Sit back comfortably in your chair and close your eyes.
Turn your attention to your breathing.
As you inhale, imagine the air filling up your heart; exhale and feel the static tension leave your body.
After a few breaths focusing on your heart, turn your attention to your emotional state.
I want you to feel gratitude.
Meditate on what that emotion feels like, or a time in your life that you felt it strongly.
If you had to graph it on a chart, where would it show up?
If you find yourself drifting down a tangent, bring yourself back to center—back to your breathing.
Then, try again.
I’ve been seeing a Life Coach since May. The above is an excerpt from one of our first sessions, back when she was beginning to teach me the art of emotional regulation. We had previously done this same exercise, but we focused on the emotion of love—one that comes far more naturally to me for some reason. How do I know this? Because the point of these meditations is not to feel these emotions; rather, it is to regulate your heart and breathing, to refill your emotional energy tank, and to regain control of the internal things you can control while simultaneously disposing your worry for the external things you cannot control—and when it came to meditating on gratitude, I could not achieve this as I could with love. Much to my dismay, I honestly struggled to pinpoint what gratitude felt like in this moment…
It’s easy to feel thankful for anything in the first mile—a new opportunity, a new job, a new relationship. As long as something feels fresh, gratitude effortlessly flows from within. But over time, the spring dries up and what was once fresh and exciting becomes the new normal, a progression seemingly written into the laws of nature. Every time we go into something new saying “this time will be different,” and invariably we find ourselves weeks, months, or years later fantasizing about our next move and how fresh it will feel in comparison.
So what changes?
When something is new there is no expectation attached to it, save for our desire to feel like what we’re doing now is different than what we were doing before.
After two years on the road and moving to a new city every couple weeks, I’ve been through an endless cycle of boom and bust within each stop along the way as the newness of each city is exchanged for (usually) a desire to get as far away as possible by the end. These smaller cycles have also seen an overarching battle between the romanticism of exploration and the stresses of constant motion—with only a matter of time until the latter wins the war.
So is this progression universal law in the same way that we’re slave to gravity and the spontaneous pull from order to disorder? Is there an antidote to the “comfortable” phase? Some argue that it’s simply to keep searching for something that makes what you’re already doing feel fresh again: to spice it up, to fall back in love, to get creative. I think it’s more fundamental than that…
Simply, don’t lose your gratitude for what you already have.
Don’t forget about the opportunities that have been bestowed upon you, the people that have been placed along the way, and the things that make you who you are. Instead of fantasizing incessantly on where you used to be or where you want to be, use the past as a means to refresh your gratitude and excitement to how you felt when you began, and use the future to reframe your trajectory—ever grateful for this rung in the ladder. It’s easy to make an impulse decision to pursue something else in the name of a fading flame, but without gratitude you will be slave to the same boom and bust cycles as before.
Let us never lose sight of our gratitude. For when we let the comfortable phase in, expectations come in too. Like a revolving door: as gratitude leaves, entitlement comes in to fill the negative space. Gratitude is the antidote to the comfortable, to the normal, to the monotony. It is the spice that keeps everything fresh, the lens that brings clarity to the haze of going through the motions, and the oil that feeds the eternal flame of passion.