Grateful couple hugging

Gratitude and your purpose in life (ikigai)

posted in: Ikigai | 1

Often times when speaking about ikigai, we talk in terms of living out our passions, directing our talents towards a certain purpose, or even having a personal mission to make the world a better place. But, there is one thing that is often overlooked or taken for granted. In fact, it is one of the most important components of living a happy and enjoyable life. Essentially, it is how we accept the gifts and opportunities that are afforded to us. It is called gratitude.

Gratitude is the deep appreciation for something you have of for someone that has helped you, sometimes when you least expect it. It is the quality of being thankful and produces an innate feeling to somehow return the favor or pay it forward in one way or another.

For the most part, you feel gratitude when you receive something of value, be it an object or service. It can be something more abstract such as companionship, support, joy, and love. You may even feel more so if what you receive is beyond your expectations. When you break down gratitude to like this, you can understand why it is considered to be such an important component to your ikigai.

Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology and the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude explains, 

Gratitude is the simple, scientifically proven way to increase happiness and encourage greater joy, love, peace, and optimism into our lives.
The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a life of happiness and wellbeing by giving thanks. 

Being grateful builds character

It is through acknowledgment and thankfulness that you build well-being inside of you and, among many things, everlasting and meaningful relationships with others. From such relationships, you gain humility and appreciation towards others who put the effort into helping you. It urges you to return the favor in kind. It encourages the age-old behavior of “give and take”. 

Simultaneously, it reminds you that you are privileged to have received it. This is often the case with those who seem to have little, yet exclaim that they are grateful for what they do have. In other words, gratitude reinforces positive perspectives that lead to an overall more enjoyable and happy life.

Living gratefully begins with affirming the good and recognizing its sources. It is the understanding that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift, accompanied by an awareness that nothing can be taken for granted.
―Dr. Robert Emmons

Gratitude is optimistic in nature and supports a more healthy life both mentally and physically. It allows you to have a heightened sense of awareness which reveals the simplest treasures life has to offer and draws out new levels of appreciation for it. With such optimism, better decision making is prevalent and you will surely find yourself looking at situations more positively, overall.

Woman stretching on the balcony
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Habitual gratitude

Identifying our own sense of gratitude is easy when we are taken by surprise by someone’s actions and our appreciation for their gift exceeds all expectations. But, what about the simpler moments in life? How do we affirm the good and recognize its sources? What can we do to further appreciate the joys that small things bring us? Moreover, how can we make identifying such instances more habitual when it is so easy to get caught up in the day to day routine and overlook the extraordinary moments that life has to offer.

Although there are a number of techniques you can use to identify the good and its sources, they all start with practicing mindfulness, which incidentally should not be so unfamiliar with those practicing their ikigai.

Being mindful simply means that you dedicate your time and thoughts towards what is happening now, at the moment and try to understand how the moment influences yourself, both internally and externally. Do this regularly, and over time you will find yourself to be more naturally attuned to your surroundings and with those you interact.

Here are three ideas you might like to try in order to facilitate habitual gratitude and appreciation for the little things in life.

Keep a gratitude journal

If you are somewhat of a writer or one who likes to keep a diary, you may want to set aside a little space in your daily thoughts for gratitude. 

With that new space in your journal, spend a bit of time thinking about your interactions throughout your day and write down all the details. Try to focus on the generosity of others and how they impact you.

Don’t forget for the littlest things, as your interactions aren’t always so complex. Start simple and be deliberate in nature. Try to notice the things you often overlook when you aren’t spending time thinking about them.

Your thoughts don’t necessarily have to focus on interactions either.

Consider your day and the things that you accomplished. What were the benefits of your actions? How were you able to get there? How will those accomplishments affect your next steps or goals? Overall, did you enjoy it?

Be grateful for your challenges
Image by Marc Pascual

Appreciate your challenges

There are two types of people perhaps; those who associate challenges with stress and those who seek the unbeaten path. Either you prefer flowing like water down its path with the least resistance if it meets your purpose or you are ready for the fight.

