Cultivating Appreciation

There has been a lot of emphasis put on being grateful, being appreciative in our society with the thought that with more gratitude we will avoid negative situations & circumstances and good things will come our way. There's also a subtle idea that doesn't often get spoken of but shows up in a quiet little way in which we think that in doing this, we will be perceived as being more spiritual. I'd suggest that that is absolutely the wrong motivation. If you're doing this thing of being grateful for ANY reason other than cultivating a greater awareness of what is around you, in you, then you might as well stop and not waste your time.

This thing of appreciation goes so much deeper than how you will appear to your friends or what you think it says about you and how incredible you are (which you are but not for the reason mentioned). Having greater awareness & appreciation of things, moments, people, deepens your connections and add value to everything you do and to how you experience your life. It as much as opens the door to those feelings of happiness that so many seek through accumulation of 'more & more'.... Appreciation helps feed the hungry soul in all of us.

One of the people I enjoy listening to is Ryder Carrol who came up with something called the Bullet Journal as a way of dealing with his learning disability many years ago. It's a method that proven to not only help him immensely in his life but also has helped many others as well. He has a very thorough and organized way of thinking and presenting things. Because it is helpful and because it is a catchy way to remember something, I'd like to present an acronym that he came up with that can help you focus your thoughts and focus on building a greater awareness and appreciation.

It is called S.C.O.R.E. and I'll break it down below so that it's easy to follow and understand. If you give yourself ... let's say a month ... of doing this, you will find that your experience of your life with the events that occur and the relationships you have with others, will improve and be enriched. That your life will gain in meaning and a greater sense of value, is an added bonus. So, just give it a go and see for yourself how your life will change.

Sincerity: "Keeping S.C.O.R.E. begins by keeping a journal. In that journal you can write whatever you want as long as it includes an ongoing record of the things you're grateful for. When you begin, you're likely to list things you know you "should" be grateful for...but don't feel grateful for. Maybe it's your looks, your talent, or your job. Again, not being grateful for these things, doesn't make you a bad person. It just means you don't know what it's like to not have those things. Listing things you don't feel grateful for, can instill a quality of shame, guilt, or insincerity into your practice. This risks the practice all together. Don't judge yourself, simply look elsewhere."

Take time to look & listen more closely, developing a greater awareness of everything around you as you consider what you'll write in your journal.

Consistency: It's said that we have a natural bias for the 'negative' and if our attraction to news or accidents is any indication, this is all too true. Yet when we TRY to do most anything we set ourselves up to struggle with whatever it is - could be a diet, weight, being on time, etc. - and we immediately come up against an inner resistance. "It's engaging with that resistance consistently that forms the core of an effective gratitude practice." Instead, seek to develop a greater sensitivity and awareness of the effort required to stay steady with that process. Through continued attention, you will build up a new 'muscle' in your awareness and by staying SLOW & STEADY, you won't loose motivation to complete the month.

So start small. Start with just one thing you're grateful for and write it down and why you feel as you do. Even if the same thing or person or sound or whatever seems to show up over and over, notice that there may different reasons that thing caught your attention. If after a few weeks you think you can add 1 more thing, do so. Beware though of creating a whole list that's not what I'm suggesting! -because you will find most assuredly, that you'll loose focus and interest very quickly! Your goal is not to see HOW MANY things you can be grateful for but how you can create and maintain an awareness in a meaningful daily way until it is the lens through which you see & experience your life.

As an example, one of my daughters as a child was increasingly negative and dissatisfied with everything which led to her feeling frustrated and she'd become upset easily,

One night as I was putting her to bed, I began something that we'd do every night for some time. I asked her to name 3 things that went well, that made her happy, that she succeeded at, that she was grateful for. As time went on, her frustrations eased and she became less critical of others and herself.

Many years later, she reminded me of our nightly ritual. She had never forgotten it and it had changed her perception of her world immensely.

Originality: When starting out, the list of things you're authentically grateful for will be obvious. Your partner, your health, your friends, your dog etc. Because they're obvious, you're prone to list them time and again until your answers become automated. The problem is that after you've listed your dog for the fifth time, chances are you won't feel grateful, you're just going through the motions. If you no longer feel grateful for the things you list, your practice becomes meaningless. The trick is to keep finding new things and new ways or reasons in which you are grateful.

"If you are grateful for the weather again, why is this sunny day better than other sunny days?

  • I'm grateful for this sunny day because: it allowed me to sit outside and read

  • I'm grateful for this sunny day because: it allowed me sell my stuff on the stoop sale

  • I'm grateful for this sunny day because: it allowed me to go for a socially distant walk with Andy.

No two moments are identical. Each moment is the first and last of its kind. Through practice we begin to see - if not appreciate - the way they differ. Once you've experienced finding the originality of a moment through practice, your awareness changes. You realize that what you can discover in each moment to nourish you is limited only by your ability to perceive it. The awareness you’re cultivating begins to follow you into the rest of your life."

Reflection: By writing down what and why we are grateful for something, we are actively 'reflecting' and reliving it as we're writing. It strengthens that muscle we're developing. When we’re in a good place, reflection on good things comes easily and it helps feed our sense of optimism. This in turn feeds our ability to be resilient in the face of the challenges (big or small) that will show up on our doorstep at some point. And even through those difficult moments, we will gain greater ability to see and appreciate the good things that have been or are still good in our lives in such a way that we don't take them for granted. We will enjoy what we have more readily, be it our health, friendships, financial abilities, skills we've learned etc. "We spend a lot of our life waiting to be happy. Our happiness is often contingent on some future qualification: When we make this much money, find this person, buy that house, only then will we be happy. Of course this is rarely the case. These misguided expectations pave the roads leading to disappointment, suffering, and, ultimately lack of gratitude. An inability to enjoy what you have, won't be cured by having more. Be it objects or experience, reflection helps us become more aware of what we've already been gifted. Learning how to appreciate what we have, is far more valuable than anything we could ever buy."

Expression: Being appreciative isn't something to cultivate just for the reason that you want to be happy. It won't necessarily secure those things that we long for. What’s just as important is our ability to express our gratitude. "New research suggests that our expression of gratitude can be even more beneficial than an internal practice. Expressing our gratitude has many obvious benefits, like strengthening our relationships and improving our mood. A study conducted at University of North Carolina breaks verbal thanks into two different types: "other-praising" and "self-benefiting." Other-praising is about highlighting the giver like “This just goes to show how thoughtful you are” or "You're so talented" whereas self-benefitting is about highlighting yourself like “That makes me happy.” or "I'm so relieved." The study found that "other-praising" gratitude was strongly related to perceptions of responsiveness, positive emotion, and loving — but self-benefit gratitude was not." Everyone wants and needs to feel significant and other-praising has that effect. It’s worth noting that it also encourages more of the same helpful behavior from the benefactor, both towards you and others. Simply by pointing out someone else's virtues, we can experience even more gratitude & closeness, and motivate them to shine brighter."

So take the next month to begin and follow through on this practice and discover how your perception and life will change. My guess is that you will be very appreciative that you did!

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