gratitude

Make 2015 a mindful year and get more out of life

Barbara Casey, Ashland Daily Tidings: When I first learned the practice of mindfulness 18 years ago, the simplicity of it fooled me. It seems obvious that we all want to be fully engaged in our lives, that we don’t want to spend significant amounts of our time spaced out or distracted, missing the beauty and meaning of life in all its aspects.

I thought it would take about six months of concentrated effort to learn to stay in the present moment all the time. My report to you now is that the causes of …

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5 Science-backed ways to boost your happiness

wildmind meditation news

Stephany Tlalka, Mindful.org: Happiness is hot right now. You can’t visit major blogs like The Huffington Post and MindBodyGreen without running into tips and tricks for harnessing well-being.

That’s uplifting, says Emma Seppala, associate director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. But she says these blogs are missing one key ingredient. Facts.

“A lot of those articles are intuitively true, but because of my science background, I always look at an article like that and think, ground this in some data!” says Seppala, laughing. “I can’t take it as seriously.”

Seppala has engaged her science background …

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Gratitude promotes patience

Woman pressing hands together in gesture of thanks.

I wasn’t surprised today to learn that a new study has found a connection between gratitude and patience. After all, if you value what you have, which is what gratitude accomplishes for us, then there’s less emotional need to go seeking something else.

The study, carried out by a team of researchers from Northeastern University, the University of California, Riverside, and Harvard Kennedy School, looked specifically at financial impatience. Financial impatience is a well-known phenomenon where larger rewards in the future are considered less important than smaller rewards in the present.

Participants in the study chose between receiving a larger sum in the future, or a smaller sum now. The researchers used real money so that the participants would experience real motivation (and real impatience).

Before they made their choice, the participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups where they wrote about an event from their past that made them feel grateful, or happy, or neutral.

The neutral and happy groups showed a strong preference for immediate payouts, but those feeling grateful showed more patience. For example, grateful people required $63 immediately to forgo receiving $85 in three months, whereas neutral and happy people required only $55 to forgo the future gain. Positive feelings alone were not enough to enhance patience, as happy participants were just as impatient as those in the neutral condition.

What’s more, the degree of patience exhibited was directly related to the amount of gratitude any individual felt. The more grateful a participant felt after the writing exercise, the more likely they were to wait for the delayed reward.

Normally we think of the ability to delay gratification as a function of “willpower,” but in my view willpower is overrated. When I discovered how to get myself to meditate every day — something I’d struggled with for years — the solution had nothing to do with willpower. Instead, it was to do with how I saw myself. Similarly, this study had nothing to do with willpower.

To me it’s intuitively obvious that in a moment where we’re experiencing gratitude, and therefore value what we already have, we feel less need to have more, and so we’re prepared to wait for a benefit to arrive rather than grasp after it. Gratitude makes the present moment a rich experience, and so we have a reduced need to enrich ourselves right now.

The researchers point out that the implications of the study are profound, and that it could open the way to new therapeutic techniques to address human suffering.

Assistant Professor Ye Li from the University of California, Riverside School of Business Administration, said “Showing that emotion can foster self-control and discovering a way to reduce impatience with a simple gratitude exercise opens up tremendous possibilities for reducing a wide range of societal ills from impulse buying and insufficient saving to obesity and smoking.”

Therapeutic techniques that borrowed from Buddhist practices started by tapping into teachings on mindfulness. But over time, mindfulness was seen not to be enough and so teachings on lovingkindness (metta) were increasingly incorporated. The current hot thing is compassion. It’ll be interesting to watch the addition of gratitude and appreciation (which in Buddhism are closely associated with the practice of mudita, or joyful appreciation) to therapists’ tool kits.

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Developing a “Buddha Brain” through gratitude

A ”buddha brain” is one that knows how to be deeply happy, loving, and wise. We develop ourselves in this way by cultivating wholesome qualities and uprooting unwholesome ones. In a sense, we plant flowers and pull weeds in the garden of the mind – which means that we are gradually changing the brain for the better.

