By Mary Corradino
It is probably a safe bet to say that the American lifestyle is unparalleled. Our culture provides us with freedom, opportunities and choices, our products and exports are sought after, and what we perceive as necessities are considered luxuries elsewhere. In terms of career path and lifestyle, American choices are virtually limitless.
It sounds like nirvana. And yet, take a moment to watch most Americans going about their daily lives. Notice the faces on the bus in the morning, or standing in line at the grocery store, even your coworkers across the hall. Their expressions often reflect tiredness or frustration or impatience. When we take a minute to observe ourselves and those around us, the sea of discontentment can sometimes be palpable. We are surprised when someone greets us with a cheerful “Good Morning” or when a stranger lends a helping hand. Courtesy, kindness or a simple hello has taken a backseat to moving through life at warp speed. Many Americans are stressed out, overworked, overtired and just plain over it!
So with all the good that our nation offers, what is it that so many of us are missing? Why does it seem so much easier to dwell on the parts of our lives that are challenging than to enjoy what makes us happy in the present?
When we pause to consider this, most of us would not choose to move through life in this manner. We work hard for what we have, we continually strive for more and yet our enviable lifestyle brings many of us less satisfaction, less contentment and less free time. We are left wondering why we don’t feel better when we have so much.
So, how do we make strides to appreciate what we have in abundance, without switching on the auto pilot and losing sight of our many blessings?
And how do we bring greater joy and contentment into our lives?
Through my work, I have noticed that those people with an optimistic perspective really take the time to appreciate what they have. Some of my clients choose a simple reminder (a quarter taped to the phone, a coffee break, a special piece of jewelry) that causes them to pause and take a minute to acknowledge something good that happened that day. Many times they report a sense of well-being that stays with them much longer than expected.
For those of you who are feeling ambitious, another option is to keep a running list entitled, “The Best Three Things that Happened Today.” As better things unfold throughout your day, the top three items are continually being replaced. Start early, perhaps listing the great cup of coffee that started your morning, the perfect parking spot you found in front of your office or the compliment from your boss on that most recent project. What you will notice is that the list creates an environment for finding the good in your day, and hopefully, causes you to discover even more positive experiences by looking for them.
It is also worthwhile to consider those people, places, events and circumstances that elevate your spirit and energize your body. Is it time spent with your favorite person, pet or simply a day spent solo? Is it a ball game or a dose of culture at the theatre? Perhaps, a call to a fun friend is in order, or a favorite photograph placed in a visible place. Maybe you should indulge in some fresh flowers or a new CD. Possibly it is the time you give to others or some type of spiritual practice that makes you feel centered and puts a lift in your step. Or maybe for you it is more about doing less, slowing down, being still so that you have the time for appreciation and gratitude.
Because each person’s story and needs are different, I ask you to give some careful thought to what or who puts a lasting smile on your face. I’m willing to bet that, most of the time, it won’t be a material thing. The thrill from our latest acquisition, even that fabulous pair of Manolos, wears off rather quickly! So consider the avenues that create great pleasure, fun and laughter in your life and do more of them. Lots more of them!
Don’t be stingy with bringing joy to your life and the lives of those around you. And then take the time to appreciate and be thankful for it. Most of us spend loads of time and energy on stress and worry and feel it is a guilty pleasure, an indulgence, to do what I am suggesting. Why do we limit the good? Why do we treat ourselves only occasionally? I say bring on the JOY!
Start to see living this way as a good service to yourself and to all people who come in contact with you; energy of all kinds is contagious. With the blessings that life in America has afforded us, let’s start to see it as our “thank you” to walk down Lexington with a smile on our faces even when we may not feel like smiling. I hope you will discover that when you are in a bad mood, late for a meeting, or rushing to catch a cab and you glimpse a stranger’s smile, you’ll feel a bit better, your step will be a bit lighter, and you will allow all that is good to crowd out the rest.