb that peace for myself and for others. That also mean that if I could disrupt the peace of others, they could disrupt my peace, too. So I tread carefully with others. I made a point of acting in such a way that I could sleep at night.
I began to notice that happiness isn’t a destination, or simply a state of mind. True contentment and happiness requires planning. True contentment arises from making a conscious decision to be happy, to be grateful. Contentment arises from a long series of decisions to not disturb the peace of others. Contentment comes from making a decision to accept everything as it is, without reservation. These decisions give rise to something else, resilience.
Resilience is the capacity to spring back on task despite disappointment or failure. Resilience is knowing that every “no” is one step closer to a “yes”. Resilience is knowing that every failure is one step closer to success. Resilience allows us to make mistakes, learn from them, make adjustments for the failures of the past, and try again. Resilience is noticing that sources of gratitude are like buses, and there is always another one coming. Resilience is one of the major ingredients to happiness that cannot be given, it can only be learned.
I can recall a night where I had a disagreement with my wife. We had just moved to Utah, and made a soft landing in the finished basement of one of her relatives. It had been a hot day in June. We had a fan that made a ton of noise, but it gave her comfort. The fan blew over me, and ruffled the hair on my arms. I wanted to decrease the speed of the fan. She wanted it on full blast. I relented because she is my wife and she is still with me even though at the time, we were effectively homeless.
I was still unhappy and I could not sleep, so I started naming the things I was grateful for. I didn’t count them, for counting them only makes them the lesser. So I kept naming sources of gratitude. A resentful thought would come, and I would shove that aside and name another source of gratitude, in a dark basement bedroom, next to my wife. Another resentful thought came, and I shoved that aside to name something else that I’m grateful for. Pretty soon, there was no room for resentment. And I fell asleep quietly naming the things that I was grateful for in my mind.
My wife was completely unaware of my effort, and there was no need to tell her. I found my peace. I didn’t make it her job to make me happy. To this day, I hold this attitude. I tell my kids it’s not their job to make me happy. I don’t have to tell my wife this, but it’s not her job to make me happy. For I know that no matter what they do, good or bad, I must make the decision to be happy. So I acknowledge the things I’m grateful for. Every day, sometimes every hour. Sometimes every minute.
I still write a gratitude list every morning. Without fail. But I do something more now, throughout the day, just to check in. I make it a habit to notice the beautiful weather. That I have a nice place to live. That I love my neighbors, my family, my community. It’s kind of like a subroutine that I run just to be in the habit of noticing the good in life.
This isn’t to say that I live without disappointment. There are still disappointments here and there. But I don’t have bad days, I have “challenging days”. I have resilience to endure the disappointments because I know that they are not forever, and that as they pass, I can still notice what I’m grateful for. I know that after disappointments pass, I can still go back to noticing the good in life. I can still have gratitude even when things don’t go right, because I can make that choice. I can get on the next bus.