Why We Should All Be More Appreciative

Everyone wants to be happy.

Well, not necessarily, but I've never met anyone who wants to be unhappy so I'll assume that everyone does want to be happy. (I think there's a logical fallacy in there somewhere.)

Appreciation is the feeling of happiness. I think happiness and appreciation is the same thing, but described in a way that makes their similarity difficult to spot.

When we feel content, it's because we are appreciative of what we have. We feel happy because we understand that we have everything we need in life.

Appreciation is described as an act. Therefore it is understood as something that can be induced by choice. e.g. "Be Appreciative."

Happiness, on the other hand, is described as something we feel and an effect of our outside circumstances. It's not that this framing around happiness is exactly incorrect, but it is a little misleading, and this framing makes it so elusive to achieve.

"What makes you happy?" What a difficult question to answer. It is so difficult to answer because happiness is a result of what we do, not a result of what we receive.

To put it more precisely, happiness is a result of our feelings towards our outside circumstances. But what happens to us (something we receive) is not the same thing as how we interpret what happens to us (something we do).

How we feel about something is largely controlled by the narrative we decide to use to describe the events that occur to us.

"I have to take out the trash. It's so much extra work to tie up the heavy trash bag and haul it across the yard."

"I get to take out the trash and feel the sense of accomplishment of tidying up my house."

"I have to walk the dog. There goes another 15 minutes of my time."

"I get to walk the dog. Not everyone has this privilege of being able to walk, or own a dog."

"I have to go home and give my baby a bath. I'm tired from work and all I really want to do is relax."

"I get to go home and give my baby a bath. I am fortunate to have a job that allows me to go home early enough to spend quality time with family and give my baby a bath. I have the time and space to spend time with people I love."

Both interpretations are accurate but one will make you happier than the other. Why pick the negative one? We have a choice.

The reality is that being appreciative is a practice we can always employ, and happiness is the feeling that results from the practice.

The alternative would be to practice ignoring all the things we could be appreciative for, focus only on things that make us unhappy, and get stuck in a loop wondering why nothing good comes our way.

Of course nothing good comes our way if we don't practice appreciation. We'll miss out on everything good that happens to us.

Everything good is already around us if we just practice appreciation. We don't even have to wait for good things to happen. We can begin experiencing happiness right now.

A Lesson in Traveling While Traveling

While I live in sunny southern California, most of my relatives live in varying parts of Japan. This leads me to station myself at a specific relative for several weeks, and within that time frame, travel to other parts of Japan to see other relatives.

I typically only need to carry 4 or 5 days worth of clothes because the laundry machine is spun every couple of days, or even every day, in most households in Japan. I was packing to travel from my in-laws' home to my parents' home this morning. The trip was going to be 4 days, and I brought about 5 days worth of clothes for the entire trip.

The problem in front of me was this: I could take the time to pick out the 4-days worth of clothes... or I could simply pack everything that I had and just take it with me without thinking.

I picked the latter option without hesitation. Because I wasn't going to do a lot of walking, the time investment required and the cognitive overload of thinking about, and picking 4 days worth of clothes from a 5 day wardrobe simply made no sense.

There are too many of these small decisions on a day-to-day that wear down our decision making ability, cognitive bandwidth, and take away from time doing things we actually care about doing.

Don't get me wrong — if you like packing and picking clothes and optimizing a travel wardrobe, then you probably don't share this opinion and that's totally okay.

This was a good reminder that we all only have 24 hours in a day, and that time is spent by accumulating small tasks to do throughout the day. Being cognizant of each of these decisions and quickly being able to decipher what is actually worth doing and not worth doing is a key skill in optimizing our output towards a life that we want to build.

For me, that means more time spent learning new things, making things, talking to family, and playing with my 6-month old.

In Pursuit of More

There's a myriad of things that all of us pursue: Material goods, social status, wealth, just to name a few.

Unless I missed some memo, everyone I know is in pursuit of something. So it is not a matter of pursuing or not pursuing; The question is, what are we pursuing more of?

We can only answer for ourselves, but it is a worthwhile exercise. What do you want more of?

Here is my list:

  • appreciation
  • physical fitness
  • emotional fitness
  • deeper emotional connections with others
  • financial wealth
  • opportunities to apply myself at work
  • focus