The Power of Appreciation

What are you appreciative of? When you think about the new day, the new work ahead, the places you’re visiting, the people you see, what do you find appreciation in?

I’ve been fascinated by the power of Gratitude this year. Cultivating Gratitude has the ability to truly make life more enjoyable no matter what is happening. I’ve had moments where I’ve been challenged and had to put these ideas into practice. For instance this year I almost wrecked my car by running into the person in front of me who abruptly stopped, having to slightly swerve, and whereas previously I may have held on to the emotion of anger or resentment at this person who I’ll never speak to, I came back to Gratitude within seconds. Just reminding myself of the present: Sure, I did almost have a terrible accident, but I didn’t and I’m grateful for being healthy in this moment and perfectly okay and so there’s no reason to over think the situation and dwell in it. Within seconds I took 5 deep breaths and I felt not only calm and relaxed, but full of life that I couldn’t help but at first smile, and then let out a laugh at how silly it seemed and yet so simple. It’s actually a fun state of mind to reflect back at what had just happened and learn from it. I should have not been rushing for instance, I would never had been as close as I was, so the car in front wouldn’t have seemed to abruptly stop then. When you can reflect back from this place of mindfulness, it seems so clear and you’re less controlled by those impulse emotions. You can guide yourself by your more rationale and true self. The self you have after you get angry, give it some time, have had the opportunity to naturally breath more and bring your blood pressure down, and then think clearly again. We all know of this, and we all experience it, but few of us see value in returning to that place quicker for the sake of our own health. Some of us don’t realize it, but when we dwell in that anger for minutes, sometimes even hours, we’re needlessly hurting our bodies with higher blood pressure and negative emotions. That person may not have even realized he caused this either, and wouldn’t even be giving it a thought, so the only person we’re affecting would be ourselves by dwelling.

I’ve found the idea of Appreciation recently to be very interesting because it ties into Gratitude. It’s easy for us to criticize or find faults in things, events or people we interact with throughout the day, but we rarely see the beauty and are appreciative of it. Some people call this ‘looking at the glass half full as opposed to half empty’, but it goes farther than that. It’s seeing the glass half full, but noticing the glass is neatly designed, just the right size for that moment, and chilled to just the right temperature. These all provide to the experience but we are quick to criticize the amount of liquid first than to be appreciate of everything else that’s already present.

This is a most useful practice when done with people you interact with and your own friends and family. Be more appreciative of the little things; the time and energy someone may have put into an email, that warm sentiment from receiving a handwritten note in a postcard, a greeting at the beginning of the day.

We have this similar idea behind the reasons we give gifts to each other–we want the receiver to feel appreciated. But the gifts can be non material as well. We can simply tell people what we’re inspired by or what we feel is a strength in the person we’re interacting with and this feedback can create positive energy in those we touch.

I met a Frenchman, Philippe, in Leh a couple weeks ago. He was near a monastery we had just visited and on our way back to the city and he ran up asking if he could have a ride. We had an extra spot, so we obliged and heard some interesting stories of his travels throughout India over the past few years with his 5 weeks of vacation he gets from his job in Paris. He loved India and had visited most regions and highlighted tourist areas. He had a very warm personality and he shared with us his favorite places he had seen over the past few weeks in the Ladakh region.

After we arrived in Leh, one thing I was so appreciative of and I wanted to make sure Philippe knew was his warm, bright, and inviting smile. It was wide and open and you just felt happier around him and I made sure to capture this:

It’s what you’re appreciative of that you will continue to remember– I’ll remember Philippe more for his smile and his presence he created with it than how he got in our taxi, the ride to Leh or his adventurous travel stories. That’s because we remember what we’re appreciative of more than certain events, moments, actions or plans.

By sharing what inspires us, it helps others find what inspires them. Be more appreciative of the little things and notice the changes inside yourself.



Wake Up Each Morning with a Smile on Your Face

 

About 6 and a half years ago, I was in what I would probably consider the most depressing state of my life. Not in terms of my situation, but in the way I felt. It seems to be common in our first world country to find negativity in the face of all that is a positive. We get depressed even when we live in abundance of opportunity and prosperity. It’s a point in my life that’s been a constant reminder of how helpless, hopeless, and painful life can feel.

