Clinging Onto Fleeting Gratitude

Clinging Onto Fleeting Gratitude

Last year, a few friends and I took a hike in Sequoia National Park with only one water canteen each and a Clif bar. We had been out of food and water for over four hours when we realized we hadn’t ran into a single person since we began our hike.

You should have seen it. We slugged on against inclined hills, took breaks every five minutes, and the sound of everyone extracting saliva from their own mouths was audible. Our paces slowed and we weren’t sure if we had been going the wrong way for hours.

I was wondering what we’d do if we ran into an aggressive bear. Would we have enough energy to run away? We definitely didn’t have enough in us to fight.

I was so drained I had been mentally rehearsing how I would tell the group to just leave me behind. There were times when I wanted to just cry from exhaustion, but maybe dehydration disallowed wasting any unnecessary resources.

Running out of sunlight, we all thought death was a real possibility. None of us said it, but we all thought it.

Eventually, we found our way off the trail by cutting off the mountain and making a beeline west until we finally saw “civilization.”

Trying to stay grateful

When we finally landed on a bus, we all admitted that we thought we were in big trouble during the hike. Once we settled down for a bit, we talked about how every meal from now on would taste amazing and how forever grateful for life we’d be for surviving that day.

My friend said he was worried that the gratitude and new perspective on life would be short-lived. I was going to prove him wrong.

Food did indeed taste better for a while and I cherished each drop of water as it entered my mouth. I would be looking at my backyard and smiling at the trees, amazed that I was still alive. Those feelings were supposed to last forever.

Nine months later, I no longer think about the day I almost died.

Why we forget to be grateful

Life goes on, you accumulate new worries, you get comfortable, and you eventually forget about the past’s struggles.

It’s too difficult to run a mental simulation in your head trying to remember the fears you felt and the worries that drowned you. You’re so removed from the event that it hardly felt real at all.

You then begin to question whether or not you’re exaggerating what happened in your head. Was it as awful as you made it out to be or was that just dramatization upon reflection?

For me, I know the fears that day and the threat of death were very real. The physical and mental exhaustion were intense. The hunger in my stomach and the dryness of my tongue attempting to draw liquid molecules from the air did happen. Yet, I still find it difficult nine months later to be grateful that I’m still alive.

Now I’m back on gratitude mode. The Philippines has opened my eyes on just how much worse my life could be.

I could have been a beggar child hoping people would hand me their spare change. I could have been a taxi driver trying to hit a quota every day so that I have enough to compensate my company, pay for gas, and take enough home to feed my family.

I’m one of the lucky ones.

How to maintain gratitude

What scares me is that one day, my current gratefulness will slip from my mind like my experience with the hiking trip. I don’t want to go back to taking everything for granted and living life on autopilot, never thinking about the grand scheme of things.

So as often as I can, I close my eyes and ask myself, “What could I not stand to lose right now?”

It isn’t easy. Gratitude is something you have to work on almost every day.

Gratitude is always fleeting, so you have to chase it down and hold its hand as tight as you can.

Question for you: How do you stay thankful?

Photo Credit: Anirudh Koul via Compfight cc

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and founder of Growth Ninja, a digital marketing agency that specializes in Facebook Ads. Voted "Most Guapo" five years in a row (lost during 6th year to a hand model.)

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20 responses to Clinging Onto Fleeting Gratitude

  1. Hey Vincent!

    Believe it or not, one of the ways I stay thankful is by watching world news.

    I live in the Philippines . (By the way, are yous till here?!) And although we don’t have much, every time I watch world news and I see how bad some people have it in some other part of the world, I just think “At least my family’s not going through that.” Granted, we also have a slew of bad stuff happening in the country but compared to what going on in Syria, Ukraine, and Venezuela at the moment…

    It’s not a very elegant way but it reminds me to be thankful for what little I have and to work harder to get what I want.

    The other day, I saw this picture of a massive crowd of Syrian refugees waiting for food relief while I was eating some crackers. I slowed down chewing and just savored that cracker.

    • Interesting! I actually avoid the news because I find that it makes the world seem so gloom. Your twist on it by viewing these as “that could have been my situation” is refreshingly optimistic. I’ll make sure I use that the next time I see the news. 🙂

  2. Hey, sorry to say (and I’m being cruelly honest here), I’m still living my life on autopilot *sheepish smile*. But hey, I’m just 16 so cut me some slack!

    But seriously, starting today, I will make a genuine effort to count the things to be grateful for and BE grateful for them…

    So I’ll get back to you once I discover myself how to stay thankful. Sounds good? 😀

  3. I’m grateful for my knack at self-love/self-care/being guided by My Essential Self/inner voice, whatever you want to call it. I’ve always been very attuned to my needs and desires and limits and how to get what I need. I think I am grateful for this the way you are always grateful for SelfStairway. It’s easy to keep being grateful for things you keep pouring yourself into that keeps giving to you. I think my family is an example of something that always gives to me that I’m always forgetting to be more thankful for. Giving more to build that relationship further might make me more grateful for it.