Gratitude is a powerful tool in this “garden” since what you rest your attention upon is what will shape your brain the most. That’s because “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Gratitude shifts your attention away from resentment, regret, and guilt – and therefore stops you from building up the neural substrates of these known factors of mental and physical health problems. Gratitude also focuses your awareness on positive things, simple good facts such as having enough water to drink, the laughter of children, the kindness of others, or the smell of an orange.

To reap the rewards of gratitude, rest your attention on a good fact, noticing details about it, staying with it for at least a few seconds in a row. Then allow a natural emotional response of gratitude to arise. Continue to pay attention to this feeling of gratitude for another few seconds – or even longer: it’s delicious! Taking these few extra seconds will help you weave gratitude into the fabric of your brain and your Self. And you can practice gratitude both on the fly, as you move through your day, and at specific occasions, such as at meals or just before bed.

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The Urban Retreat, Day 7: The practice of gratitude

Blazing Like the Sun, an urban retreat with Bodhipaksa

One quality that’s closely related to metta is appreciation. We often take things for granted when they’re going right, and then focus on what’s not going the way we want it to. And that makes us unhappy and makes our relationships with others less warm and appreciative.

At our worst we’ll say things like “Nothing ever goes right in my life.” And in the moment we’re saying those words we’ll ignore that we have air to breathe, we’re alive, we’re probably healthy, we’re living in a fairly civilized society (it’s far from being Mogadishu), we’re sheltered from the elements, we have water, electricity, the internet, friends, family, etc. The specifics of what we have change from person to person and day to day, but we always have a lot more going for us than we choose to appreciate.

The Urban Retreat series:

So one thing I do in my practice sometimes (and this is something I explore in the video below) is to consciously appreciate what’s going right, and to say “thank you.”

I’ll take a trip around the body, basically doing a body scan meditation, and say “thank you” to each part of the body in turn. I’ll thank my feet, legs, hips, abdomen and lower back, chest and upper back, throat, head. I’ll thank my heart and lungs and other organs. I’ll thank my senses. If some part of the body isn’t functioning well, then rather than give it less thanks, I feel especially grateful; the body shows up for you every day. It tries its best to serve you even if it’s not well or damaged. It’s always trying to heal and repair itself. That’s the best kind of friend you can have — one who turns up to help you even when they’re sick.

And I appreciate and thank everything around me, from the furniture I’m sitting on (think of all the people involved in making it possible for you to do something as simple as sit on a chair!), to the building I’m in and all the utilities in it, to the society around me with its roads and sidewalks and sewers.

You can thank the air for being breathable. You can thank the sun for shining. Really, there’s no limit to the things we can express gratitude towards.

And as you do this practice (I assume you will) notice how you feel. There may be some initial resistance (it may seem silly to say thank you or you may not want to acknowledge your dependance upon others) but when you get into the practice of saying thank you you may start to notice a sense of warmth, or softness around the heart, or even joy.

If the video isn’t displaying (which can sometimes happen on mobile devices) then you can go straight to Youtube.

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Handling blocks to any inner practice—meditation, yoga, gratitude, mindfulness

When you try to change your life for better, sometimes you bump into a block, such as distracting thoughts. Blocks are common. They’re not bad or wrong—but they do get in the way. What works is to explore them with self-acceptance, and see what you can learn about yourself. One valuable aspect of taking in the good is that it often reveals other issues, such as an underlying reluctance to let yourself feel good. Then you can address these issues with the suggestions below. With practice and time, blocks usually fade away.

Blocks to Any Inner Practice

• Distractibility—Focus on the stimulating aspects of positive experiences, which will keep your attention engaged with them.

• Just not in touch with your body or your feelings—Explore and get used to simple pleasant sensations, such as the taste of pancakes with syrup, the feeling of warm water on your hands, or the ease in exhaling.

