There was a time, not long ago, when if someone had asked me to describe how I felt, I would probably have said dissatisfied. Today, if someone were to ask me the same question, the most likely answer would be happy. This is the story of that change, and what made it happen. I’m putting it down as a blog post because if you are anywhere near discontented with any aspect of your life (and my work tells me many people are!), then this is an invitation to you to come over to the side of happiness and contentment.
Many years ago, in an introductory class on economics in school, I remember being taught that human want was the basic driver of all progress. I didn’t understand what it meant at that time, but now looking back, I can see that it’s quite a profound truth. As human beings, we constantly want more; we’re usually discontented with our current state. While all of us tend to be dissatisfied with the status quo to different extents, some of us question it, and decide to change it, and progress occurs. This is the basis of all invention and discovery- from fire down to the internet.
While some proactive and brilliant types may roll up their sleeves and decide to make things better by doing things differently, or inventing something or the other, what about the vast majority of us mere mortals ? We’re mostly left with a vague sense of dissatisfaction, which dogs us like a subtle shadow. We occasionally try and shake it off by bringing some variety in our lives, nowadays mostly through investing in a new experience or gizmo, but this is temporary. After a few days or weeks, the shadow returns.
And so it was with me. On the face of it, there wasn’t much I was lacking- I do work I like to do, largely on my own terms, I have a very loving and supportive family, I have some very good friends, financially I’m OK. But there it was; this vague dissatisfaction with what I had, and no idea of how to get over it. This was the middle of 2014; I had been meditating for a while, and in this context i began reading some books on Buddhism. And out of these emerged one great insight:
the dissatisfaction I feel is because I don’t value what I have.
I must tell you that this wasn’t one great revelation that flashed upon me and left me blinded and breathless. Far from it. It gently came to me- in fact so gently that I don’t even remember when exactly the insight came about, but there it was. And as with all insights, when it did come about, it looked blindingly obvious. And also, as with all insights, the question was- what do I do now ?
I knew as a coach how difficult change can be, so the task was obviously not an easy one. I also knew that I had to work on my mindset, and not just artificially boost myself- I had to begin valuing what I had from inside. And I know well from my work as a coach that if a change program is complicated, it doesn’t last, and more importantly it doesn’t work.
One night, I was unable to sleep, and while lying awake I decided to make a mental list of all the things I had that I needed to value. I began with the obvious ones- family, friends, work. These would naturally have come out on top, because we tend to value them- maybe not consistently, but we know they’re valuable. But once these were done,I pushed myself more, and started moving towards things I really took for granted- for example, my warm bed (it was a cold Delhi winter night!), the fact that I could wear clean clothes every day, the fact that there was electricity in my home ! Somewhere along this listing I fell asleep, but when I woke up, I knew there was something there.
This listing exercise eventually got converted to my secret sauce to value what we have:
Right before going to sleep (after turning the lights off) enunciate three things you are grateful for- and push yourself to particularly think of things you might completely take for granted. And- find a new set of things to be grateful for every night.
At first it just felt good to acknowledge all the things in my life, but after a few weeks I noticed how things were changing. I was complaining less, I was more appreciative of others, and I was certainly not dissatisfied with my lot- in fact there were many times in the day when thoughts of gratefulness would just pop up all on their own ! It’s been two years now, and the ritual of acknowledging three things to be grateful for every night is now automatic, but the impact has been completely transformational. I’m more happy and appreciative of what I have, not dissatisfied at all, and from a reasonably pessimistic person, I’ve moved to becoming an optimist- mostly looking at possibilities rather that pitfalls.
All this is fairly life changing, and hence this blog. I don’t like to normally write about myself (I find it unnecessarily pompous) but here is something that I want to share, and I hope you will find useful. I’d like to invite you to take this forward in your own life. Even if you’re not discontented with your lot, we can all do with being more grateful, so go ahead. Give it a shot for a couple of weeks and see what happens.
And if you decide to take this forward in your own life, let me know how you get on, and someday we can share notes over a cup of coffee, and talk about how life’s cup is always more full than empty- for everyone !