    I’ve been depressed for over a year and a half, and for a solid six months, I forgot the self-love that had always come so naturally to me and saved my ass, the self-love I know so many people lack. I felt ashamed and defeated for not being able to muster any. It was because a trauma had resurfaced, and I had piled all these pressures on myself and felt overwhelmed to tackle any of them. So that when I finally apologized to myself and vowed to stop bullying myself, it was a massive breakthrough. And recently when I asserted what I knew would be best for me over what other people thought would be best for me, I am more grateful and convinced of my inner strength than ever having tested it against real adversity. If I could overcome self-defeat, I know how to fight it if it ever happens again. And I think this is another way of being grateful, actively protecting yourself from the bottom and being thankful for the resources you have to protect yourself. Not everyone has the resources to pull themselves up, and I’ve felt that SelfStairway is your way of showing gratitude for the ways you’ve been able to help yourself and find help so that you now want to help others. Giving the help I’d be grateful to have is how I stay thankful. I’ve never known poverty either, so it’s hard for me to be grateful for what’s normal to me. Being grateful might also mean to not squander your gifts and privileges and to make the most of them.

    • “It’s easy to keep being grateful for things you keep pouring yourself into that keeps giving to you.”

      Exactly this. Being appreciative is easiest when you’re constantly reminded. What better to remind you of its existence than to be something part of your daily life that you pour effort into? Anything else becomes background noise.

      I hope you’re doing better now, Tisha. I’m always happy to chat if you’d like.

  4. I was literally just thinking about this topic today! I had a moment where I realized that I’m making great progress on something I’ve been working on and I felt really grateful for that. It then made me ask myself, what if something were to happen to me and I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do? How would that make me feel? And I realized that I would wish I had been grateful more often and felt that sense of urgency to get things done. It’s crazy how something can affect you so strongly and really open your eyes, only to fade away over time. I haven’t learned the secret to harnessing that feeling, but I just try my best each day to feel as grateful as I can and tell myself that time is important and once a day is over, you’ll never get it back.

    • Great minds think alike, right? It’s crazy how easy it is to take that same question, “what if something were to happen to me and I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do?” and put either a positive or negative spin on it. You can depress yourself or use it as fuel to enjoy every moment you have. Mindset is everything!

  5. I literally have a weekly calendar reminder every Sunday to brainstorm gratitude (what am I thankful for this week?) and kindness (what kind acts have I done this week?). Both supposedly increase your appreciation and happiness, best done fairly sparsely, like every week instead of every other day.

  6. Having different experiences will give you different perspective.

    I’m glad that your stay in the Philippines has made you realize a lot of things. You know living in a third-world country will open your eyes with some harsh realities, but still, it will also give you some inspiration. For me, this situation (of our country) gives me the fire to not just achieve my personal goals but also to be able to uplift my peoples’ lives, to contribute in my own ways. hehe

    The challenge is for us to keep that gratitude in us. It’s true that we should practice gratitude every singl day.

  7. This one time when I went swimming I completely overestimated my ability and almost drowned (at least that’s what it felt like). My friend who was out there with me used to be a lifesaver so he was swimming next to me being like, “stay calm Ragnar, go slowly, you can do this shit”. Probably saved my ass. So I bought him some beers over the coming months, and every time served as a reminder that I could be dead but wasn’t. I guess it did make me feel grateful. Although I was very mopey at the time. I’m glad I’m still around to see what’s ahead. I just hope that I’m not scared of the water when I get to the beach in a few short weeks!

  8. Hey Vincent,

    “Food did indeed taste better for a while and I cherished each drop of water as it entered my mouth.”

    — You should try fasting. It’s excellent for this purpose.

    As for what I do to stay grateful… I can’t say I am super consistent with it, but I often think about what it would be like if I lost certain things. I believe it’s one of those typical stoic mental practices. I don’t remember where I got it from or when I started doing it.

    It works pretty well.

    I also imagine myself dying ever day.

  9. I definitely agree gratitude is something that has to be worked on. People think they can just do it, but if you’ve never gotten into the habit of doing it, it’s not so simple. And they will think everything’s fine until they actually learn of the amazing benefits of leading a life of gratitude.

    I look at how I stay driven in my life and imagine if those were taken away from me. I’m grateful because the very fact they are there has allowed me to be more and strive for more. Hope that makes sense, heh.

  10. Neurochemicals produced by the gratitude event are what we should seek. Their release can occur on either a positive event–think like the first time you were able to slam a serve home, again and again, with your newly learned skill. Go over it in your mind, the feel the excitement, the joy, the pleasurable accomplishment. Feel the amygdala tickle? Then consider the neutral or negative event–like the first time you witnessed an accident or your sibling being punished. First time it’s good to feel that it isn’t you. The mind,however, quickly self protects and dissociates the feeling from the memory. Otherwise,, the associated feelings for the event like fear, horror, and disgust would also return. No doubt precipitating insanity. Use the good gratitude and be happy with that.

  11. The constant mental practise of gratitude, takes some discipline, but can be really magical if applied purposefully. The easiest way I found to begin was to simply keep a gratitude journal – I’ve done it on an off – but find it most powerful when actually listing/ writing things down. I’ve tried it in written form as well as simply creating a ‘Thanks’ list on my daily calendar – both work just as well.
    Gratitude becomes more of a habit then 🙂

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