• Uncomfortable tuning into your own experience—Put yourself in a safe setting, and remind yourself that you don’t have to be externally vigilant. Look around for objects or people that give you comfort and a sense of protection. Bring to mind what it feels like to be with someone who cares about you. Remember that you can shift your attention away from your experience at any time you want. Be aware of something pleasant in your experience, such as a pretty sight or enjoyable sound, and notice again and again that continuing to be aware of it is all right for you, that nothing bad is happening to you. Overanalyzing, pulling out of the experience—Bring attention back into your body and emotions. For example, follow one breath from beginning to end, or gently name what you’re feeling to yourself (e.g., revved up . . . exasperated . . . calming . . . feeling better).

Blocks Specific to Taking In the Good

• It’s hard to receive, including a good experience—Inhale and sense that it’s okay to let something in. Pick a simple positive emotion such as relief or gladness, open to it and let it come into your mind, and recognize that you’re still fine.

• Concern that you’ll lose your edge in business or life if you no longer feel “hungry”—Realize that building up in- ner resources such as confidence and happiness can only aid your success. On a foundation of well-being, you can still be very determined and ambitious. Additionally, taking in the good trains your mind to see the whole picture, which could help you spot more opportunities.

• Fear that you’ll lower your guard if you feel better, and that’s when people get whacked—Remind yourself that you can still be watchful while also feeling good. Focus on building up inner strengths such as determination, resilience, confidence, and feeling cared about so you can become less worried about lowering your guard.

• Belief that seeking to feel good is selfish, vain, or sinful, or that it’s disloyal or unfair to those who suffer, or that you don’t deserve it—It’s moral to seek the welfare of all beings, and “all beings” includes the one wearing your name tag. You matter, too. Increasing your happiness will not increase the suffering of others, nor will increasing your suffering make them happier. In fact, developing your inner strengths, including peace, contentment, and love, will provide you with more to offer others. Taking in praise or a sense of accomplishment won’t make you conceited; as people feel fuller inside, they’re less likely to get puffed up or arrogant.

• Fear that if you let yourself feel good, you’ll want more but be disappointed—Recognize that if you feel good today, there’s a good chance you will also feel good tomorrow, and thus not get disappointed. Even if you do become dis- appointed, know that this will be unpleasant but not over- whelming. Put the risks of disappointment in perspective: What’s greater, the cost of occasional disappointment or the benefit of feeling good and building up strengths in- side?

• As a woman, you’ve been socialized to make others happy, not yourself—Your needs and wants have the same standing as theirs. And if you want to care for others, you have to nurture yourself.

• As a man, you’ve been socialized to be stoic and not care about your experience—You need to refuel or you’ll run out of gas. Also, building up your inner “muscles” makes you stronger, not weaker.

• Positive experiences activate negative ones—This is counterintuitive, but it’s actually common. For example, feeling cared about could stir up feelings of not being loved by the right person. If something like this happens for you, know that whatever is negative does not change the truth of what is positive. Then refocus on the positive experience, particularly its enjoyable aspects (which will help keep your attention in it). There are payoffs in not feeling good—Sometimes, let’s face it, there can be a certain gratification in being out- raged, aggrieved, hurt, resentful, righteously indignant, or even blue. But, at the end of the day, what’s better for you: these payoffs . . . or actually feeling good?

• You’ve been punished for being energized or happy— Really recognize that you spend time with different people today than those in your childhood. Notice the people who are fine with you feeling good. Wouldn’t you have liked it if someone had stood up for you when you were young and lively and joyful? Well, you can be that person for yourself today.
hardwiring
• Belief that there is nothing good inside you—The good that others see in you is not a delusion of theirs. It is real, as real as your hands. Hold on to the knowing of the reality of your helpful actions, good intentions, and caring feelings. If people put you down or shamed you in the past, recog-nizing the realness of your goodness is a way to be fair and kind toward yourself today. (For more, see the section on recognizing the good in yourself in chapter 6, and the practice “Feeling Like a Good Person” on page 213.)

