The great German psychologist and neurologist Viktor Frankl defines freedom as the moment between a stimulus and how you choose to respond to it. People don’t always get to choose the course their lives take. They do, however, always retain the right to select their present attitude.
For me, I choose to be thankful for what I have instead of focusing on my lack. Doing so hasn’t caused financial miracles to rain down upon me. However, it has helped me cope with life’s many challenges. Here are eight ways that being grateful for simple pleasures improved my outlook on life.
1. I Realized All I Had
People in the west tend to take many things for granted. For example, when was the last time you thought about how convenient it was to get food delivered during the recent lockdowns?
People in other regions don’t only need to cook and prepare their meals — they must often hunt and harvest if they want to eat. It isn’t only people in developing countries that struggle with hunger. Right here at home, 42 million people, including 13 million children, go to bed with empty bellies each night.
Of all the things I feel grateful for, food probably tops the list. Having known hunger, I understand what it’s like when both your cupboard and stomach hold nothing but voids. I take time to reflect on my good fortune before every meal.
I also feel grateful for the water we drink. It’s estimated that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in places of scarcity, and the pressing reality of climate change only worsens the situation. How many of us can honestly say we’ve known thirst?
2. I Became More Mindful
I now recognize that much of my previous depression stemmed from letting myself get caught in negative thought spirals. I wasn’t living in the moment — I was stuck in a traumatic past or an anxiety-ridden future.
Instead, I began practicing mindfulness. I trained myself to immerse myself in the task at hand instead of letting my mind wander to my real and imagined problems. When I feel myself starting to panic, I focus on my breathing to return to the present.
3. I Practiced Random Kindness
When you feel grateful, you want to share more. I take issue with folks who dissuade others from handing out money to the homeless and the like. My motto? Any opportunity to perform an act of kindness is a blessing.
You also reap benefits when you give of yourself to others. Performing acts of kindness releases a flood of positive neurotransmitters such as serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. All of these improve your mood and ease depression.
4. I Learned to Love Solitude
Humans are social creatures. However, it’s also vital to learn who you are when you don’t have anyone else around.
Spending time living with others made me crave solitude. Taking a break from my loved ones now and then helps me appreciate the time we do share.
5. I Recognized What Matters
I used to have a crisis over things like chipped nail polish. A severe financial setback made me realize that these minor details don’t matter.
What does is the basics — a roof over your head and food in your belly. While I no longer struggle with the latter, housing insecurity remains an ongoing theme, given ever-rising rent prices paired with stagnant wages. However, I’m grateful that I don’t sleep under the stars every single night without it being a voluntary situation. I know far too many people who don’t enjoy the same privilege.
6. I Cut Out What Didn’t
Being grateful for simple pleasures also helped me clean up my friends’ list. I no longer wanted to spend time with people who only cared about materialistic things.
That’s not to say I became a hermit — quite the opposite. I cultivated a tribe that values the same things I do. We might not get together as often as we would like. However, we can talk all night about topics I consider more meaningful than the best luxury purse brand, and we don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy each other’s company.
7. I Cultivated Calm
I used to get furious at minor delays like long grocery stores lines. “Don’t they realize how busy I am?” I would think. Time was money, and every moment wasted while someone in front of me fished for a coupon was like that much cash stolen from my wallet. However, my ire harmed no one but me. I still had to wait in line or go without lunch — why raise my blood pressure over something I couldn’t control?
Nowadays, I recognize the choice I have to make. I might still let out a sigh if I had my heart set on fries, but the line stretches for miles, but I don’t let it ruffle me for more than a moment.
8. I Overcame Minor Frustrations
Major crises have a way of making you look at minor frustrations differently. Losing your home is an emergency. Arriving a few minutes late to a meeting because of traffic isn’t.
Gratitude helps me overcome minor frustrations. Instead of groaning when I get stuck in a jam, I give thanks for a few more moments to myself to listen to an uplifting podcast or simply be alone with my thoughts. Changing my mindset from one of lack to one of plenty regarding time spent sitting in my vehicle vastly improves the journey.
Stay Grateful for the Simple Pleasures
You don’t always get to choose what happens to you in life. However, being grateful for simple pleasures improved my outlook and made me realize that I had quite a lot for all I lacked. What can gratitude help you overcome today?
Mia Barnes is a health and wellness journalist with a focus on mental health and chronic pain issues. She is the Editor in Chief at Body+Mind.
Image courtesy of Oleg Magni.