Yesterday, I went for a run just before sunset. Nothing special, my normal lap which I run mostly. Nevertheless, a deep, positive feeling of gratitude has flowed through me. It was not a different setting than usual. No one passed by who beamed at me, no special event, no really special sunset. Still, I was infinitely grateful. Thankful for this moment that I am healthy and just able to bear this charmed life that I live. Sounds strange but that’s the way it is.
Something similar happened with a client at a shoot a few days ago. She called me the day before the job to review all the details with me and suddenly she said, “And one thing I have to get rid of! I am very excited about your blog. I would like to put everything into action right now! And tonight I’m going to cook your eggplant recipe for my husband and me!” The next day, I had my own stuffed eggplants as a lunch break and was simply filled with gratitude that there are still such great people out there. She just made me happy.
„It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.” – Sir Francis Bacon
Are awareness and gratitude the key to inner happiness?
At the same time, I had to smile a little. Recently, I met a friend to take some photos of him. It was a beautiful day in spring and I was just happy. Great photos, great weather, bright blue sky and sunshine. And then the enthusiasm bubbled out of me: “OMG, isn’t it nice here? I’m just super happy right now!” Since then, I have to smile again and again, when the beauty of the moment overwhelms me. My friends said that I had something like a “positive Tourette-Syndrome”. Phrases like “Oh my God, it’s just beautiful here!”, “Look how beautiful the tree is!”, “Awwww, a squirrel!”, etc. bubble out of me quite often. And mostly with full fervor. I am happy about so many supposedly small things in life and also about being able to infect others with my positivity.
I remember very well when I wrote my master’s thesis last year. To be really productive, I just had to go to the National Library in Munich every day. At home I get distracted quite fast. Every single morning, I took the worst possible subway exit on Odeonsplatz just to see the Theatinerkirche in the morning light. Every time I thought to myself: What privilege to live in Munich! What a backdrop! How privileged I am to live in Munich and also to live my dream. Every time I am at Marienplatz or in the Courtyard Garden (Hofgarten), I stop for a moment and have that deep feeling of gratitude.
Gratitude is closely related to happiness
And moments like these are quite common, not just in my everyday life. However, we have somehow forgotten how to perceive such moments and not take them for granted. Often we don’t pay attention to things like this, we are more likely to be focused on others. We compare ourselves with friends, with colleagues or with unknown persons. Even if these comparisons are always lame because we never have all the information to really compare with anyone. Especially people we do not know are usually showing off their best side, see Social Media, Instagram & Co. Since we can only draw the short straw in comparison.
But why do we have to compare ourselves? Is it something society forces us to? We have to get better and better, earn more, get promoted, rise in rank, achieve goals, consume and possess more in order to be truly recognized. But at what price? To be happy? To make others happy? Or to fulfill social ideas of a fine upstanding citizen? To prove others how great we are? What about us? What makes us really happy? Does that make us happy?
Gratitude is a process
Too often we forget that we can not influence some things that in turn can subliminally influence us. Often we can not influence what others think of us. We can not please everyone and we can not be liked by everyone. That’s why we should focus much more on what we can really influence. We should focus more on what we really want and what we have already achieved. And be thankful and grateful for that.
Many things you have achieved or positive traits are not taken-for-granted. It may feel that way to you because that’s just natural for you, but that does not mean it’s normal. Nothing should be taken for granted. And that’s where a big part of my gratitude comes from. It is not taken-for-granted that I am healthy. That I am independent, to be allowed to speak and think freely. I am grateful for so many things that come to mind for the most of us first: for my friends, my family, my health, I have a roof over my head and I do not need to feel hungry.
Mindfulness and awareness of the here and now
There are so many other things and moments that I am eternally grateful for and that make me very happy. For every ray of sunshine on my skin, for every bird chirping, for every second by the sea, for every dear message from friends, for every sunrise and sunset. I am grateful for every smile, for every keeping the door open, for every small present, for the smell of summer-rain, for every lady-bug, for every blooming flower, for every heartfelt, warm embrace, etc.
I love cycling through Munich, discovering new corners, sitting at the Isar, lying in the English Garden, watching the sunset on the Hackerbrücke, eternally long walks, balmy summer evenings on Gärtnerplatz… You see, there are many things you can be grateful for in everyday life. Plus, they do not cost anything. Just think about what a smile of a stranger can arouse in you. And once you have developed the awareness for the allegedly small things in life, you will perceive more and more moments that make you happy which you have previously dismissed as normal. Or you didn’t even realized them.
There is nothing negative that does not have something positive
You do not have to walk around with hearts in your eyes everyday. There are also days when I do not feel well or when I am just out of it. But that’s not what I am talking about. We should not artificially force ourselves to be thankful. We should only learn to appreciate more what we already have. And that includes ourselves, too. Have you ever noticed that you cannot be both bad and in a good mood? And this is also documented by numerous studies that deal with this topic. Grateful people are generally happier, more optimistic, more emphatic, more selfless, and more helpful. Gratitude is usually associated with a positive emotional state. The more often you are grateful, the less often you can be in a bad mood at the same time. In the long term, gratitude also makes us happier because it allows us to enjoy positive experiences more intensively and gain the ability to extract something good even in negative experiences. Every situation and event can be interpreted positively and negatively. I often think, “Who knows what it was good for! Probably it saved me from something even worse.”
It is not always important what happened to us. Much more important is how we handle it. Without the really bad things in my life, I would not be the person I am today. And I’m grateful for that too, because I like myself the way I am. And I’m just as grateful to my mom and dad. If they had not left their homeland, my dad at that time as a gastarbeiter and my mom just before the Civil War to give us children a better future, I don’t know where I would be today. Even though they are sometimes annoying, they raised me and gave me an education that prepared me for my life. So, I can work out everything for myself. THANK YOU, Mom and Dad! I am grateful that I am allowed to be “me”.
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Cunha, L. F./Pellanda, L. C.Reppold, C. T. 2019: Positive Psychology and Gratitude Interventions: A Randomized Clinical Trial, in: Frontiers in Psychology, 2019. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00584/full
O’Leary, K./Dockray, S. 2015: The Effects of Two Novel Gratitude and Mindfulness Interventions on Well-Being, in: The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 21, 2015, No. 4, pp. 243-245.