• Belief that there’s no point in feeling good since some things are still bad—Know that the bad things that exist do not remove the good ones; the hole does not get rid of the donut. Plus, one way to deal with the bad is to grow the good. I love this proverb: Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.

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Gratitude for the teachings and teachers (Day 75)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

So you’re here to learn something about meditation. From me, a person who enjoys sharing his experience. Perhaps you’re grateful that I do that. I’m grateful you’re here.

I learned meditation from many people, the first of whom was a man called Susiddhi, another Scot, who was teaching at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre in Scotland. And now that I think about it, I am very grateful for what he taught me, and I’m grateful to the many other teachers I learned from, who often taught each other. This process of teachings being passed on isn’t a linear process of teacher to student. Teachers are also students of each other. Often students teach their teachers. So I’m going to say “thank you” to all these teachers, including the teachers who have been my students.

Most of those people who I learned meditation from learned to meditate, originally at least, from Sangharakshita, an Englishman who went to India to become a Buddhist monk. Now I’m very grateful indeed to Sangharakshita for having gone to India, and for having explored meditation there, and for having sought out a number of teachers, some of whom were Indian, several of whom were Tibetans who had recently left their homeland in order to escape the Chinese occupation and the persecution of their religion, and one Chinese man who happened to be living in Kalimpong. And I’m grateful to all of Sangharakshita’s teachers for having passed on meditation instructions along with their other Dharma teachings. Thank you, Sangharakshita. Thank you, Dhardo Rinpoche, Yogi Chen, and all the other teachers who spent time with him.

And I’m very grateful to Sangharakshita for having returned to Britain after something like 16 years in the East, and for having set up what was at first the Western Buddhist Sangha, but which became the Western Buddhist Order, and is now the Triratna Buddhist Order, of which I’m a part.

I often wonder what my life would be like without the Dharma, and without the spiritual community of which I’m a part. I was a difficult person in my youth, and I’m not sure any of the other Buddhist organizations that were around in my young adulthood could have offered me the challenge and the friendship that I needed. We’ll never know. But when I think of all the people who helped me, even though I made it hard for them to do so, I’m very grateful indeed. There have been times I’ve choked up and been unable to talk while expressing my gratitude. Thank you to all the people who have helped me and challenged me to grow.

I often wonder what my life would be like without the Dharma, and in fact wonder if I would even have a life. I was prone to isolation and despair when I was younger. Two of my friends, one of whom was my best friend for several years, killed themselves. I think it’s possible that that might have happened to me. So I’m grateful to be here, and grateful for the Dharma that made it possible for me to be here.

And the Dharma made it not only possible for me to be here, but possible for me to live more happily, and to be a better person — easier for others to be with, and less prone to making others suffer. I’m much happier and kinder as a result of my Dharma practice.

And this Dharma, which I’ve immersed myself in, and which was made available to me because of the actions of a maverick monk from England who decided he was a Buddhist at the age of 16 and who spent 16 years living and teaching in India, goes back, of course, all the way to the Buddha himself, 2,500 years ago. How many teachers are there between the Buddha and Sangharakshita? We’ve already seen that the process of Dharma “transmission” (I use the scare quotes so that what I’m saying won’t be confused with the linear Zen idea of transmission) isn’t linear. The route back to the Buddha isn’t like a river flowing straight to the ocean, but like entwined braid of criss-crossing streams. The number of teachers between me (or Sangharakshita) and the Buddha is literally uncountable. How many people there are for me to feel gratitude for? There’s no shortage!

And there’s the Buddha himself. One of the things I most admire about him, and that I’m most grateful for, is that he refused to settle. He said he felt a “thorn in the heart,” and he didn’t settle for putting up with that. He had a comfortable life, even if he wasn’t the prince that legend makes him out to be. He didn’t settle, and went off wandering. He attained deep states of meditation with Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, and could have settled for those spiritual accomplishments, but he didn’t. Nor did he settle for becoming a leader of either man’s group. He explored asceticism, and didn’t settle. And then he rediscovered the jhanas, and didn’t settle for those, either, although he realized that these were the path to awakening. And he didn’t settle until he’d found the thorn in his heart and plucked it out. He could have just enjoyed the rest of his days peacefully meditating, but again he didn’t settle, and spent 45 years relentlessly wandering and teaching. How fortunate for us! Or for me, anyway. I’m deeply grateful for his perseverance, and even though he’s long dead I say “Thank you,” and bow deeply. Gratitude turns naturally into puja, or devotion.

