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The idea of gratitude as a lifestyle
I only know vaguely what it was that first planted the idea of gratitude as a lifestyle (and not a fleeting action or feeling) in my head.
I had an accident when I was 21 and living with my parents. I had a just-slightly-more-than-minimum-wage job that bored me to no end. On my way to work one morning, in dense fog, my beautiful car was mushed into oblivion when a loaded oil tanker plowed into my driver’s side door at 90 kms/hr.
I woke up a few minutes later, with my mouth full of glass, pretty confused but defenitly alive. I walked away from the accident with nothing more than a concussion and some cuts (and, it turns out, a wrist that’s never been quite the same).
You’d think that the gratitude was a result of being not dead or even badly hurt, but you’d be wrong (I was young…).
My life was basically unchanged, but there was no possible way on this green earth for me to replace my car (eventually I would get a $10,000 insurance settlement, but that wouldn’t be for loooong time).
My parents had a 19 year old ford Mercury that they let me have for $500. It struck me one day, while driving down the road, that I was incredibly blessed, certainly to be alive and well, but also to have been given the gift of getting around, in this old but reliable car. One that started, and took me places, and hadn’t caused me to go into debt. It wasn’t as pretty as my other car had been, but it worked exactly the same. (Except on some left hand turns when it died… but turning it back on always solved that problem.)
(I see how that isn’t the best story ever, but I felt like you needed to know where I’m coming from at least a little bit.)
Back then, I didn’t even realize that gratitude was a huge step in the direction of living my life on purpose.
Since then, I have made a decision to strive to be grateful for what I have instead of wishful for what I don’t have. (Sure, there have been times when I’ve forgotten that this is my goal – sometimes long stretches of time.) And I haven’t perfected this attitude yet… but the longer I live in pursuit of it, the more absolutely astounding benefits I see.
I have more money
Driving that rusty Mercury, while all my friends were driving their new shiny cars, taught me that the function of a car is to get you (reliably) from A to B. (This seems so obvious but I think it’s something that lots of people still don’t “get”- otherwise why are there so many people with huge car payments?)
It taught me that if you are grateful for the car you already have, and it runs well, then there is no reason, ever, to buy a newer car. I decided then and there that I would drive a car till it dies, and never “upgrade” my vehicle because I could or because I had let myself be fooled into thinking that a newer car would make me “happy”. At the time, I wanted a newer car, ‘cus we all want new pretty things. It’s the culture we live in, and the weird selfish human nature we all seem to have. But I recongnized that a newer car would still just take me from A to B.
The possibility of this attitude to allow me to have more money wasn’t fully evident to me until about 5 years later, when all my friends were still paying off their shiny new cars (that weren’t new anymore) and I had saved enough money to travel around the world with my husband. Who was now driving the ’89 Mercury.
The thing is, that spending money because you want things you don’t currently have IS actually a reason to spend money. And it’s maybe even the number one reason that people spend money. It’s a bad reason, yes, but it’s still a reason. If I don’t want things, I won’t spend money to get them.
It didn’t take me long to apply that lesson to all the areas of my life, and not just my car. It didn’t mean I could have anything, just that I chose not to feel like I needed the “best” of everything. If I can appreciate a $25 dinner out at Denny’s, I don’t need a $150.00 dinner anywhere.
If I am grateful for the second hand clothes I can buy, then there is no reason, ever, to have 6 pairs of $250.00 jeans. If I can be grateful for the experience of visiting a new city, I don’t have to let the $20/night hostel pale in comparison to a $300/night hotel.
If I am grateful for my small comfortable home, I don’t feel the need to move to a bigger home with a big mortgage.
If I choose to focus on what I DO have, as opposed to what I don’t, then I don’t feel the need to spend money to get more or better. Wanting more leads to spending more.
It doesn’t feel like I’m depriving myself (the way it might feel when you are living on a tight budget and you aren’t spending because you can’t spend). I’m not spending because I don’t WANT anything. It has nothing to do with money, but it has a huge impact on my money.
Sort of like when you’re in a great relationship, you don’t want to flirt with anyone else. Not that you know you shouldn’t, you actually don’t feel the desire to. You feel lucky to have what you have.
I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy luxuries, or that I don’t ever splurge, or that I’m some sort of hippie who doesn’t think I need any thing or any money. (I can afford to splurge once in a while actually, since I’m not spending money needlessly and when I do I am SUPER grateful for the splurge and I totally enjoy it. I just bought the cutest PJs ever actually, and I feel grateful for them every time I put them on. I did NOT need them). But – on a day to day basis – I rarely drive by a new car lot or big house for sale, or a store full of expensive shoes and feel any sort of pull towards those things.
So my money stays in the bank.
I have more time
This is a crazy awesome benefit of having a grateful heart. And it’s a direct result of the first benefit. When you want less, you spend less, you need less money… so you don’t feel like you have to work all the hours of your life away.
It’s that simple. I can’t even write that much more about it. I am not remotely inclined to chase down a hundred “side hustles” to fill my spare hours because I desperately need the money. I do have some “side hustles”, but I enjoy them! I don’t need them. When the restaurant calls and I already have plans, I can turn down the work – without guilt.
I am less stressed
It follows that if you have enough money for your needs, and enough free time to do what you gotta do, then you’re not gonna be too stressed. It’s another one that’s pretty easy to understand.
G and I do not fight about money. I hope no one reads this and thinks that we have lots and lots of money. That’s not the case at all.
This has actually been a pretty tight year for us. But it hasn’t stressed me out, because I’m not bummed out by the fact that we literally can not afford to buy a new car or a bigger house right now. I am very content with my car, my house, the things I have. Neither of us feel like we are missing out or don’t have enough, so there’s nothing to fight about.
When I feel disappointed that we can’t afford to go out or do this or that, I remind myself to be grateful for all the things I DO have or that I CAN experience. And then the disappointment doesn’t sting as much.
When you are grateful for what you have, instead of focused on what you don’t have, you are less stressed.
A life of gratitude is an incredibly joyful life
It really is. Not because you have less money troubles or more free time (although those things don’t hurt) but really, it’s difficult to stay “down” for long when you are aware of all the wonderful-ness of your life. Some days have more wonderful-ness than other days, sure. And some days it might even be a struggle to come up with any wonderful-ness at all. (We all have those days.)
But for the most part, I firmly believe that a grateful heart is one of the most self-beneficial attitudes I have ever developed, and I wish everyone could experience it.
If you don’t know how to begin to develop a grateful heart, I suggest starting a gratitude journal. If you’re not into being wordy, don’t do anything but make a short list every day – maybe 3 things – that you can truly be grateful for that day. It’s ok if those things are basic things, like enough to eat, or a good conversation with a friend, or a comfortable bed. (I am grateful for my comfy bed EVERYDAY!)
Or just stick a list on the fridge and add to it once in a while. Read it over often, and make a point of being grateful.
It’ll change your life!