Being grateful for what’s already in your life

The late Nelson Mandela spent more than a quarter of his life in prison, so perhaps it was unsurprising that he gathered a remarkably large amount of personal property while he was incarcerated.

In fact, according to a hand-written inventory made when he was finally released in February 1990, 22 boxes went out with him, plus an exercise bike, a surfboard and a white cardboard hat.

Now I expect like you, I can bring a lot of visual images of Nelson Mandela to mind, but I have to confess that him on a surfboard isn’t really one of them.

I’ve always been interested in lists of possessions. As a bit of a hoarder (sorry Alex) I’m in awe of those who manage to trim their belongings down to the bone. In fact there’s a whole movement of minimalist people online who’ve reduced the number of items they own to 100 or even less.

Actually I’m pretty sure I’ve got more than that on my desk at the moment.

Perhaps it would take you a long time to list everything you own. I know it would me. But my point right now is that if you did so, surely the emphasis would be on what you do own, rather than what you don’t. I hope the latter list would be longer than the former, although I’d hate to see your credit card statement if it wasn’t.

But I wonder if we sometimes take exactly the opposite approach when it comes to evaluating our emotional life? I know that when I’ve suffered from my own low periods I’ve been more inclined to think about what was missing from my life rather than what was already present.

And this chimes rather nicely with the idea that being grateful for what you’ve got can make a significant impact on your level of happiness: the time-worn principle of counting your blessings.

Here are three ways you can put this to work:

1. Think of three things you’re grateful for every night before you go to sleep.

2. Keep a gratitude journal, making an entry in it each time you’re thankful for something.

3. Practice the act of saying ‘thank you’ more often, especially when you’re specific about what you’re grateful for.

It’s all too easy to spend your days being disappointed about what your life is missing.

But isn’t there so much more value to be had from being thankful for what’s already there?

5 thoughts on “Being grateful for what’s already in your life

  1. I love this post and your suggestion of keeping a ‘thank you diary’. For some time now I have tried to throw away many possessions, mainly because my home is too cluttered with objects I don’t need and they clutter my brain. So if anyone can help with any tips for how to let go of things please let me know. There is also the practical issue of what to do with the things we no longer need or want.

  2. I am a hoarder who longs for a simpler, less cluttered life – but when I look round my mother’s house I am grateful that at least the hoarding instincts in my genes are considerably diluted in my generation!

    My youngest daughter can only see that she has not got a pony. She has a nice home, loving parents, food on the table and two affectionate cats (although one of them is quite likely to steal that food from the table!). Maybe gratitude is something she will grow into.

    I constantly give thanks for the many, many blessings in my life: it does make for a happier existence. Even if it’s hard at the moment to give thanks for a child who keeps asking for a pony!

    1. Yes, Mary, how wise (and challenging) to try to be grateful even for people who are not grateful. I think the best we can do is to model gratitude for others, especially our kids. Instead of telling them to be grateful, show them how to be grateful by our example. Sounds like you’re already doing a fantastic job!

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