And it’s incredibly lucky that the Dharma found its way through the centuries — found its way to us. It seems that had been enlightened teachers before the Buddha, but they were pre-Iron Age, and a society living at a subsistence level couldn’t support an ongoing spiritual community. We call these previous awakened individuals Paccekabuddhas, solitary Buddhas, not because they lived alone (as people erroneously think) but because they were isolated in time, leaving no enduring legacy. In the Buddha’s own day there was once a drought so severe that people criticized the monks and nuns for begging from householders. This was potentially a lineage-killing event. We’re lucky the sangha survived this. Buddhism was in fact wiped out in India by persecution from Hindus and Muslims, and it’s only because Buddhist scriptures were transported to Sri Lanka that we have an extensive collection of records of early Buddhism. There’s much to be grateful for.

Being grateful makes me happy. And every moment in my life is an opportunity to be grateful. I should make more effort to remember that!

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness Posts here.

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“A person of integrity is grateful and thankful” — The Buddha (Day 74)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

The Buddha, in Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s translation at least, said, “A person of integrity is grateful and thankful.” This is one of those thoughts that I’m profoundly grateful for because I don’t think it would ever have occurred to me. Yet searching the web for the terms “gratitude” and “integrity” brought me to an interesting book, The Gratitude Factor: Enhancing Your Life Through Grateful Living, by Charles M. Shelton.

Shelton explores this theme of integrity and gratitude. He distinguishes between thankfulness (which involves being appreciative of some specific person or thing) and gratitude (which is a deeper and more pervasive attitude to life consisting of being grateful not just for specific things but for living itself). And he observes that many people who discuss this distinction, and who value gratitude over thankfulness, see gratitude as being related to “virtue” and “integrity.”

Here’s the connection that Shelton makes:

A life of deepening gratitude requires that we commit ourselves to goodness; only people of integrity live truly good lives. Only conscience can ensure that we are women and men of integrity. Conscience is a uniquely human quality that requires us to make choices that reflect goodness, to follow thought on our choices, and to commit ourselves to the choices we make. Gratitude is linked to conscience just by the fact that we could never acknowledge, live out, or give back our giftedness unless we had within us some prior moral sense that recognizes the gracious generosity of giving and motivates us to give back in turn for what we have received.

I’ve pointed out often that the brain is modular, and not a single system running smoothly as one unit. It involves cooperation, competition, inhibition of one module by another. And so our selves are modular in exactly the same way. We don’t have “a self.” And to the extent to which the various modules in the brain are operating on conflicting assumptions, to that extent the more unhappy and conflicted our experience will be. When some parts of the brain are screaming that hanging on selfishly to what we have is the way to be happy, and another is saying that compassionately giving to another person is the way to be happy, then — stuck in this conflict — we’re not going to be happy. And in fact it’s the latter of these two parts of the brain that is right; giving creates more happiness than holding on.

So wisdom helps us to recognize what truly brings peace and happiness, and mindfulness and volition, informed by that wisdom, help us to educate the more grasping and the more aggressive parts of the brain and encourages them to “stand down” so that we can act in ways that bring about peace and happiness. Perhaps we’re enlightened when those more primitive parts of the brain are completely re-educated. Or perhaps they simply go offline, or their inputs are so weakened that they can never, after the point of awakening, have a real effect on our behavior. I just don’t know.

But the thing is that our multiple and conflicting selves become more integrated around our wisdom, so that there’s less inner conflict. The whole of us becomes an expression of, and an accessory to, that which is most wise in us. All spiritual practice involves a process of integration, which leads to “integrity,” which means “wholeness.” And this is a wholeness centered on “the good.”

