Comparison is the thief of joy and my wealth has all slipped away through the heavy sieve of envy The swelling warmth of gratitude has given way to the sweltering heat of sharp, gnawing jealousy My eyes keep straining toward empty places between vast, unobserved abundance fixated on the violent feeling of unfairness Cinder blocks of bitter energy build walls to block my view of countless blessings souring my simple share of happiness Unable to stop magnifying this self-induced, unnecessary suffering while being simultaneously smothered by the shame of being unsatisfied when I have so much
Early morning cracks us open a plump, orange yolk perched upon the rolling expanse of open acres the symphony of dawn begins beneath a veil of cool, dissipating mist The earth awakens and unfurls in an instant with interwoven, simultaneous, upbeat bustling as hundreds of intricate beings of all sizes emerge to dutifully begin their humble daily tasks unwittingly weaving the world together for one another The swollen present swallows us completely enveloped in the electric energy currents of pulsating life rushing through creek beds and rustling vibrant leaves a soothing, faithful hum that echoes inside and out intoxicated by the sweet nectar of undulating harmony Each moment overflowing with the simple joy of right now lapping up the soft waters of where we belong indistinguishable elements of the intricate, lush landscape synchronizing ourselves to the cadence of all creation every instant ripe with it's own inherent meaning
The healing hum that reverberates through all the small, silent moments can become buried beneath the louder frequencies of frustration and forward motion The panicked pace of ungrounded grasping the breath that's stolen while being swept off your feet it can feel like dying to slow down, to surrender momentum in favor of savoring the soft rustling outside your window Finding peace can be counterintuitive stop flipping over rocks and just pause to feel the cool stone against your skin and hear the whispering stream gurgle past It's hard to accept that happiness is here when we've wasted so much time searching learning to laugh at ourselves like when we've been seeking the object that's been in our hand the whole time It's the simple things that will save us if we can sit with the fear that they won't be enough in the end they will
As shocking as it may sound, I think one of the biggest detriments to my mental health over the years is the unspoken assumption society instills in us that we should be happy all of the time. Anytime I am experiencing anything other than happiness, positivity, and motivation, I am questioning myself. What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t I happy? This just makes me feel worse and worse. Not only am I not happy, but there must also be something wrong with me for not being happy.
When I stop and think about it from a historical and biological perspective, we probably were not designed to be happy all the time or even the majority of the time. Our minds and bodies are designed to keep us alive, not happy. I’d say it’s likely that most people throughout most of human history spent a good portion of their short lives tired, ill, in pain, and miserable. It’s normal to want to feel happy instead of sad, but there certainly isn’t anything wrong with you for not being able to maintain an uplifted, energized frame of mind 24/7.
It is such a relief when I take the time to remind myself that it’s alright to not be happy. Otherwise even neutral becomes upset by comparison. I start criticizing myself for not being grateful or enjoying the easy life I have. But there is nothing wrong with just allowing yourself to experience whatever it is you’re feeling without judgement. Despite what TV shows, movies, and social media lead us to believe, every moment of life is not filled with excitement and bliss. Sometimes you just exist, and that’s okay too.
