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Gratitude. It’s a tricky customer. Easy to feel —and express— when our cup overfloweth, but nowhere to be found when our cup appears to have runneth dry.
Which is precisely when you need it most, because gratitude is your ticket back to Happyville.
If that sounds a little pie in the sky and new agey, consider this: It’s not only a true fact because the internet said so, there’s actual science to back it up.
We all want to be happy —it’s the one thing all humans have in common— and it’s easy to feel miserable or shortchanged when we’re not.
But focusing solely on our problems will only make things worse.
For starters, there’s the tendency to to overlook everything there is to be grateful for (and there’s usually a bunch of stuff). Plus, it draws our attention away from the fact that others are in the midst of their own hardships too. Oftentimes much worse than ours.
How Volunteering Keeps Things in Perspective
A few months ago I found out about a local NPO called Ladles of Love, a volunteer-run soup kitchen and feeding program for Cape Town’s growing homeless community.
Sporty and I have always been pretty good about recognising all the good in our lives and we’ve also made a point of giving back. However, up until now ‘giving back’ has meant making a donation online in support of some or other worthy cause.
I’m not downplaying our efforts by any means, but there’s something to be said for showing up in person and donating your time. It’s humbling, it’s messy and it’s an eye-opener like nothing we’ve experienced before.
There are also health benefits to being kind and while it’s obviously not the reason we do this, boosting our immune system is a more than welcome perk.
We told our friend Coral about it and now she joins us on these soup kitchen adventures. The other night after yet another really busy hour of serving I said to her, “It’s amazing how good I always feel afterwards.”
“I know,” she grinned, “I was in a bad space earlier and nearly didn’t come. I’m so glad I forced myself.”
Later that evening she messaged me on WhatsApp: “I found soup in my ear! LOL”
Taking time out of our day to serve a much needed hearty meal to someone in need reminds us of just how much we have to be grateful for.
What’s even more humbling for me is how these people, who literally have nothing but the clothes they’re wearing and a single blanket (if they’re lucky), still find it within themselves to smile, say thank you and express their gratitude for what we’re doing.
Side note: Ladles of Love is currently raising funds for their Mandela Day campaign. If you can, please sponsor a stationery-filled backpack for the princely sum of just R99 ($8). You’ll make some kid’s day, I swear! 🙂
A Simple Trick to Encourage More Gratitude
Hey I get it. I’ve been down the self-pity wormhole so many times I could offer guided tours. When we’re down there, getting out can be hard (read: Herculean). It’s not impossible though. (Obviously, else I’d probably still be down there.)
Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar is in agreement with the scientists. Happiness is born from gratitude. He offers an inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you’re going, and then being grateful in that moment.
It’s a beautiful talk and one that’s packed full of wisdom (as one would expect from a monk). I get that at 14:30 minutes it’s like the YouTube version of War and Peace, but watch it anyway, okay? It’s worth it, I promise.
Nature, Beauty, Gratitude
While I’m busy force-feeding you TED talks, this one’s even more amazing. Louie Schwartzberg has spent the past 30 years using time-lapse photography to capture nature’s fleeting beauty. It serves as a meditation on being grateful for every day. Our friend Brother DavidI also narrated it. Coincidence? I think not!
An Experiment in Gratitude by Soul Pancake
But wait, there’s more. The guys at Soul Pancake decided to test this theory that gratitude makes us happier by conducting an experiment with a few unwitting human guinea pigs.It’ll definitely make you smile and it may even be cause for a tear or two (if you’re a big softie like me).
If you’d like to read a book on the subject, check out this list of gratitude books for inspiration. I haven’t read any of them myself, but I’ve added a couple to my wish list.
I have, however, read a book called 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life.
When multiple sclerosis left Cami Walker debilitated and depressed, her friend Mbali Creazzo, a South African healer, suggested an uncommon solution.