Mudita — joyful appreciation, focusing on the good in ourselves and others — is one important factor in bringing about this sense of wholeness and integrity. The less we obsess about what’s wrong with the world, the less we feel out of place in the world, and the less we feel conflicted and defensive. And so our sense of existing in a state of polarization is reduced. Our sense of being an isolated “self” is reduced. Our being becomes more relaxed, more diffused. We see ourselves as essentially good, and we see our role as being to encourage the emergence of the good that is in others.

Shelton also notes:

Individuals who feel interiorly a sense of their own goodness appear to possess an integrity that flows outwardly; they claim that a fundamental stance of goodness exists in the world. For them the world is an inviting place that encourages them to spread and give away their own goodness.

As I continue to explore mudita as part of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness, that statement more and more closely resembles my own experience. I hope this is true for you as well.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Livingkindness posts here.

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Having gratitude for our enemies (Day 70)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

Since my adversary assists me in my Bodhisattva way of life, I should long for him like a treasure discovered in the house and acquired without effort.

“…patience arises only in dependence on that malicious intention, so he alone is a cause of my patience. I should respect him just like the sublime Dharma.
From the Bodhicaryavatara, by Santideva

The 8th century Indian teacher Shantideva gives us a rationale for feeling grateful to those who wish us harm: our enemies give us an amazing opportunity to practice patience.

This can actually work! This morning on a social network something I’d said attracted the attention of a guy whose communication started off as rather brash but quickly degenerated into graphic threats of violence against me. There was a momentary urge to write something nasty (but subtle!) back to him, but then I realized this guy was a “troll” — someone who gets their kicks from barging into discussions and causing a reaction. And I actually felt some gratitude and affection toward the guy for having given me an opportunity to be more mindful, wise, and compassionate — which manifested as refusing to respond to him at all. After a short reflection on gratitude, all anger for this person totally vanished. Right now I feel like I want to hug him, in fact!

We may generally wish that people who don’t like us would just go away, or start liking us, or stop being so unreasonable, but since we can’t force other people to change it seems that Shantideva’s approach has some merit. There are going to be people who hate us, dislike us, or make life difficult for us. We can’t entirely alter the world so that it suits us. But we can change our attitude toward them.

Now everyone has some positive qualities, to some degree. I can think of people it’s hard to like because they’re destructive, violent, and narcissistic. But not every single thing that they do is intended to cause harm. They have some restraint, some patience, some tenderness — or at least the potential for these things. But it can be hard to get beyond our dislikes and find something to appreciate in someone we feel antagonistic toward. Shantideva’s approach short-circuits this. When cultivating mudita — joyful appreciation — for the people we find difficult, it’s their challenging behaviors themselves that we appreciate. We don’t appreciate those qualities because they are harmful, but because they test us, chellange us, and allow us the opportunity to go deeper into our practice.

This is a difficult thing to remember in the heat of the moment! When someone “flames” you in a discussion forum, it can feel like a sharp object has been jammed into a sensitive part of your body. The first instinct is to retaliate. So we need to practice cultivating this attitude when our amygdalas are not red-hot and throbbing (the amygdala being the ancient part of your brain that sparks off the “fight or flight” reflex).

So right now, think of someone you tend to get annoyed by, or someone who has hurt you, or someone you tend to criticize a lot. And see if you can feel a sense of generosity and appreciation toward them for testing you. See if you can regard them as being like a particularly challenging climbing wall, or sudoku or crossword puzzle, or like a tricky mystery story that’s designed to baffle you (please translate to your challenge of choice). Seeing the enemy this way, we take them less personally. We see them less as a personal affront, and more as a puzzle to be solved. It’s good to be challenged! Life without challenges becomes gray and insipid.