It was December 2005. I had just finished my first semester at college and I felt confused about everything in life. Part of it was living independently for the first time, and part of it was not being ready for the shift in social dynamics from high school to college. Throughout high school and most of my life prior, I was very involved competitively with tennis and I had my circle of friends I used to play tennis with and go to tournaments regularly. I felt a sense of belonging in some way, knowing and interacting with all these friends on the court; it blinded me from how disconnected I was to all of my friends at school and the limited activities I participated in because any free time went to practicing tennis. As soon as high school ended, so did my years of playing competitively, and also the end of seeing most of the people I considered friends through that sport. It left me with a very small circle of friends who I’d always known throughout elementary and middle school.

It wasn’t until I started college did it sink in how much I had lost by not being able to regularly play tennis and have that sense of community around me. It also didn’t help that the over-achiever in me signed up for advanced courses to begin the first semester. When winter break on December of 2005 came around, I was a mess. Confused what direction the next steps of my life were taking, I had struggled in my classes and ended up with the lowest grades of my life (GPA of 0.69), I had severe social anxiety to even ask for help, and didn’t even know who my friends were anymore. I was in a state of utter despair, not having anyone to talk with or the courage to tell anyone including my parents. I let it all sink within myself as I typically do with most things. It felt like an anvil pulling the weight of my whole being down constantly from the inside. The thought of going out and doing anything felt like a major task as if I was tied to an iron ball and it would require lots of effort. I got to the point of not wanting to be awake during the day and began sleeping at 10am and waking up as the sun was setting at 7pm. I filled my days (or nights) by staying at home watching one movie after the other. I didn’t want this winter break to end or I’d have to talk to people again, but I also wondered what was so wrong with me. Why I wasn’t able to have fun like those around me or have anything interesting or meaningful to be a part of. I felt truly broken and incomplete.

I don’t remember how I found it, but I came across a book one night that winter called “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”. It would be dramatic to say reading that book changed everything but it did illuminate this dark tunnel I found myself in just enough. The bhuddist wisdom within the book gave me a deeper interest in a few things and I started just reading more in general, but after that I was motivated to apply to a job I felt I could be really good at and really wanted at KU. I had been eying it for a few weeks and never had the courage to even try for it because, like everything else, I felt I wasn’t going to be accepted. To my surprise, I got contacted in for an interview and within a couple days I was hired as a member of the ResNet staff which was responsible for troubleshooting computers and helping students connect to the Internet in their dorms. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but this is what changed everything. I was now a part of something and the most important piece– I was able to offer help to others with some talents and knowledge I had. I was able to give back and in doing so received a sense of fulfillment. I met so many great people working there for over 3 years and learned and grew in ways that would have never been possible if I hadn’t had that opportunity. I’m also very fortunate KU had a special policy for first semester grades that they could be replaced if taken again only within the first year. I took all those classes again and finished that first year with a GPA above 3.

Things have not always been easy or rosy since that time, but it was such a low point that it served as a constant barometer to me ever since on how bad things could be. I also learned that it’s only within ourselves we can find the courage and strength to get out of such situations. It always starts with us. We sometimes think the world is out to get us, or we keep getting dealt the bad cards in life, but we fail to ask what it is about ourselves that is holding us back from being where we want to be or doing what we want to do. Sometimes it’s a simple act of courage walking momentarily outside your comfort zone to the sea of possibility that lies there. Life doesn’t happen to you; you are creating your life in every moment by the thoughts you’re thinking, the actions you’re making and every breath you take. Any moment it could all be gone; in a tragic upheaval, the slightest of accidents. Some people wait to accept this until their last breath but it doesn’t have to be that way.

A friend of mine recently said it was his experience that practice leads to discipline which leads to abundance, but it begins to erode if you don’t complete that cycle again by practicing. One thing that you can start practicing is being grateful for the start of every day by cracking a smile when you wake up.

The sun still shines today as it did 6 years ago. Just being alive and taking that first breath into waking consciousness is such a blessing. It’s a new day with new possibilities. We can cherish the very fact we are here in this moment, being allowed to experience it with all our senses and personal well being. Treat that waking moment with the greatest joy in this world! We are here! We are present! If we find it difficult to be grateful for anything in our lives, the simple gift of that first breath we take every morning can be a wonderful reminder of how precious it is to be alive right now. Treat that moment with a wide smile that resonates through your being and feel the gratitude of it!



30 Days of Gratitude Challenge

Tax day is upon us and while many of us are feeling upset or resentful, I think it’s important we continue to look at the bigger picture.

