(this is a reprint of mine. one of my favorite distinctions and I’ve yet to come up with a better example than the one in this article)
Every year about this time I like to share a distinction between gratitude and appreciation. I do so because I believe the thoughts you choose to think determine what you create down the line. In short, the most efficient way to create more of what you really want is to develop the awareness of how your thoughts really feel, and then consistently choosing the ones that feel better.
So this distinction is not mere wordplay, but rather a gateway for super-practical mindset that can dramatically improve the quality of your life.
While discussing this point during my last Very Cool Life live event, one of the attendees, Jacob, was not seeing eye to eye with me. Our conversation led to a concrete example that I am inspired to share here.
When I assert that you can do better than gratitude, it’s not usual to experience the kind of pushback Jacob offered. Most everyone holds a positive association with the idea of gratitude, and in the larger scheme of things, it is a fine thought. To some, suggesting that you can do better than gratitude is like saying you want to tinker with grandma’s famous apple pie recipe…
Why fix it if it ain’t broke? Why change now after years of tradition? And hell, just about everybody loves it…
Well, for starters, you may want to upgrade for the simple reason that we now know better. We evolve. We learn new stuff and discover more efficient ways to get better outcomes all the time.
Sticking with my analogy for a minute, I am suggesting that when you decide to upgrade to an Appreciation pie, you will enjoy even more baked deliciousness (what you really want), without ingesting any more of grandma’s secret ingredient – the artery-clogging, trans-fat-laden shortening (what you can do without).
Okay, back to Jacob and our discussion…
“Jacob, tell me something you’re grateful for, right now,” I began.
“My chair!” he replied with enthusiasm.
“Good. So what thoughts of gratitude does your chair evoke?” I asked.
Jacob replied immediately. “My chair keeps me from having to sit on the floor!”
Oh how perfect, I thought to myself… Better than any example I could think of…
“So Jacob, you said you were grateful for the chair, right?” I asked rhetorically.
“Well, yeah…” he said.
“Then why are you talking about the floor?” I added.
Jacob thought quietly for a moment as the words lingered in the room.
“Well, I don’t want to sit on the hard floor, of course. And this chair keeps me from having to sit on the floor, so I am grateful for that,” he said.
So perfect, I thought…
“Do you notice as you focused on thoughts of gratitude, you unconsciously and immediately began focusing on what you DON’T want?” I asked.
Watching Jacob’s face, I could see the new idea starting to beginning to take hold. New, better ideas often take some time to penetrate a long-held belief.
To complete the distinction, I asked him to tell me what he appreciated about his chair.
While this would seem like a very simple question, the answer requires a change of focus from thoughts of gratitude. And unless you’re in the habit of generating lists of appreciation, it’s likely not your dominant response.
Jacob scrunched his forehead, and while he caught himself from reflexively talking about the floor again, he remained unable to connect to thoughts of appreciation.
To clarify, I asked the question in a slightly different way…
“What specific aspects of this chair do you really like, right in this moment?”
He nodded. “Oh. Well, it’s pretty comfortable,” he offered.
“What else?” I asked.
“The lumbar support is pretty good,” he added, “And I like the firmness of the seat… The swivel lets me turn to the sides easily to see who’s talking in the room.”
He was rolling. Fantastic.
“Okay now, here’s the whole enchilada… How do these thoughts – the thoughts about what you like about the chair – feel compared to thoughts about sitting on the floor?” I asked. “Do they feel better or worse?”
(As he said the word, I imagined myself saying, “No more questions, your honor,” and triumphantly walking back to my lawyer seat to the jury’s applause. But I digress…)
When you think thoughts that feel better, you create better outcomes. This is the simple Law of the Universe. And don’t you want to create better outcomes? Of course you do…
However, in order to leverage this Law of the Universe, you’re required to pay attention to the feelings generated by your thoughts.
This is the catch. This is where most people drift.
Jacob had no clue that his thoughts of gratitude connected him to unwanted thoughts and feelings. Most people don’t, because we’re all trained to have such positive connotations with the word gratitude.
Now it’s worth mentioning, that people sometimes use the words gratitude and appreciation interchangeably. Fair enough and again, the point is not one regarding word choice, so if you’re married to the term “gratitude” and notice that in your practice, you focus solely on the wanted aspects of things, great. That’s the takeaway here.
That said, in my years of studying this and talking to people like Jacob, I’ve noticed that when sharing thoughts of gratitude or thankfulness, 85% of people end up unconsciously focusing on thoughts of “the floor.”
It usually goes something like “I am so thankful for (this thing in my life).” And the very next unspoken thought is “Thank God (that unwanted thing) is not in my life.”
The chair. And then the floor.
The wanted. And then the unwanted.
See what happens when you decide get off the see-saw and just appreciate the chair.
You’ll feel the difference.
Get in the practice of appreciation, and in a short time, you’ll see the difference.
Have a wonderfully relaxing holiday…