How to be grateful

an intellectual is someone who maintains two opposing ideas at the same time.

idea #1

all technological advancements can be explained in a word: discontentment.

idea #2

if we lack gratitude, discontentment is crippling.

at the same time

we’re never satisfied with what we have, which pushes us to the next milestone. because achievements grant only temporary relief, the cycle continues.

how, then, can we be grateful?

past

a tweet like this one goes viral every 6 months:

when i think about my past: poor college student, poor Brooklynite, recent grad hustling at Six Flags for Coca Cola to pay rent…

sure, i envied what i have now:

  • home
  • income
  • health

yet this tweet falls short, because it is a condemnation.

underlying the written verbiage is subtext: “unhappy? how dare you.”

present

Mark Manson echoes Buddha in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***, reminding us life is merely pain and problems.

when we solve a problem, the solution begets a new problem. happiness and purpose, therefore, rely on us finding the right problems to solve.

the good news is our 6th sense about this stuff. run a few errands on Saturday? total drag. send a final presentation to a client? invigorated.

discontentment is a symptom of the good:bad ratio in our problem solving endeavors. gratitude is the other side of that coin.

future

humans have an uncanny ability to simulate scenarios.

albeit painful, i can imagine what it might feel like if my parents were killed tonight in a horrific car crash.

i can also simulate what life would be like if i won the lottery.

this super power — a combination of empathy and creativity, darkness and optimism — can be trained to elicit a healthy ratio of contentment and gratitude.

how to be grateful

psychologists say Loss Aversion is a stronger motivator than Gain Potential.

next time you feel bitter about your circumstance:

  1. remember when you wanted what you have now (past)
  2. simulate how unhappy you’ll feel after achieving current goals (future)
  3. feel the pain of exchanging current accomplishments for nothing (present)

let’s stew on #3, because it’s everything.

we’re very good at convincing our present selves that our past self didn’t know any better, and our future self will be wiser.

“no really, when i have X, i seriously will have conquered my discontentment…”

have a chuckle if you tell yourself this lie.

gratitude is perpetual

achievements happen in a moment; gratitude is the space between those moments.

Naval Ravikant posits we can observe ourselves “acting angry” vs being angry, or existing in anger.

(perhaps the ancient Spaniards already knew this; “estoy” vs “soy” connote temporal vs identifying characteristics…)

if achievements are instantaneous, longing is forever, and unhappiness is a byproduct of focusing on bad problems… the first step towards gratitude is the reliving of past accomplishments in the present.

for example, suppose i want to lose 10 pounds. when i achieve it, inevitably i’ll find flaws in my new body, and set another goal to lose 10 more pounds.

but if i examine each problem i solved to achieve the initial 10lb weight loss…

  • eating salad instead of burgers
  • running instead of sitting
  • drinking less instead of happy hour

… these tactics become replicable celebrations.

while eating salad to lose that 11th pound, or refusing a cocktail at a networking event to lose that 12th pound, i am practicing gratitude for prior accomplishments.

i’m also responding to discontentment head-on, implementing key learnings from a past achievement (first 10lbs) to solve current problems more efficiently.

go forth

we’re wired to want more, and mainstream advice to resist the inclination is futile.

it’s equally unproductive to give our whole selves to a compulsion.

an understanding of good problems vs bad, coupled with our super power of simulation, lets us lean into human nature instead of fight it.

we can be grateful and ambitious at the same time.

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