I went to a great talk over the weekend by Max Strom. I was intrigued to see him because I had read his book A Life Worth Breathing while traveling around the shores of Goa, India this past January. It was held on the Plaza in KC and entitled “The Healing Power of Forgiveness”. The primary thesis of his talk was the releasing of Anger in our bodies. He believes that by simply not forgiving others or ourselves, we unknowingly harbor anger and resentment inside of us which causes us (and those around us) to feel pain mentally, emotionally, and will later manifest physically.

One solution was to be thankful before anything else. Gratitude is the highest virtue. The virtue where all other virtues come from. In any moment of anger, despair, or state of unhappiness, the virtue of gratitude can change everything.

He recalled a story of a man who seemed grumbly and annoyed at the beginning of a Yoga class. He was just upset and wanting to do some Yoga to help get over it. The theme of the class was Gratitude and the simple reminder of the gratitude he felt towards his 3 year old daughter brought him instantaneously to tears. The emotions from anger to sadness in an instant. It triggers something deep within us. A sort of catharsis from the trials and struggles of the world, a moment of gratitude centers us and brings us back to our meaning and purpose in life. Our accomplishments and greatness. Our goodness and compassion which resides in all of us, no matter how much it is covered by the baggage we carry around from our interactions in the world.

Anger was a primary topic in Max’s talk because he felt without forgiveness, some form of anger is always present. Sometimes we don’t even realize how our anger affects ourselves or those around us. A simple act of anger directed at one person could affects thousands.

He mentioned a story about a Yoga studio he was teaching at with a class of about 50 people and it was one of those peaceful classes you just got a sense of calmness after it was over; everyone was relaxing in the final corpse pose, letting all their worries melt away. Suddenly through the LA traffic outside the window, a man honks his horn, the loud kind, where he leans on it. And he leans on it 3 times and it sounds like someone yelling with a horn. At that moment, he noticed 50 people in the studio get jolted for a moment. 50 nervous systems that were in peace, suddenly in shock with a slight rise in blood pressure. Next to the studio, there were at least 2 other rooms with at least 20-30 people, and along that street, many restaurants where that sudden noise could have been heard. Above these restaurants were residential lofts with potential tenants and more families that may have been temporarily shocked for a moment. One man, stuck in traffic, venting frustration over a person in front of him; possibly the light had turned green, and the person in front was a second too slow in moving. This sudden burst of anger directed at this one person had the power to affect the bodies of others, without the driver likely even realizing it. We sometimes forget we live in a collective world experiencing our realities together. Our actions, thoughts, and even feelings have tangible effects on others even if we aren’t consciously aware of it. He made this point sink in especially to those who were mothers and fathers because this can have implications when considering your state of mind around your own kids. Are you unintentionally directing anger towards them? Can they hear you screaming/yelling at each other? Kids are also more sensitive to subtle feelings of negativity that we tend to lose as we get older.

In order to achieve true forgiveness in any situation, Max said you must release the anger within yourself towards that which you are attempting to forgive. By not forgiving you can only be holding some level of anger. Allowing it to reside in this state becomes a self-imposed prison. A prison of resentment and contempt. It’s akin he mentioned to swallowing poison and hoping another will die. You can only hurt yourself if you harbor that resentment against another. Continually brooding on the past in this way creates patterns in your mind of negativity. This negativity continues in a vicious cycle which soon spreads through your body in certain ways (high blood pressure, high stress, fear, etc.). We tend to focus on these negative moments, the drama, the gossip, rather than playing back our most precious and joyful moments. We for some reason choose to play back upsetting moments in our minds thousands of times in comparison to only a few times the moments that made us cry in pure happiness. He made the analogy that it was almost like everyday we would have 2 options of movies to play within our minds: a horror movie of events from our past or a movie about our greatest accomplishments or happiest times. We choose to place this horror movie in our minds and press play over and over again and the effects are simply reflected in ourselves. The people we resent or feel anger towards don’t feel this when you’re thinking about them. They could be living their own life of gratitude and maybe in a moment of regret they hurt you in some way which left you to hold that grudge. Even if they hadn’t, in the end you have no way of knowing and are literally hurting yourself.

He gave the analogy that it is almost like keeping a hot coal in your body, burning a hole inside of you slowly. This analogy he gave was the simplest way to explain it. Imagine your friend seeing you swallow a hot coal. He tells you “No! No! Don’t swallow it! You’re only hurting yourself!”. But you do it anyways; you tell him it’s not right and you shouldn’t have to forgive this act and so you will hold on to the coal. Without spitting the coal out, in the end, you simple continue to hurt yourself. No matter how terrible the act was.

