Hygge part 4 - gratitude, it's a matter of perspective

I'm writing this right after Remembrance Sunday in the UK and right before Thanksgiving in the U.S. and right now the internet seems to be full of posts about gratitude or the lack thereof.  Articles and posts urging us to remember what other people have done for us and what benefits have come our way generally share cyberspace with articles and posts from people who are frustrated because they are taking on more responsibility than they necessarily feel comfortable with and yet are not feeling any sense of gratitude towards them.  Both sets of people have a point and there is a simple, but often overlooked way to address this, which is to make a point of showing gratitude to yourself first.

Here’s the nub of the matter.  You’ve probably heard the expression “the eyes are the mirror of the soul” or words to that effect?  Well, your body and in particular your face, especially your eyes, reflects how you feel about yourself and that influences how other people see you.  Think about it.  Who knows you better than you?  If you have a specific self-image, which is reflected in your body and face (and actions), then why should anyone else argue with it?  People who know you well and care about you might pick up on warning signs that something is amiss with the way you’re feeling and at least try to talk to you about it, but the majority of people will simply be guided by the image of yourself you project to the world at large.  That’s why some people wear make up and think very carefully about how they dress, because consciously or unconsciously, they’re aware of the great power of self image.

What this means in practice, is that you learning to appreciate yourself and show gratitude to yourself is a prerequisite for you receiving the appreciation and gratitude you deserve from other people and if you think you don’t deserve it, then think about how you would react if you heard about someone else doing the things you do.  You’d probably think they deserved appreciation and gratitude so why shouldn’t you and since we’ve now agreed that you deserve it, then set the ball rolling by showing gratitude to yourself.

So how do you show yourself gratitude?  Have a look around the net and you’ll find plenty of advice on the matter, many of which ultimately boils down to giving yourself “treats” and “rewards” for what you do.  I’ve nothing against this, but to be honest, I’d put most of these suggestions more in the category of self care and/or boosting yourself when you’re down, which, to me, is a bit different.  To me, showing gratitude to yourself starts with recognizing what it is you do and what positive impact it has on the world and that means keeping at least a basic record of how you are using your time.  If keeping a full diary or journal is too much for you, that’s fine, just keep some basic notes on everything you actually did during each day, because you’re probably going to find it’s a whole lot more than you think.

Once you actually know where your time is going, you can start looking at increasing the amount of gratitude you show yourself, by devoting as much of it as you can to your goals and priorities and, where necessary, shedding the non-essential.  If you think this sounds mean-spirited, then let me put it this way.  Would you expect someone on a low income to go without essentials such as shelter and food so they could give money to a charity, even if the charity was to benefit someone who was actually worse off than them?  Of course you wouldn’t, so why should you scrimp on your essential priorities and goals to make time for non-essentials?  Quite frankly, I’d say learning to say no and mean it is the single, biggest act of gratitude anyone can show themselves and it’s also such a difficult skill to put into practice, but in my experience it becomes a whole lot easier when you are clear in your own mind as to why you are saying no.

Remember what I said earlier about how you project your image of yourself to the world around you?  If you’re hesitant about saying no because you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing, the other person will probably pick up on this and it will influence their response.  Likewise if you become a bit too strident about saying no because you feel insecure about it, this will also come across and influence the other person’s reaction.  If, however, you’re clear in your own mind about why you’re saying no and are confident in your own heart that you have every right to say no, which you do, then that will also come across to your listener and, generally speaking, it will carry respect (and if it doesn’t then that is usually an indication that your listener has a problem, rather than you).

In short, when we talk about gratitude, we often talk about noticing the little things which bring us joy and taking time to appreciate them and yes that is important, but it’s also important to look up from time to time, look at the sky and the stars and think about the journey behind and the journey ahead and be grateful for the adventure that is life.  Show that gratitude to yourself by focusing on what really matters to you and ensuring that you take care of this first before you devote any time or energy to any other cause, no matter how worthy.  This is how to nourish your spirit and ensure that you stay mentally and emotionally healthy, which is a prerequisite to making a meaningful contribution to helping other people with their goals and making a positive difference to the world.

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