Several years ago, I experimented with a daily practice of recognizing gratitude and success by jotting down a few things each morning and evening. The practice was simple, and yet powerful enough to reveal a truth that changed my perceptions and the quality of my life going forward. I ultimately realized that the farther my gratitude extends beyond myself, and the more I identify inner dynamics as success, the happier, and more fulfilled I became.
Nearly every morning, I jotted down a short list of things for which I was grateful (approximately three things that came to mind while getting ready in the morning), and in the evening I would identify one success during the day. The gratitude list started with a focus on myself and my basic necessities, such as health, shelter, and sustenance, and the success was often work or task related that I recalled from earlier in the day.
The wording of the list was also deliberately formulaic: who or what, the attribute I am grateful for or which I consider a success, and why. For example: I am grateful for my body’s fitness and athleticism because it enables me to practice martial arts and form bonds with my classmates, and; reviewing and submitting the report ahead of schedule was a win today.
I challenged myself to vary the items on the lists each day, expanding my view of gratitude and success. After about a week, my gratitude list began to include obvious family, relationships, and tribe elements, such as my children, friends, and family members. As this happened, my view of success rose above the to-do items and included things I believed I could influence, such as I supported my kids in an activity or I helped a friend with something.
These two spheres – an inner one and an immediate proximity one – were the scope of my gratitude and success for a few weeks. There was plenty of things to identify without double-counting themes.
After a few weeks, my view of gratitude crossed a critical threshold and I began to express gratitude for things that I admire in other people and that I think are extraordinary attributes, such as, my son’s confidence and resiliency, and a friend’s genuine care and devotion to members of his community. Then my perspective expanded farther to the things that I think help move the needle in making the world a better place, such as the strong women I know whom set awesome examples for other women and young girls, and the men I know that lived their recovery and healing process in an open forum with vulnerability to be an example and model for others. I was grateful for the influence that other people had on making the world more compassionate, more empowering, and just simply better. Finally, my sense of gratitude swelled beyond the judging of positive and negative, and included my own challenges, obstacles, and limitations, as I realized that each one was a catalyst to a valuable trait or understanding. At that point, I understood that I was grateful for everything.
As my gratitude expanded farther out, my sense of success contracted and drew inward. Completed and external tasks were replaced with internal successes, first framed by abstinence, such as I refrained from acting or thinking a certain way that I wanted to change. Then, I started to identify behavioral changes as daily victories, like I stepped out of my comfort zone and practiced compassion in moments when I would not historically. This inward sense of success got deeper into my mindfulness, including labeling and letting go of thoughts and emotions, and thus remaining unaffected by such surges. Success went from a measure of what was “done” to a measure of my sense of “being.”
The first two spheres (inner and immediate proximity) had a nexus back to me; my view of gratitude and success directly connected back to me and I was grateful to have them in my life. The next two spheres – positive change and everything – existed without me, and I was grateful to be in the presence of them. These diametrically opposed movements of gratitude and success (outward and inward) through these spheres focused my perspective and that clarity let happiness and fulfillment in.
The evolution of my perspective was the result of dedicated practice. Initially, the practice of acknowledging gratitudes and successes did not seem to be impactful, but the repetition radically reshaped my perspectives. The analogy that occurred to me is when an ancient statue, weathered and aged, gets touched by thousands of people on the same spot over and over again, such that eventually the spot becomes polished and develops a brilliant shine. Each touch seems insignificant, but the compounded effect creates radiance.
This coming Thanksgiving holiday, I encourage you to adopt a daily gratitude and success practice to see how it reshapes your perspectives. You can use the Path2 Gratitude and Success tool, here.