We all know how transformative gratitude can be for ourselves and others. We just forget it most of the time. The truth is that gratitude can compound if it is nurtured and it will affect every part of one’s personal, social, and professional life. Here are a few ideas I propose for remembering what you’re grateful for:
Sure, goal-orientation is of basic necessity for a meaningful life, but “there is… one downside to bucket lists,” my friend Luke says.
“If you measure your success primarily by… items you scratch off a list, you may miss out on the opportunity to give yourself credit for the growth you have [achieved].”
Obviously, the good thing about bucket lists is that they move you forward. There is an easier way of doing so, though, with less risk of discouragement.
Luke introduced an idea to me called the “I Lived Project”. The idea is to reflect on and write about what you have experienced in your own “I Lived” project. He says,
“As I looked backwards and listed my experiences and achievements I felt a sense of profound gratitude. I laughed at the apparent randomness of my life, but was moved to see that somehow the experiences connected. It made me feel excited about the future. I could never have predicted where I would be today, so why should I worry about predicting where I will be tomorrow? I decided that I would continue looking backwards and someday turn my list into a book that I could give to my children. “Hey kids, this is what Daddy did while he was on earth.” Sounds like a cool legacy to me.”
(You can see his sneak preview of that book in his article, “A new alternative to bucket lists”.)
Reflecting on past experiences and achievements will empower you intrinsic motivation to achieve more in life in a way few other things can. I would go so far as to say you cannot be serious about your bucket list without first drawing ample inspiration from your past. Do yourself a favor and document your past. Among many benefits, you’ll be more grateful. Here’s one way I do this:
If you want to seek out and experience the wealth of opportunities that life can offer, you will probably want to remind yourself that they are there. They’re just waiting for you. That’s why I have reposted these photos in a half dozen places we have moved to. The collage just keeps growing as we experience life.
This is half my current wall of happiness brightening the windowless man cave I work these days. I designed this easy technique years ago to passively energize me day to day with more gratitude and motivation. My wall of happiness continually reminds me why I do what I do. Cluttering my desk with motivational quotes or pictures distracts my attention and those reminders lose their meaning quickly. The wall of happiness offers more than I can savor in one viewing and leaves more inspiration for future eye glances.
Here was our wall of happiness three years ago, behind then-pregnant Fan:
Dig out your pictures. You have a ton of great ones. You’ve just forgotten about them. Choose a place where you spend a lot of time or walk by frequently and cover a wall with a photo collage. You don’t have to care so much about ordering the photos sequentially, thematically, or with any particular layout. You can just put them up at random. Covering your wall top to bottom of your cherished experiences and relationships will communicate to you the abundance of joy this life can offer you in a way no typical wall decoration will. In order for this to work as intended, you really have to go all out one half-day to select photos, print them somewhere, and cover your wall. Your long-term passive returns will make it completely worth it.
The best thing a person can do to maintain gratitude is to have a frequent ritual for reflecting on what they are grateful for. They will be measurably happier. Several studies from universities and mental health professionals from all over the place can be referenced here. The theistic habit I can not recommend highly enough is prayer. I know I am a good measure happier from praying daily both alone and with my family. The majority of our prayers focus on items of gratitude. To the atheist, if you can figure out a way of writing in a journal daily about what you’re grateful for you will experience the fruits of this proven science. You will extract the nectar of all that is good in your life much more effectively. Choose your ritual and maintain it.