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A hidden key to a richer life

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Do you feel you're yearning for a fulfillment in life you can never quite achieve? That you're restless, searching for satisfaction that keeps slipping out of your grasp? That you're frustrated, running after something more or different that always seems to be across the next horizon? The answer may be simpler, easier, and much closer to home than you imagined.

Did you ever watch a dog eat? I’ve done that all my life, and, in one way, it’s kind of sad. The pooch is revved up with eager anticipation. Hopping and bopping till he gets the food. Then—true to his genes—he wolfs it down and before you know it, before he knows it, it’s gone, and he’s looking up at you with desperate eyes that say, “Please, sir, can have more?”

It's not as if Charlie or Bella don’t know what they like. They do! Yes! to bacon. No! to tomatoes (at least in the case of my dogs). But for these guys loving bacon is utterly unrelated to savoring their bacon.

What does this have to do with us?

We live these days in a similarly wolfish, high-speed, perfunctory culture. What’s beyond weird to me is how even the ways we savor things are gulped down like a puppy’s Snausage.

Here’s an example. In some schools or camps, kids are asked to take turns saying things they’re thankful for. You know: things they like or love or appreciate or enjoy or are grateful for. So each kid says his thing—“My new bike,” or “My grandma,” or, of course, “My new puppy”—and that’s it. They move on to the next kid. Or occasionally they’re asked to say why they’re thankful for this thing and they offer up a pre-packaged adjective like “cute” or “amazing,” which serves as a token of something truly savored, and then they move on to the next kid. Cause, hey, we don’t have all the time in the world here now, do we?

This is what we all do, and by doing this we gulp down—throw away, really—all the real satisfaction and joy we could take away for ourselves from this one brief life we have to live. Instead of savoring, what we do is become obsessed with NEXT. The next treat or trip, restaurant or resort, get together or go away. Planning, anticipating—“It’ll be great! We’ll have so much fun.”—and then we gulp it down—“How was Paris?” “Amazing!”—and move on to the next hoped-for doggie treat in our human lives.

Most people I know confess that this hamster wheel journey in search of satisfaction is not working out as well as they’d like. Gulping down Snausages is not the answer, even if the Snausages in question are yoga retreats at sunset on a Balinese beach. Not if they’re not savored. Not if your response is “Amazing. Thanks. Next.”

So here’s my modest proposal. Why don’t we do something crazy: take our need for a truly rich and deeply satisfying life seriously.

No more of this “I’m thankful for.... Your turn.” Let’s not pass up any opportunity for richness.

Here’s how.

It all begins with our need to get clear—because it’ll result in a big payoff to us in the long run—what the difference between “I’m thankful” and “I appreciate” is.

You say “I like...”—that’s “I appreciate...”—and the thing you do after you say you like something is say why you like it. You paint a word picture, taking us, and yourself too, into all the many facets of why you like the thing you like. What, for example, were all the things that happened in Paris, or on the beach in Bali, or while you were eating those just-picked cherries, that made you like them so much? Details. Specifics.

Note that by sharing the richness of the experience you get to savor the richness of it. You get to feel it not as something gulped down like a dog’s Snausage but as something that entered your life and gave you lovely memories.

And what if, sadly, you want to say why you like the thing you like and nothing comes to mind beyond vague adjectives? Well, good! Let that be a lesson for you. You’ve clearly let the jewels of life slip through your fingers. Okay, fine, and so now’s a time to resolve not to let that happen again. No more gulping down the Snausages of life!! From now on (you say to yourself), you will savor the things you like. You will focus on experiencing them fully and then on remembering what you’ve experienced.

Hey, you get paid for working, right? Well, you wouldn’t think of not making sure you actually got your paycheck and then afterwards that it was safely deposited in your account, would you? Of course not! You wouldn’t want your hard-earned income to slip through your fingers. Well, then, why would you want to let your hard-earned experience—even just the cherries or the sunsets—to leave behind nothing but the shadows of empty adjectives?

Look, it’s up to you. You can experience your experiences—which is what I’m talking about here—so that what you appreciate has lasting power behind it, or you can just chase after one new experience after another, all of which you appreciate but none of which stays with you because you’ve savored none of them.

So much for the things you appreciate.

Now for the things you’re grateful for. This brings into a whole new territory where we come to realize that just launching the words "I'm grateful for..." into the air don't begin to get the job done.

If appreciating something means savoring the experience of liking it, then being grateful for something means being grateful TO someone for something. Sorry, I didn’t write the rules. That’s just what gratitude means. You might appreciate the delicious meal you just ate, but lots of times as a result of your appreciating it so much you’re grateful TO the person responsible for it. Which means that for the sake of your own fulfillment you have to go further and show your gratitude.

Why is this important?

Because just the way appreciation pulls you deeply into the experience of savoring something, gratitude pulls you deeply into the human experience of realizing and acknowledging and actually thanking someone eye-to-eye for the gift they have given.

This might not deepen your appreciation of the gift itself, but it sure as hell deepens and strengthens the bonds of your network of relationships. Most of us go through our lives unthanked for things we deeply need to feel thanked for. There’s nothing people are more grateful for than someone else’s expression of gratitude.

So for heaven’s sake, please stop just saying “I’m grateful for...” into the air. Feel gratitude, by all means. But then query your gratitude by asking yourself, “To whom am I grateful for this?” And please, please, please, if that’s a real living person, actually thank them. Think how much richer you’ll be over time if you do this.

And if it's not a real living person? Well, then, if you want the richness of fulfillment, you still owe it to yourself to do something to express your gratitude. Are you grateful for...I don't know...your education? And your teachers are all far away and long ago? Well, hey, man, I don't know what you can do beyond saying that there are tons of things you can do to embody your gratitude for your education in direct action. Write a check to your alma mater. Tutor a disadvantaged kid. Go to your kid's school just to tell his teacher just how grateful and appreciative you are to her for what she does and how well she does it. (She'll faint from the shock of a parent doing something as lovely as this, but it'll be worth it!)

Isn't this wonderful!?! To have a richer, more fulfilling life you don't have to actually run around doing more, seeking more. You might even be able to get away with doing less, thank goodness! Because your hunger all along has come not from what you've been missing out on but from your not fully processing it.


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