Gratefulness has three steps: not missing the opportunity, appreciating the opportunity, and using or enjoying the opportunity. By this method we come fully alive, full of joy, which is what we are all longing for.
Br. David Steindl-Rast
We’ve probably all experienced the excitement of visiting a new place, or getting a thoughtful present, or buying a new car, tasting a wonderful dish – for a few moments or perhaps even some hours, we are delighted, joyful. And then before too long, we become used to it – we grumble over some local customs or the heat/cold/rain; the present sits on a shelf and we never even glance at it again; the new car becomes utilitarian, and the twentieth mouthful of a dish never seems quite as intense and pleasurable as the first.
In other words, we quickly become habituated to new stimuli, and while this process has its uses, especially in a world where we are often bombarded with stimulation, it can mean that we quickly become dissatisfied and cast around for the next object or experience which will provide us with that lovely ‘ping’ of delight and pleasure.
One very effective way to increase our appreciation of what we already have is to intentionally include ‘appreciative moments’ into our days. Instead of needing to acquire new objects or experiences, we simply turn our attention to what is around us – all those little treasures and delights our mind has become ‘bored’ with. We might have a painting or photo on the wall which we love, but when was the last time we really looked at it? So we can set aside a couple of minutes to stand in front of it, taking a few deep breaths, and gazing at it with warm soft eyes. Sometimes it helps to imagine we’re visiting an art gallery and seeing the painting or photo for the first time.
We can do the same for any object around our home, but also house plants or the garden, a beautiful tree in a neighbourhood park, the sound of children’s laughter or bird song, re-reading a favourite poem and sitting for a few moments afterwards in silence. Instead of playing music in the background, we can sit or lie down and allow ourselves to listen deeply to the music. We might have tea or coffee in a favourite cup we inherited or were given as a gift, and we can appreciate the opportunity to pause, to enjoy our drink, to fondly remember the person who gifted it to us.
When we allow ourselves to quickly get bored with the life we have, and are constantly looking for new stimulation, we’re actually feeding our ‘dopamine habit’ – the neurotransmitter which rewards us with a pleasant dopamine hit whenever we acquire something new, but which, like sugar, can become a little addictive and doesn’t nourish us with contentment. Of course, we also don’t want to get stuck in a rut and never be open to exploring new experiences. The practice of ‘appreciative moments’ is about finding balance – cultivating appreciation for what we already have, as well as being open to the stimulation of new and novel delights.
For the next seven days, take two minutes a day to pause and appreciate something you already have. What do you notice during the practice? Does it change your outlook to your environment over time? Is this a practice you could see yourself making part of your every day?