Gratitude as a method of elevating one's mood
Today, I got really irritated at something, and I knew that realistically it was not a big deal, that it was not worth being irritated for more than a few minutes. But I just felt I was treated unfairly, and I wanted things to be fair.
I went to do a short workout, it helped a bit, but it didn’t completely alleviate my irritation. My rational side wanted to get rid of that feeling, but my emotions were having none of it.
I am a big admirer of Sam Harris, so when he came up with a new meditation app called “Waking Up,” I decided to give it a try. I tried meditation before, but it always felt like a horribly boring chore. I always thought to myself “What is exactly the point? What was the last ten minutes supposed to do for me?”
Waking Up is a bit different. I’d urge you to try it if you like Sam Harris’s style (if you’re a realist, chances are he will resonate with you). There are two main parts of the app, the first part is called “Lessons,” and the second part is called “Meditation.”
“Lessons” are short life lessons ranging from a few minutes to half an hour. “Meditations” are daily, guided ten-minute meditations.
So, before sounding like I’m getting paid to promote the app, I’ll get to the point.
After my workout, which was supposed to make me feel less stressed, I realized I haven’t done my daily meditation using Sam’s app, so I wanted to give that a try as well. Interestingly, today’s “lesson” was called “Gratitude.”
Here is an excerpt from the lesson:
Let’s say I’m stressed out by something not going well. I’m reacting to some hassle. It could be caught in traffic, and late for an appointment. I sometimes think of bad things that haven’t happened to me, and I think I haven’t been diagnosed with a fatal illness, I’m not caught in a war-zone. And I think of all the people on earth, in that moment, who are suffering those sorts of dislocations in their lives. And then I reflect that if I were in their shoes, I would be desperate to get back to precisely the situation I’m now in. Just stuck in traffic and late for an appointment, but without any real care in the world.
I noticed this at dinner the other night with my family. Everyone seemed to be in a fairly mediocre frame of mind. We were all in some way disgruntled or stressed out. I had a million things I was thinking about, and I suddenly noticed how little joy we were all taking in one another’s company. And then I thought, if I had died yesterday, and could have the opportunity to be back with my family, I thought of how much I would savor this moment right now. And it totally transformed my mood. It gave me an instantaneous access to my best self, into a feeling of pure gratitude for the people in my life. Just think of what it would be like to lose everything, and then be restored to the moment you’re now in, however ordinary.
Before I talk more about the lesson itself, I just want to say that personally, I hate the “there are people in worse situations than you, so stop being depressed/stressed/angry/etc.” argument. Yes, of course, there are people suffering horribly at this moment, but how does that make my suffering less annoying? And there is virtually always someone who is suffering more than you, by this logic, there should only be one person on earth who should be allowed to be depressed.
That being said, listening to the lesson I quoted above, improved my mood. I wondered “How come?”
I think the reason why it was effective was that a good portion of what Sam’s saying is not “there are people in a worse situation than you, so suck it up.” It doesn’t say, there are people who are suffering, so you don’t have the right to be angry or stressed. It is more of a thought experiment. Put yourself in the shoes of the less fortunate, and consider how lucky you would feel if they gave you the chance to go back to this moment you are not savoring fully. And I think the strongest example in the whole lesson is imagining yourself having died yesterday. Obviously in reality, if you died yesterday, you couldn’t care less about being alive today because you couldn’t care at all, but imagine you could die and still be in a conscious state where you can’t interact with your loved ones anymore, or can’t do the things you love to do anymore, how would that feel?
Listening to Sam helped me feel better, and I hope this method will work in the future as well as it did this time. Give it a try, maybe it will help you too.