He made it very clear however that while you forgive, you don’t give up your choices you make afterwards, your boundaries, or even your ethics or morals. You can always forgive a person but never condone an action that was committed. You can forgive the person and release your own anger while continuing to condemn the acts of the perpetrator.

He gave some examples of people who live their lives in this way. The Dalai Lama is a household name and is known for his jovial presence wherever he is. Throughout his life, he has much to be hateful for, to be angry towards; all the atrocities committed in Tibet which led to his exile. He could even hold resentment towards China today, but he doesn’t. He forgives China, but is an activist and speaks about the change he wants to see. He practices a religion of kindness because to feel any other way would be internally counter-productive to his well being.

Nelson mandala was known for saying he forgave his captors when leaving prison because he felt he would still be in a prison if he couldn’t do so.

Max then told a touching story of a father of a teenage girl who was raped and murdered by a serial killer who cried and forgave the killer at the trial. When the media asked him afterwards how he could forgive such a man, he said he couldn’t imagine the father he’d be to his other children if he held a deep seated hatred towards the killer. He did not want there to be any barriers for him to give pure love to his children. And so he cried and forgave a man that did the unspeakable because he wanted to release the anger from himself while never condoning the act itself.


Without even really thinking about it, I’ve had the above picture as my wallpaper on my computer since last Thanksgiving and coincidentally around the time I even wrote a post entitled “Gratitude”. I did it to remind myself to be grateful for even a moment every time I opened my laptop. One exercise Max mentioned during his talk was the practice of gratitude at the end of each day. I want to adapt this for myself and so am challenging not only myself but anyone else who wants to join in to do so. The task is simple.

For the next 30 days, in a small journal or notebook, write down 5 things you are grateful for before going to bed. They can be as simple as the air you are breathing right now. Just feel in your heart what makes you so thankful at the present moment and write it down. You will now be thinking for at least a moment every night about the happy and wonderful things in your life you take for granted every day. A small change can make a big impact. It takes 30 days to form a habit. I will be posting my daily entries the next 30 days to Twitter and Facebook with the hashtags “#30days of #gratitude”. Join me in this challenge either publicly or privately on your own and just objectively see the change it has on your life. I hope we can collectively become more grateful together.



Gratitude

 

Thankful for turkey

Our Turkey on Thanksgiving. Om nom nom nom.

 

Thanksgiving is an amazing holiday if you think about it. It brings together families from different parts of the country together who may not have even seen each other for a long time or all year– just for the sake of enjoying a meal together over the dinner table. The holiday isn’t about buying others gifts or getting cards. It isn’t about shooting off fireworks and making grand gestures. It’s simply about gratitude and giving thanks to those who are closest to you in your life.

In our fast-paced and digitally connected world, we run from activity to activity, from meeting to meeting, and forget sometimes to slow down and be present with those around us. We’ve forgotten in some respect how nice it can be to just have everyone around the same table passing each other food and enjoying a meal together.

This year I was so happy to spend Thanksgiving morning helping to cook the turkey and the side dishes. Food always tastes better when you’ve put your own energy into making it and feeling the gratitude from others as they enjoy the fruits of your labor.

This weekend also means a lot to me because almost exactly a year ago today I told my family I wanted to take the leap and focus on the company I co-founded with my friend Kunjan; so I put in my notice and started on the uncertain path of working for myself. Typically when you take leaps, the conventional wisdom is what you are doing is high risk. After a year, I firmly believe it would have been more risky to stay at my previous job than create my own path. My situation may be unique, but we all should attempt to venture every now and then into that area of uncertainty. It seems scary, maybe even paralyzing, but the fear of the unknown is almost always unjustified. The more you push that comfort zone, the more possibilities and opportunities that start to open up to you. I believe this to be true in business as well as life.

This Thanksgiving I’m grateful for all the passionate individuals who have touched my life this year and shared their positive energy with me. I’m thankful for all the great friends and family I have had the time to spend with. And I’m thankful for a change I’m seeing in the world that is allowing for more innovation and opportunities that probably didn’t even exist a decade ago. This decade is truly a time when you can reasonably pursue something you’re passionate about without having to make some of the more painful sacrifices of the past. All it takes is a thirst for knowledge, a drive to dream about doing things bigger than yourself, and the will to follow through on what you plan to actually do.

We all have our inner wisdom to share with each-other, with our community, with the world. Even knowing that others care about you and you care about them can mean the world. This is what the essence of Thanksgiving is all about. At the heart of it, we are all humans and Thanksgiving allows us to remember to share our kindness and compassion.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and continue to share your gratitude even after the holidays.