Since the release of my book The Primal Connection last year, I’ve been honored for it to have been critically recognized, receiving three distinguished awards: the silver winner at the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards in the Body, Mind, and Spirit category; the bronze winner at Foreword’s Book of the Year Awards in the Health category; the Eric Hoffer award for best self-published book. But more than that, I’ve been honored by the positive reviews and feedback I’ve received from readers. For those of you that don’t have a copy of the book, and haven’t read it yet, the following is an excerpt straight from the pages of The Primal Connection. Oh…and today’s your lucky day. I want everyone to have a chance to read this book, so today I’m participating in a special promotion organized by Buck Books. Until midnight tonight you can get a Kindle copy of The Primal Connection for just 99 cents. (Several other books are just 99 cents for today only as well – check them all out here.) So grab your digital copy, tell your friends about it, and let me know what you think. Grok on!
Gratitude, with a capital G. The word should resonate as holy (which has the same root as healthy, and means whole), for without it, boredom prevails. With it, you acknowledge and appreciate life’s gifts. This embodiment extends beyond your attitude to become an actual personality trait, a stress management tool, and an overall way of life. You live in gratitude because you are here today— appreciative of the lessons and journey of your past, however imperfect—for no other particular reason or caveat. And you remain in gratitude through the daily struggles that give meaning and richness to your life.
Our ancestors devised animism and deities to thank for the bounties in nature. More recently in our history, tribal societies such as the Native Americans and the !Kung Bushmen of southern Africa thank the animal’s spirit for providing sustenance after it has been killed. If daily prayer or weekly services have a place in your life, you may be familiar with similar themes. But don’t overlook other modest ways to show gratitude in your day-to-day life. Giving yourself the luxury of a warm bath, making a phone call to grandma, or presenting a home-cooked meal to your family all count, too, if your intention is in the right place.
When you practice an attitude of gratitude, you appreciate what you have, not envy what you lack. It means you’re a good steward. You nourish and exercise your body and mind, cherish and respect your spouse, love your dog, keep your home clean and orderly, encourage your children. If you water your garden, you’ll watch it grow.
It’s the ability to see the beauty in simple things: a good red wine, a partner’s intimate touch, that post-workout calm, a great night’s sleep. The feel of the sun on your face, your feet in the wet sand, and your hands in the cool dirt. Or the thrill of pedaling down a rugged dirt trail, or the peace of floating on a quiet lake. Some time ago, for me, it was tasting the best shrimp of my life—grilled perfectly tender and flavorful in the shell with a mango-citrus dipping juice. Eating with my hands, sitting on the beach, enjoying the company of my wife and friends, I relished the full moment as much as that enticing platter.
When you practice gratitude, you create a happier take on your day-to- day world. But I am absolutely certain abundance only comes to people who appreciate the small gifts, the humble blessings, the basics. Oprah Winfrey is very much aware of this concept, saying it wasn’t until she went to Africa and had to carry water for every use of it that she realized her good fortune. She has said she hasn’t looked at water the same way again, never again has taken it for granted. Every time she turns on the tap, she is grateful.
Even material things, when combined with gratitude, multiply in value— your favorite T-shirt, your surfboard, your Ford Mustang. Practice gratitude regularly, make it a habit, and a curious thing begins to happen. Whether by an unscientific, mystical law of the universe, or simply by virtue of appreciating what you already have, you begin to open yourself to receive more. Such is the reward of good stewardship. And something else, even more curious: you actually find appreciation in some of life’s bitterest pills. Maybe your upbringing was not that great. It gave you character, didn’t it? So you got laid off? Great! You get an opportunity to explore a new adventure. Injured while training for your big marathon race? Ah, an opportunity to explore the novelty and fitness benefits of cross-training. Can you see how the more you appreciate, the more you see the glass half full rather than half empty, the more you feel gratitude—and you must feel it—the more aware you become of life’s hidden gifts? Can you see how the more you appreciate, the richer you become?
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at the science: University of California, Davis professor Robert Emmons, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology and author of Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, believes that living in gratitude is the single quickest and most efficient pathway to becoming happier. Yes, Emmons and other leaders in the burgeoning field of positive psychology can actually quantify this stuff, asserting that while familial genetics plays a large role in longevity, researchers have amassed significant data suggesting that up to 75 percent of longevity is related to psychological and behavioral factors. Emmons notes that chronically angry, depressed, or pessimistic people have long been observed to have an increased disease risk and shorter life spans. However, those who kept a simple “gratitude journal” for three weeks or longer reported better sleep, increased energy, heightened creativity, enthusiasm, determination, and optimism … and an increased desire for exercise. Now that’s something to be grateful for!
Keep It Simple
Gratitude gives way to simplicity, notes Sarah Ban Breathnach in Simple Abundance. Indeed, simplicity was the way of our ancestors, and they were richly rewarded for it. Owning things was not only irrelevant, but a hindrance to our ancestors’ semi-nomadic life. They met their needs on a daily basis without concern for surplus or excessive material possessions, trusting that the natural environment would provide. Marshall Sahlin refers to this way of life as “affluence without abundance” (also the “Zen road to affluence”), for such a non-materialistic value system affords many luxuries, including devotion to family and clan.
If this sounds like an idealist’s interpretation, consider the isolated hunter-gatherer societies across the globe today, who, like our ancient ancestors, work less, enjoy more leisure time, have no stress related to our Western mentality (i.e., the rat-race mentality) and enjoy arguably higher levels of life satisfaction in many enviable and profound ways. On a recent trip to South Africa, I witnessed this firsthand when we visited, by our materialistic standards, a dirt-poor village. The most memorable thing that came out of that experience for me was that everyone was smiling—all the time.
Not to discount the positive motivation of striving for career success and material gain (and the satisfaction that comes from succeeding), but we must also recognize the disadvantages of the modern mindset. Our culture, with its penchant for bigger, faster, stronger, tries to sell us the idea that the current more-is-better model is the norm, the inevitable, even the ideal. It’s the path of progress, we’re told, and we’d best keep up or get left behind. One can’t help asking, the path to whose progress?
The advertising firms on Madison Avenue have created a new standard in our collective psyche, defining in the shallowest terms who we should be, how we should look, and what we should have. I’m reminded of the dialogue in a scene from the popular television series Mad Men, depicting the dog-eat-dog world of 1960s advertising:
Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is OK. You are OK.
Again, I’m not asking you to disavow your worldly possessions. Only to take inventory of the superfluous “stuff ”: impulse buys and random things that strap you down with burden. If your world is cluttered with items that don’t bring you security, happiness, beauty, or meaningfulness, you are most certainly weighed down. Not only do these things clutter your exterior world but your interior world as well. More to take care of, more to haul around, more to box up and keep in storage. Liberate yourself, and get rid of it. And from this point on, commit to quality over quantity. Or as the minimalists say, live with less but only the best. Yes, less really can be more.
Feed the Habit
Celebrate life with affordable luxuries. Pull out your good china and silverware and light some long-stemmed candles…just because. Pick some flowers (or buy a cheap bouquet) and set them in your bedroom. Splurge on a basket of organic blueberries ($7 in some places!) or some fancy high-priced cappuccino. Use your imagination. What other ways can you find to indulge?
Start a gratitude journal. Make a comprehensive list of the things you are grateful for. See if you can list thirty, but strive for one hundred. I’ll give you five right now: your senses of sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, and tasting. Run with it. And be sure to come back to your journal often to record new entries. I recommend daily.
Live within your means, lower if possible.
Make a personal visit, a phone call, or write a handwritten letter. Express your Gratitude to someone who deserves it, but hasn’t been properly thanked.