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I heard bad news last week. A friend lost his life in a car accident. I was hit with shock and the eerie feeling that no one is immortal. The clock is ticking for us all.
Coincidentally, at the time, I was reading a book called A Guide to the Good Life. Written by William Irvine, it is about the philosophy of Stoicism. Irvine talks about a “Satisfaction Threadmill.” The premise:
Once [a person] fulfills a desire for something, they adapt to its presence in their life and as a result stop desiring it – or at any rate, don’t find it as desirable as they once did. They end up as dissatisfied as they were before fulfilling the desire.
The challenge is to stop ourselves from taking things for granted and instead “creating a desire in ourselves for the things we already have.”
To achieve this, Stoics used a tool called “Negative Visualization.” This is when you consciously imagine losing the things you value in life. For example, losing a loved one, or having valuables stolen. The Stoics believed this was the secret to valuing the things we already have.
Reading about this philosophy helped bolt me back into reality. I thanked my blessings and felt grateful — for living another day, for the loved ones in my life, for all the opportunities and possibilities in front of me.
Recently, I taught a class on “How to Tame Your Inner Critic.” I spoke about the power of developing a gratitude practice.
Two participants expressed dismay that they couldn’t think of anything to be grateful for at that moment in their lives. They seemed annoyed at me for suggesting something so obvious to help ease an anxious mind. The answer couldn’t be that simple.
In fact, it is. If we are not thankful for what we have right now, we won’t be thankful for the things we want when we get them. We will overlook them, take them for granted, get bored and move on to yet another shiny object, or feel resentful for not having what we want.
At one point in my own life, it felt as if things were not going so well. I had little money and no career prospects. I felt like I should be further along my life’s path, that many others were far superior to me.
Then, I was able to switch my focus. I had a roof over my head. I wasn’t living on the streets. I had food in my belly. I was surrounded by good friends who supported me. I was developing myself and had access to amazing resources.
I know of nothing more powerful than practicing gratitude to snap out of stress, anxiety, worry, anger, and dwelling on negative thoughts. Gratitude provides an immediate halt to negative emotions. It allows you to feel blessed and achieve instead a sense of happiness.
Motivational coach Tony Robbins incorporates gratitude into his morning ritual. He points out, “When you’re grateful you can’t be angry. And when you’re grateful you can’t be fearful.”
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