Well… that, of course, is a bit simplistic. In reality, most of us are a bit of both.

Indeed, it can take much effort to respond to our challenges rather than avoid them altogether. So, it is understandable that most of us find it sometimes difficult to look at our own challenges and feel grateful for them.

However, it is through such difficult times where we experience most of our growing pains, both mentally and physically. Challenges are where we learn to overcome obstacles, deal with setbacks and learn from our mistakes. 

Whether you overcome the hardship quickly or over a longer period of time, rest assured that you are constantly building your strength and resilience.

Finding gratitude in your challenges gives you permission to accept things the way they are or have become. It allows you to take responsibility for your own actions (or inactions) regardless of the catalyst.

Such awareness reduces stress and is more settling for your thoughts, leading you to think more objectively. From there, you can begin to implement possible solutions and take your first steps towards meeting the challenge head-on. In the end, you will have gained invaluable experience for which you can be grateful.

Appreciate those who agree and disagree
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Appreciate those who agree and disagree

Consider being grateful not only to those who agree with you but also for those who challenge you or your position.

As we’ve discussed, life is not always a place of blue skies and apple pies. Neither is it some type of harmonious euphoria where everyone lives according to what you find most enjoyable. There will always be people who disagree.

Appreciate the knowledge you gain when someone confronts you. Not only will it define their character, but it will also give you insight into yours.

Confrontational events are great for learning about yourself. They help you to understand your own values and offer insight into what you believe. You are given an opportunity to assess how well you actually listen and respond to the other’s perspective.

It helps you build communication and negotiation skills. You learn empathy and how to respond without attitude or condescension. 

Can you show the other person that you understand without yet agreeing? How can you challenge their points and take them out of their comfort zone with positive intentions, such as a compromise? In what ways can you garner the respect from the person in front of you so that you can, at the very least compromise towards a solution? How can you become more agreeable? More inspiring? What can you learn from it all?

Father holding his daughter
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Give thanks to the ones you love

There is an infinite number of ways for you to show your appreciation for the gratefulness you receive. By all means, you should start reciprocity by first taking care of the people you love.

Your friends and family around you have a real interest in you. Share with them specific examples of something they did for you and how it made you feel. Describe the impact of their generosity. Let them know just how much of an impact it had on your life.

Explain how much you appreciate their love and let them know they had a hand in where you are today. Indeed a simple “Thank you,” and a hug or handshake is often sufficient, but I encourage you to do something more thoughtful. Surprise your loved ones with something unique. Show them how much you appreciate them.

Embracing such a lifestyle in which you show gratitude to those you love is an easy step towards a more habitual practice of expressing yourself. Think about your coworkers, your customers, even the clerk at the supermarket. You can easily brighten someone’s day with a smile and friendly acknowledgment of their being.

Ask them about what is going on or how is their day. There is no need to get personal, but an honest interest in them may surely be welcomed.

If you are out and about, perhaps a bigger than usual tip for that waiter, a positive Yelp review, or speaking with their manager to let them know they did a really good job. Chances are it will be unexpected and a really nice surprise for them.

Woman smiling and feeling grateful
Appreciate those who agree and disagree

Give yourself some love

Finally, don’t forget to show gratitude to yourself. Give yourself permission to enjoy the little things in life. Treat yourself to the small luxuries each day brings. If it means that you must set aside some time to actually reward yourself with something you enjoy, then go ahead and do just that! After all, you deserve the very best from yourself.

Remember, being genuinely grateful for the little things life has to offer you can make a big difference! The more you are aware of yourself and the moment you are in, the more you can identify the positive aspects of life. As you internalize and appreciate each moment, you will realize the joy it brings.

On a grand scale, habitual reciprocation of gratitude will instill positive discipline in your daily life. It will surely change your outlook and perspective. Such awareness will allow you to express gratitude towards yourself and others much more freely, without hesitation. Over time with dedicated practice, you will find that seeking out and creating opportunities is truly satisfying and worthy of an ikigai in and of itself.

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