I'm sure this is nothing you haven't heard before, but I truly believe that there are two steps to becoming a happier person: feeling gratitude, and passing that gratitude forward. At one point, years ago, I had the blues...the blahs...the overall icks. I hesitate to refer to myself as "depressed," because I think that word is tossed around too lightly. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. What I was suffering from was more of an imbalance of the spirit. It was a general malaise that was situational, but that didn't make it feel any better.
When I look back at that point in my life, it's hard to believe how different my thought process was from what it is today. All I remember from that time period was an overall attitude of "have not." All I could focus on at that point was what I didn't have, what I didn't accomplish, and who I wasn't. I was in flux, but instead of realizing that and embracing it, I could only think of what was missing. And the more I thought about it, the worse I felt.
Once I found my path, I began to see that all everything had worked out the way it had for a reason...and to be grateful for this. That sense of gratitude stayed with me. Today, I may not have everything I want, but I certainly have more than what I need, and I am thankful. I'm not going to get into a laundry list of all that I am grateful for, but there is a lot...and just taking a moment to think about it while I am writing this blog is making me a little happier, because the first step to happiness is acknowledgment of what you do have, rather than what you don't.
The second step is to take time out to give some credit to those who play a role in this gratitude. Let's face it: it's human nature to crave some sort of credit for what we do. It's all well and good to preach doing kind acts without expecting anything in return, but when it comes down to it, there's nothing like a genuine, heartfelt "thank you." Getting one is great, but giving one feels really fulfilling, as well! And sadly, this seems to be becoming a lost art. We toss out the quick, casual "thanks" so often that it has lost its meaning-it's just words. Or, we forget to say anything at all.
When I started out in practice, I had a lot of help offered to me from people who didn't know me at all. And I appreciated every bit of help that came my way. I made it a point to make sure that everyone knew how grateful I was, and I could tell how much that sincere "thank you" meant to them. I was the one benefiting from the generosity of others, but they got something out of it, as well...so everyone won :)
Several months back, I had two separate small business owners contact me to ask me some marketing questions. I didn't know either of these people, but I was actually excited to help them out; I knew how many strangers helped me in the beginning, and I wanted to pay it forward. So, I took a few hours out of my day and drafted up some info for them. I forwarded the info over, then basked in the glow of knowing that I had done my good deed for the day. Then I waited. And waited. I hadn't helped them out for the sake of getting anything out of it...but, really? Not even a quick "thanks" email back?
Nope. Here I was, a complete stranger, staying late in the office to write up lots of helpful info for these people, putting real effort into it...and neither of these people ever said anything to me after asking for the initial favor. I gradually went from feeling all warm inside to feeling...well, kind of used. That lack of acknowledgment completely changed the dynamic of our interaction. I had enjoyed the prospect of doing a good service, but now that icky feeling of being taken advantage of had colored the experience differently.
Need a favor from someone? Don't make that person regret offering their help. Feel grateful, express it with a genuine "thank you," and people will want to continue to do nice things for you and for others...it can be a wonderful cycle!