My higher self hides sweet droplets of honey dew inside my head glistening gifts given to ensure a good night's sleep The best self-care is kindled deep within my dreams a dependable dripping of sustenance I am so grateful to devour Sleep ensures I am swaddled within all the sensations the waking world lacks a nightly reprieve from suffering sharing space with you in my soul A tender treat from my unconscious mind to tide me over on this tiresome journey far away from where I would like to be sometimes it's enough to be happy as I sleep
I truly believe I can choose to be happy my younger self was always so there was innocence and joy in each breath I loved everyone and the world at once my heart was full of gratitude But somewhere along the way my soul got bogged down with disillusion bitterness encroached upon my heart like blight creeping through late fall crops all of life turned sour for awhile Now I struggle with these separate shades of self I know deep down that pure love and light remain still it feels like a denial to turn toward it and away from who I've known myself to be as I've grown into the person I am today This anger and violence I've harbored for so long grip me so much tighter than childhood pleasures to let it go feels like a refusal to acknowledge my own pain to surrender to a delusion that it never existed to favor a false sense of all pervading peace My precious passion has turned to poison through years of focusing on the wrong things an all-mighty wave of indignation rises up to consume the small voice inside that pleads for the path towards gentle gratitude and humble happiness Can I really learn to reconcile these two opposing forces? Can the soft thread of unconditional love truly overcome the violent force of white knuckled hatred? I'm afraid of who I will become if I am unable to turn from my current path, led by self-righteous ego Still there is a quiet hope that stirs within that there is still time to reclaim my one life and use my precious gifts to create light instead of adding to the choking darkness that tempts me and ties my hands When I succumb to the swirling torment that tells me happiness is not my nature I will strive to remember my soul's complexity and call out for the small child that once embodied the brave wisdom of a wide open heart
Holding back the happiness has become a form of self-defense a suit of armor inlaid with spikes stripping the soul of all color A perversion of pleasure believed to be undeserved the conviction that hardships will hurt worse with contrast Let your heart lift with the certainty that there are no prerequisites for celebration the spirit is free to sing at its leisure relinquish the reigns of self-affliction Wrap your heart in layers of joy so when the rain comes, as it must you will have a safe harbor of happiness to sustain you from within Don't ever feel you must deny yourself life's most simple, innocent delights don't leave your soul to starve without its natural nourishment I promise you've already earned your small share of sunshine don't waste your life wondering if you are worthy You've won the lottery of merely living each automatic breath is a reminder that you deserve to be here and thoroughly enjoy it whenever you can
It has been over six years since I started practicing daily gratitude. I have journals upon journals filled with lists of things I’m grateful for. After all of this, after so much time spent training my brain to find gratitude, how can it be that I still feel like a terminally ungrateful person?
The main issue I have with a lot of mindfulness practices is the way my clever brain figures out ways to get around them after awhile. It’s ironic that most of the “mindfulness” I have incorporated into my everyday life isn’t done very mindfully at all anymore. Whether it be meditation, journaling, or mindful eating my brain seems more adept at learning to avoid the conscious effort rather than learning to be more present like I had intended.
If you can relate to this issue, you’re probably already asking, “How can we solve this problem?” While I don’t yet have a definitive answer, one thing I’ve noticed is that of all the self-care tasks I do every day, the one that never seems to get stale is my yoga practice. The only difference between yoga and my other practices is that the yoga flows I do are ever changing and evolving. I don’t practice the same poses in the same order everyday. If I did, I’m sure that would just as easily become a mindless habit like the rest. So the only advice I can give to you and to myself is: Keep changing it up.
This isn’t the perfect solution, I know. It is frustrating to constantly have to be reimagining ways to keep yourself mindful. It would be so much nicer if we could just do a few short little identical practices everyday and reap all the benefits of a more compassionate, mindful, spiritual life. I guess the old saying that nothing worth doing is easy still rings true.
I’ve found that novelty is essential to keep me mindful, even if it is aggravating to have to always search for it. Luckily, sometimes that little tweak for my practice finds me on it’s own like it did yesterday. I stumbled upon a Podcast that referenced The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. In his book, he talks about savoring little things throughout our day that “delight” us. For some reason, just this small, almost insignificant shift in perception has made a huge difference for me. It’s amazing how powerful the slightest change of framing can completely shift our perspective on something.
Replacing Gratitude with Delight
Despite sticking with my gratitude practice for so many years, I noticed almost immediately that it was not providing the mental benefits I had hoped. Sometimes it even seemed to backfire. There are a lot of days where I struggle to think of things to be grateful for. This makes me feel awful, because I know I have such an amazing life. I know I should be able to come up with dozens of things to be grateful for every day. The guilt spiral begins and I end up harming my mental health instead of helping it.
