How To Love The Life You Have And Be Happy With Less.
A Buddhist approach to cultivating appreciation no matter your circumstance.
This article will cover a few techniques that will allow you to take control of your gratitude for life. The feeling of discontentment dwells within our minds on a daily basis. It is most prevalent in those of us that live in a modern, fast-paced world. In Buddhist psychology, discontentment is a very negative state of mind. Unfortunately, much of our environment fuels this discontentment. This dissatisfaction with life is vital for a capitalist society to thrive. If we are content with what we have, the desire to upgrade or buy something new dissipates. This contentedness causes a real problem for businesses: if I’m fine with the phone I have, why do I need to buy the new one? Knowing this, it is imperative that marketing campaigns trigger discontentment in people, so we keep buying.
Gratitude is one of the most positive emotions a person can feel.
Many studies in the West have shown this to be the case. If we are feeling a deep sense of appreciation for life, we are happy at that moment. Knowing this, it’s clear that the discontentment promoted through marketing is a threat to our happiness.
Corporations have put billions of dollars into research aimed at figuring out what makes people buy. This research has given business the tools to make us crave much more than we need. This information is not meant to make you frustrated. I bring this to your attention to make you aware of what your mind is up against. We need to offset this powerful message by mastering the art of appreciation.
Appreciation is a skill that can be mastered. There is no need to wait for loss or fortuitous circumstances to feel it.
We experience the world through comparison:
-We don’t know hot unless we’ve felt cold
-There is no good without bad
-No tall without short
-We don’t know happy unless we’ve felt sad.
The feeling of gratitude is no different. When we lose appreciation for things, we lose touch with the comparison of life without them. We start to appreciate things when we:
- First acquire them
- Think we might lose them
- Lose them altogether.
Do you think you appreciate hot water? How much more would you appreciate it if you had to take cold showers for a week? Just saying you appreciate something can definitely help your level of appreciation. However, actually losing something dramatically intensifies the appreciation you have for it. The following practices are designed to generate a high level of appreciation for the things we take for granted.
1. Take a few minutes every day to visualize losing things you love and need, such as:
· Clean water
· A bed
· Your family
I frequently envision myself homeless to get a sense of how that would be. The more detailed we get with these visualizations, the more powerful they become. This is not meant to make you depressed. You must always end by acknowledging how grateful you are to have these things in your life.
2. Start taking things away from yourself that you always have. There are many ways to do this. Here are a few examples of things I do:
· Take cold showers every morning to appreciate hot water. I would recommend starting out with 15 seconds in a cold shower before turning it to hot. Eventually, you can work your way to a full cold shower.
· Go a day with bland foods every ten days to appreciate delicious foods.
· Sleep on the floor once every couple weeks to appreciate your bed.
This practice is not meant to torture us! It’s intended to help us maintain an appreciation for the things we always seem to have in life. We must touch base with what life is like without things to truly appreciate them.
3. Start putting yourself in front of media that makes you feel fortunate.
· When we compare our lives to those of people we feel have it better than us, discontentment arises. But if we compare our lives to those of people who have it worse than us, gratitude arises. Being savvy with the media we watch has a significant impact on our level of appreciation. If I’m watching videos of Joe sky diving in Costa Rica every day, my desk job will seem pretty shitty. However, if I watch videos covering the poverty in Africa, I will be thankful to have a job. Here are some links to some of these videos.
4. Diminish the negative things you talk about, such as what you don’t have, or who you dislike.
· While this type of conversation is very addictive, it is detrimental to peace of mind. Have more conversations about what you’re grateful for. This shift will have a significant impact on your gratitude for life. With practice, the desire to talk about meaningless, negative topics will subside dramatically.
5. Go on vacation to appreciate the life you have.
· Take vacations to experience a world that makes you deeply grateful for what you have. I have visited India the past two years. In my time there, I lived a very modest lifestyle, and witnessed a level of poverty I have never seen. When I returned from those trips I had a supercharged appreciation for the life I live. Going on nice, relaxing, vacations can be very helpful to peace of mind. With that said, I feel it’s important to also visit places that are worse off then home.
6. Volunteer to touch base with people less fortunate than you.
· Volunteering is healthy for the mind with the right intentions. It is a great vehicle to transcend this self-absorption that causes so many problems. Volunteer work also allows us to get face to face with people less fortunate than us. This interaction Reminds us how fortunate we are, and generates compassion within the mind. Do you think you’ll still be as angry at your boss after you have just cared for a mother of two who is dying from cancer?
7. Reflect on how people have helped you.
· No matter where you are in life, there will have been somebody that helped you along the way. Reflect on these moments as much as possible.
Practicing these techniques will enable you to generate appreciation for the things you take for granted. Having the ability to appreciate the familiar is vital to our happiness. It keeps us from getting caught in the game of “If I just had this, I would be happy”. Trying to become more content through the acquisition of more things is an endless road. Such a plan is like attempting to quench your thirst by drinking salt water. It only leaves you more dehydrated. Learn to generate appreciation for what you have!
This skill does not come easy. It takes time and consistent practice. But, when we master it, we learn to cultivate appreciation no matter how bad our circumstances. This gratitude will prevent us from being overwhelmed by adversity, and keep us from getting caught up in the chase for more.
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Until next time, I wish you well :)