Grateful Heart, Joyful Heart

From Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness

by James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander

When we get lost in fantasies of “My life could (or should) be better,” we’re missing the only life we actually have.

Part 3:  Gratitude Squelchers

two friends talking under a tree - photo by Gordon WebbGratitude grounds us in the present. When we’re lost in galling regret about something in the past or overwhelming concerns about the future, we can forget what we have to be grateful for right now. Before I met my wife I spent many a painful moment feeling sorry for myself and fantasizing about how good it would be when I found the love of my life. Caught up in longing, I overlooked the fact that I had many wonderful friends, but they didn’t really count, because I was so focused on what I didn’t have. When we get lost in fantasies of “My life could (or should) be better,” we’re missing the only life we actually have. Having a positive vision of the future is healthy, but in order to get there, it helps to appreciate and build on what's good in our life right now.

It sounds almost simplistic or meaningless, and yet there is a deep truth in it: that life and Now are one.
-Eckhart Tolle, The Sun magazine, July 2002

One thought away from “It could be better” is “I could be better”—a sure gratitude-squelcher. When we think we’re not good enough, we can spend our energy trying to prove the opposite to ourselves and to the world. We can get caught up in a kind of perfectionism that keeps us from appreciating ourselves as we are.

We can also be retroactive perfectionists, living in regret that things could have or should have been better. While we certainly can learn from past mistakes, playing over and over in our minds what might have been is guaranteed to keep us unaware of anything we can be grateful for, then or now. For example, you might go out for dinner and a movie with a new friend, and although you both obviously had a good time, you end up later replaying in your mind the one sentence that didn’t come out the way you meant it to. I’m such a dummy, you berate yourself. I guess that’s the end of that friendship. The next thing you know, that friend tells you how great it was to spend time together. And there you’d been, lost in regret rather than remembering the joys of that evening. What a waste. The same kind of thing can happen with months or even years of our lives when we focus on what went wrong rather than on what went right.

Another equally useless version of regret is wishing things were like they used to be in “the good ol’ days.” When we look at people or events through a rear-view mirror, they often seem better than they really were. An argument with your partner might leave you feeling nostalgic for the single life forgetting how excruciating the dating scene had been. When we’re attentive and grateful for our lives right now, we can make sure that our present moments, soon to be our “good ol’ days,” are fully lived and appreciated.

Next in the series: 
Part 4: Right Under Our Noses

See Also:
Part 1: Introduction
The Space Between Givens
Part 2: The Glass Half Empty
Part 5: "Grace Described as Obstacles"
Part 6: Glass Half Full
Part 7: The Benefits of Gratitude

Part 8: Strengthening Your Gratitude Muscle
Part 9: The Gratitude Perspective
Part 10: Deepen Your Happiness Groove
Part 11: Scattering Gratitude Like Joy

Part 12: But I Can't Be Grateful to Them!
Part 13: It Would Have Been Enough...

Book Cover of Awakening JoyWith their book, Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness, Baraz and Alexander have created a guide that anyone can follow to develop a practice of Joy. One of the steps is cultivating gratefulness, and this series focuses on that chapter, Grateful Heart, Joyful Heart.

James Baraz has been teaching meditation since 1978 and the Awakening Joy course since 2003. He leads retreats, workshops and classes in the U.S. and abroad and is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California.

James is co-author with Shoshana Alexander of Awakening Joy, a new book based on the course. In addition, James is on the International Advisory Board of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. He lives with his wife in the Bay Area, has two sons and three grandchildren.

Visit his Awakening Joy website.

Shoshana Tembeck Alexander is the author of In Praise of Single Parents, Women's Ventures/Women's Visions, and, with the Findhorn Community, The Findhorn Garden. She has studied Buddhism since 1970 and has guided various works of several prominent Buddhist authors, including Tara Brach, Sharon Salzberg, and Wes Nisker. She lives in Ashland, Oregon and teaches fiction and non-fiction writing.

Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness, Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA,© 2012.

The above excerpt is posted with the authors' kind permission.