It crossed my mind that there’s a mirror image of this in the way that when we’re first in love with someone their “faults” are seen as endearing. We appreciate our loved one and take their odd habits not as a personal affront but as a reason to feel even more appreciation. But once the infatuation wears off, we’re left with being annoyed by our beloved’s faults. Shantideva walks this process back — we no longer take the faults as being a personal affront, and start to feel appreciation, and perhaps appreciation, because of them.

This is an important part of the Bodhisattva path — practicing Buddhism to benefit not just yourself, but all beings.

PS. You can see a full list of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

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There’s more right with you than wrong with you (Day 66)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

In Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel.”

From the moment you are conceived, right up until the moment you take your last breath, there is more right with you than wrong with you.

It’s very easy to lose sight of this. When something good happens to us, we often don’t celebrate much and so don’t take it in. And when we do celebrate it’s often almost momentary. And yet we obsess about things that bother us.

Imagine a friend has said an unkind word to you. Often you’ll call that event to mind over and over. Sometimes you’ll elaborate the fantasy by imagining retaliations on your part. By sheer repetition, and by vividly imagining the scene over and over again, you carve pathways associated with the emotions of anger and resentment into your mind. But when a friend says something complimentary to you, you may just experience a lift in your mood for a few minutes. Unless you’re a very unusual person you probably don’t find yourself, months later, thinking about the compliment you were paid, the same way you would with an insult.

Similarly, we tend to obsess over things that we think are wrong with us. We think over and over about the habits we want to change, and mentally beat ourselves up over them, whether it’s that we think we drink too much, or we think we’re lazy, or cowardly, or too unkind. But we ignore all our good habits. When we’re surfing the net late at night we castigate ourselves for our lack of willpower, but when we’re brushing our teeth for the second time that day or having our daily shower we don’t spend our time in the bathroom celebrating how wonderful it is that we take care of ourselves. Instead, we let the mind drift. And what does it drift to? Half the time we’re probably giving ourselves a hard time about our faults!

(This reminds me of a saying of the Buddha, where he’s describing the thoughts an ethical person has regarding others: ime sattā averā abyāpajjhā anīghā sukhi attānaṃ pariharantū’ti. This is usually translated as something like “‘May these beings be free from animosity, free from oppression, free from trouble, and may they look after themselves with ease.” But the word “ease” here is “sukha,” or joy, so the last part could just as easily be “May they look after themselves joyfully,” implying that we should rejoice and appreciate the good habits we have that involve taking care of ourselves.)

When we’re ill, we obsess about what’s going wrong in the body. We don’t think about the fact that since we’re alive virtually everything in the body is going right! And when we’re healthy, how often do we celebrate our good health? Hardly ever, for most of us.

So I’m going to suggest that you devote more mental space to celebrating and rejoicing in the ordinary things that are going right, and that you’re doing right, in your life.

  • When you’re driving, notice that you’re driving with care and attention, and celebrate this. Say to yourself things like “Yay, me!”
  • When you’re reading, pause once in a while and rejoice in the fact that you can read. (As a father whose oldest child is only just beginning to stumble through reading primers, I’m at the stage of recognizing how amazing this is.)
  • Notice that you’re conscious. What an amazing thing that is! No one has the faintest idea what consciousness is — how matter interacting with matter can create this thing called “experience.” You’re a miracle!
  • Pause and celebrate your good health. Say “thank you” to your body. If you’re in bad health, rejoice in the fact that your body is forever trying to heal itself, and that most things in your body are in fact functioning.
  • Celebrate having access to clean drinking water, clean air, food.
  • Celebrate having clothing and having possessions. If you’re poor and live in the developed world, you’re probably still richer than 90% of the world’s population.
  • Celebrate family and friends.
  • Celebrate the fact that you’re alive.
  • Celebrate that you’re able to celebrate.

We really need to make an effort to celebrate, because of the mind’s inherent negativity bias. We need to consciously celebrate in order to carve pathways associated with joy and love into the fabric of our brains. And when we do celebrate, life becomes joyful.

There’s more right with us than wrong with us. And that in itself is something to be grateful for.

PS. You can see all of our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

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