Years ago, my wife and I fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit Paris. It was amazing. Long walks along the Seine, Notre Dame, art, shopping, lazy breaks with brie, baguettes, and chardonnay. It was heaven. While we were there, we looked at everything. We noticed every little thing – how the lamps had flowers, how the spaces between buildings were charmingly narrow, even little things like the fonts and colors used on public buildings and signs. Everything was photo worthy.
Coming home was the saddest. Paris was thousands of miles and dollars away. When would we see her again?
Walking around my supposedly boring hometown of Old Towne Orange, I came upon a group of Japanese tourists. They were pointing at a little Mickey Mouse engraved on the sidewalk I'd never noticed before. They were pointing at the buildings. Some movie they loved, The Wonders, had been filmed here in one of the old town cafés, and of course they were taking pictures of everything. They didn't know me but wanted to take a picture with me as well, and in broken English my new Japanese tourist friends said how much they loved where I live and how sad they were that soon they'd have to go back to boring old Japan.
All of the sudden I realized: everyone thinks they're from somewhere boring. When we are on vacation or traveling, we look at our surroundings in ways we never do when we are at home.
The rest of the day I decided to be a tourist in my own town, to see it the way my Japanese friends did. I had never really looked at the fountain in the middle of town. I put my hands in the cold water and looked at the ornate carving. I noticed how it made the air around it cooler. I was fascinated with the carved ceiling in the old roof at the bank. I even began paying closer attention to many different types of people in my town I'd never noticed. I said to myself, "I live in a terrific place." My heart was filled with gratitude.
Practices of gratitude fill your heart with energy and vibrancy. If you look to your spouse, your kids, or a friend nearby and say, "I don't say it enough: I'm just so grateful for you," you will feel a surge of energy. If their response is awkward, that's a surefire sign they are not used to being thanked by you. It's a gratitude deficit. Don't worry about that. It just means you now have a practical way to improve your life and theirs.
One scientific study asked people to write a letter of thanks to someone they care about and then read that letter to that person aloud. They asked that people make it real and not a joke. The study, which measured happiness, showed the reader had a jump in overall happiness that lasted, on average, more than a month. Another study on happiness by Robert Emmons showed that writing down things you're grateful for was the only nonmedical way you could permanently increase your overall sense of happiness.
It's important to know, "I'm not what I have." Even more, our self-talk needs to be, "I'm so grateful for what I have." The more grateful you are for what you have, the more you get out of life, and the more joy you will have from those things. Gratitude trains you into the life of the open hand. When we live every day with gratitude, we train our identity away from insufficiency and into knowing we already have everything we need. We go from scarcity to fullness.