The most important part of gratitude is actually feeling it. As someone who struggles to stay grounded in my body and emotions, “grateful” is a rather vague sensation for me. There are lots of other emotions that compile this more complex feeling. It’s hard for me to just drop into a sense of gratitude on demand. However, “delight” feels a bit more tangible most days. Just the word alone makes the corners of my mouth twitch into a soft smile. Delight. Now that I can feel.
Not only am I more easily able to feel delight in my body, it also somehow feels a bit more lighthearted than gratitude. There is something very daunting and serious about being grateful. Not to mention the reverse, being ungrateful, is tied to a lot of shame. Delight, on the other hand, brings up a sense of buoyancy and silliness for some reason. Imagining being delighted makes me want to giggle and wiggle my toes in a way being grateful does not. There is a joyous, uplifting, lightness about the idea of feeling delighted. It also seems easier to pick small things in a practice about delight versus a practice about gratitude. Saying I am grateful for the way a stinkbug stopped and looked at me when I tapped the counter next to it feels strange, but to say the same scenario delighted me fits perfectly.
Putting It Into Practice
Today, instead of a gratitude list, try listing some things that delighted you. I’ll go first. Here are just a few things that brought a sense of delight into my life this morning:
- Hitting that snooze button on my alarm and snuggling back into my warm blankets with my dog for those few precious moments before getting up.
- Enjoying that first hot, black coffee.
- Feeling my house get warmer as I waited for the furnace to get going.
- Listening to music and singing as I drove to work.
- The smell of the perfectly ripe, beautiful, big apple I brought for breakfast.
Regardless of what kind of list you write, it’s helpful to be as detailed as possible. Add lots of physical descriptions, trying to incorporate as many senses into it as possible. I have to admit, I couldn’t help but smile as I wrote down my morning’s delights just now.
My favorite part about learning about this new way to practice bringing mindful moments of pleasure into your life was the idea of sharing it with others. Yesterday I asked a few other people to tell me something that delighted them about their day. It brought me just as much joy and happiness to hear about their experiences and imagine them savoring those small delights.
I hope at least some of you find this helpful. I would love to hear about any other ways you’ve found to keep a spark of novelty in your daily practices. Please, please, please leave a comment and let me know what delights you’ve had so far today!
I've never admired those who have more than me my lip curls with contempt at the American obsession with wealth and power and fame I don't want to watch documentaries about the painfully overprivileged few and how they rationalize their "success" I'll stick to reading Charles Dickens and doting on David Copperfield Nothing is more inspiring than learning to celebrate what you have especially when it may not seem like much my sentimental heart aspires toward Beth March in Little Women Even in imagination wanting nothing but the pleasant company of loving family and just enough to keep from struggling too much just enough money to eat and enjoy one another the softest pleasures that dollar bills can never buy Excessive good fortune can be a distraction my old soul has always seen through the illusion that big business and the finer things are prerequisites to a fully satisfying and worthwhile existence I have no desire for sparkling falsity I know the diamond of my happiness cannot be obtained it is within me, buried behind solid, black rock my tedious task, to lovingly uncover it's brilliance bit by bit to teach my longing heart that we've always had enough to settle into the glistening pools of gratitude already open to me Within all the small pleasures that I take for granted are housed the beauty and boundless joy of life I have no interest in material fortune and wealth what I am seeking is much more complicated, ambiguous, and tricky to obtain Mansions, cars, and golden rings hold no value to me I'm not impressed by yachts and private islands instead, I bow before the gentle, simple, silent things my spirit has always been a flightless bird that cannot help but sing when its feathers are ruffled by the strong breeze
Imitation is an art form I can never quite master studying the smiling faces of beings filled with laughter How easy it seems for some to fill themselves up with whatever is available in that very moment the carefree craft of cultivating pleasure Ashamed of all the effort needed to experience moments of gratitude I want spontaneous heart opening materializing all that matters to you An actor well-versed in playing the victim awkward and unsure in any other role celebration starts to seem phony it's so tiring trying to feel full