Perception is not reality — it’s our interpretation of reality.
Traveler: “What kind of weather are we going to have today?”
Shepherd: “The kind of weather I like.”
Traveler: “How do you know it will be the kind of weather you like?”
Shepherd: “Having found out, sir, that I cannot always get what I like, I have learned to like what I get. So I am quite sure we will have the kind of weather I like.”
Expectations make you blind, rather than seeing the bright side of life, you keep waiting for the perfect weather.
You can’t always get what you want. But you can accept what you get and want it, as the above parable by Anthony de Mello illustrates. That’s the power of appreciation.
When you stop fighting reality, you can uncover opportunities in life.
Acceptance Doesn’t Mean Giving Up
“I would rather be able to appreciate things I cannot have than to have things I am not able to appreciate.” — Elbert Hubbard
Acceptance is the first step towards being grateful — to take moments and people — even the weather — as they are.
Accepting reality as is, doesn’t mean giving up your dreams.
There’s a common misconception around the idea of “Acceptance” — learning to love the weather you get is not resignation, but being smart. It doesn’t mean stop loving a sunny day; simply to embrace the rain too.
Tara Brach defined acceptance as “recognizing the truth of this moment without resistance. It’s a pause that connects you with your emotions — frustration, anger, suffering, etc. — and being willing to simply feel that.
The highest form of gratitude is to accept reality as it is.
It’s not easy, though. I’ve lived in Chicago for over five years now. In the morning, I can’t stand but think: “it’s cold (again).” The winter never seems to end. I have to force myself to pause and reflect. To stop resisting the moment and enjoy it instead. If it’s snowing, I focus on how beautiful the white scenery looks. I still love warmer days when I can go biking outside. But getting mad when it’s snowing won’t change the weather.
More than anything, acceptance is transformation. You can’t change reality, so it’s your attitude that has to change. Once you stop resisting, you can understand what’s going on. You move from clinging to your expectations to discover new possibilities.
Real opportunities exist in real life, not in the life you expect to happen.
Oscar Wilde said: “Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”
When you stop judging events or people, you can learn from them.
Life is an experience from which you learn and grow. Appreciate people and things for what they are. Jack Kornfield wrote in A Path With Heart: “This life is a test — It is only a test. If it had been an actual life, you would have received further instructions on where to go and what to do.”
Accepting reality is anything but passive. It opens your mind to discover opportunities. Rather than being busy complaining about the weather you don’t like, ask yourself: “what can I do with what life is giving me now?”
When you stop resisting, you see life as is — not through your expectations.
The Power of Appreciation
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough” — Oprah Winfrey
Gratitude means “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
Appreciation is the joy felt on seeing the good in something or someone. It is a mental state that imparts happiness and motivates you to act. However, it’s anything but touchy-feeling.
Developing an attitude of gratitude improves your well-being dramatically.
Being thankful — for what life throws at you — has many positive effects, according to science. It opens the doors to more relationships, improves both your mental and physical health, reduces your ‘fight-or-flight’ reactions, helps you sleep better, and increases your self-esteem.
Life doesn’t owe you anything. Appreciation means stop taking everything for granted.
The Buddha discussed four things we can feel admiration and appreciation towards:
- the good within yourself
- the good within others
- the blessings of being born human
- the many advantages and opportunities you enjoy
Appreciation is something powerful. It doesn’t just reflect on you but, most importantly, on the receiver. Even something more mundane as email response rates are affected by gratitude. “Thank you in advance,” “Thank you,” and “Thanks” are the three most powerful words to end an email.
Give appreciation with respect and kindness.
Practice Genuine Appreciation
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”― Maya Angelou
Appreciation helps people acknowledge the goodness in their lives and connects them to something larger than themselves — whether to other people or a higher power.
Gratitude is a positive emotion that is felt after being the beneficiary of some “gift”; It arises when another person — the benefactor — does something kind to the self.
Being appreciative starts with yourself. When you are grateful for who you are and what you have, it’s easier to recognize and acknowledge other people’s goodness.
However, being grateful is not a transactional behavior.
Positive Psychologist Mairéad Foody suggests that, in behavioral terms, gratitude involves a complex interplay between the giver and receiver. If you thank someone for something meaningless, they will perceive your appreciation as an obligation. If you are appreciative by default or because you want to look good — people will see your intentions as transactional.
Being grateful is important, but providing genuine recognition is an expression of shared values between the receiver and the giver. Before being appreciative of others, ask yourself: Is it an expression of your true self?
Mairéad Foody said: “‘Gratitude requires complex levels of perspective taking, in terms of recognizing what you value for yourself and how you perceive this should be appreciated by others.”
Appreciation is a two-way street; both you and the other party need to be genuine. Take these questions into consideration:
- Have you really benefited from the other person’s actions?
- Is appreciation for real or a ‘thank you’ without meaning?
- Are your motives true or driven by self-interest?
Gratitude teaches kindness. You have to be of actual benefit — help that’s helpful. Some people suspect those who are being kind to them because they are unkind to themselves.
Kindness teaches gratitude. If you are kind, you can accept that are other can be grateful — a kind expression — to you.
3 Questions to Appreciate Life More
“These two people are hard to find in the world. The one who is first to do a kindness, and the one who is grateful and thankful for a kindness done.” — Buddha
When you stand on top of a mountain, your perspective widens. Instead of focusing your attention on expectations, you observe the bigger picture. That’s precisely what happens when you see yourself with the mind’s eye.
Naikan — a Japanese term that means “looking inside” — is a structured way of self-reflection to understand your life better. You need to answer three simple yet powerful questions.
What have I received from ____?
What have I given to ____?
What troubles and difficulties have I caused ____?
Note: Fill the blanks with whatever you want to reflect on — relationships, objects, moments, or any other aspects of your life.
A fourth question, “What troubles and difficulties has (person x) caused me,” is purposely ignored in Naikan. This approach assumes that we are all naturally good. Rather than looking for someone to blame for what went wrong, focus your energy on appreciating what other people provide.
These questions are powerful because the more you practice answering them, they will help you acknowledge aspects that we take for granted. It will help you reconcile with others or events (like the weather).
In the end, you’ll acknowledge if the world owes you or if you owe the world. Remember, acceptance and understanding drive appreciation.
Learn (and practice) to accept people and events as they are. When you stop fighting reality, you see the true essence of things, not how you wish they were.
Cultivating an opening to appreciation will increase your awareness of the life around you. You will start observing opportunities that were hidden behind your expectations.
Appreciation starts with self-awareness. Practice the ‘three questions’ — look inside. That’s where gratitude begins.
Stop fighting the weather. Start discovering new opportunities come rain or come shine.