The Homework Assignment That Will Change Your Life

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Posted by The Savvy Retiree on January 5, 2017 in Uncategorised

Mark Morgan Ford writing on free thinking

Typically, we take the common blessings of life – health, shelter, food, and friendship – for granted.

Ironically, gratitude arrives only after these are impaired or taken away from us.

But if we can learn to practice positivity in our everyday routines, we will find ourselves feeling happier, more loving, and even, if we are good at it, grateful.

That’s not a self-help platitude. It is a fact of life we have all experienced countless times. A positive change in attitude improves not only our feelings but also our behavior. And a positive change in our behavior improves nearly all the benefits of living – everything from our income to our sex lives.

We know it. But can we do it?

I think we can. Some self-help gurus recommend being grateful for the big things in life. Smiling up at the skies and thanking the gods or the universe for our health, our freedom, our wealth, etc.

I’ve tried that, but it never worked for me. It was too abstract. After a week or so, it became routine and meaningless.

I’ve had better success thinking small…being grateful for the little things. For example, here are 10 little things I’m grateful for:

  • Graciella’s coffee in the morning. Deep, dark, and rich. I don’t know how she makes it so well!
  • The New York Times crossword puzzle. The editorials are aggravating but the puzzles are superb. Mondays’ puzzles are for morons. Tuesdays’ are for twits. From Wednesday to Friday, they are lots of fun. Saturdays’ are deadly. And Sundays’ are best on the front porch, looking out at the ocean, puffing on a Padron.
  • Friday nights with friends at my Cigar Club, a warehouse I converted into a “man cave” several years ago. The happiest nights are when, after boring ourselves silly for an hour or two, the women (our spouses) drop in to liven things up.
  • Exercising daily. Two days of fitness training with John, a coach and friend I refuse to listen to. (“50 reps? No way. I’m doing 25.”) Four days of jiu-jitsu with national and world champions 20 to 40 years younger than I am. And my Sunday bike ride to the Banana Boat with Peter. We move along at a snail’s pace for six miles and then sprint the last 500 yards.
  • Padron Aniversarios – simply the best cigars in the world. I prefer the naturals, which are medium bodied. They have a superb taste. They draw perfectly. They are balanced from light puff to nub. And recent studies show that if you smoke just one or two a day, your chances of getting lung cancer are the same as someone who doesn’t smoke anything at all!
  • Everything I’ve gotten rid of in the past. Countless shirts and ties and pants dating back to the 1970s. Books with prose so bad I couldn’t get past the first five pages. Exercise equipment bought on impulse but never used (including a pair of platform sneakers that promised to increase the size of my calves).
  • That I am in the same jiu-jitsu “weight class” as my wife, K. The weight class I’m referring to is the 100-to-200-pound class. Admittedly, I weigh 199.5 and she weighs 112… And this weight class is so wide only because there are so few people competing in my age group… But, as I remind her, “We are in the same ballpark.”
  • That, after 66 years, I still have hair where I want it… on top of my head and not coming out of my nose and ears. (Confession: I trim my nose hair.)
  • My art collection. Okay, it may be more of an addiction. I’ve got more than 1,000 paintings in storage. But the several hundred I have hanging in every house and office I own give me constant daily pleasure. They appreciate in value over time, but it’s the daily income of pleasure that I value most.
  • Wine. One or two glasses every night. Delicious. Soothing. And fun to learn about. (Did you know that Meritage rhymes with heritage? It’s an American coinage, not French!)

After you’ve taken time to think about some of the many little things that make your life so happy, you’ll be able to move on to the big things in a meaningful and authentic way. Think about these big ideas for a long time. Consider even writing a few pages about them every week.

  • Your health: You have aches. You have pains. You may have illness and infirmity. But you also have time every day to enjoy yourself and the company of the people you love and are loved by. Be thankful for that.
  • Your wealth: You haven’t hit the Forbes list of wealthiest humans, but you have enough money to put clothes on your back, a roof over your head, and food in your stomach.
  • Your wisdom: You understand the most important things. You realize that of the gifts of life, life itself – particularly a life without pain – is the most precious.
  • Next to that is the love you share with friends and family members whose company you cherish.
  • And next to that is the potential of your imagination – your innate and inalienable ability to do what you want with your mind, which is, after all, where your life is located.
  • Your work: The intellectual and emotional challenges that make your day exciting.

Today, if you are up for it, I’d like you to do two things. And if this improves your mood, then try to make it part of your daily routine:

  • Spend 15 minutes doing something relaxing. But make it purposeful by choosing something that allows you to slow down your mind. Take a walk while listening to soothing music or looking at nature. Meditate, either formally or simply by sitting in a comfortable chair, closing your eyes, and focusing your attention on your breathing. Breathe slowly. Count your breath if it helps clear your mind. Do this for 10 minutes. Then spend another minute or two getting a sense of your “here and now.” Be aware of how your body feels: your head, your shoulders, your chest and stomach – down to your toes. And pay attention, too, to the state of your mind. Are you calmer now? Doesn’t that feel good?
  • Then spend another minute or two thinking about all the “little” things you should be thankful for. Be aware of and grateful for the air you are breathing, the sun on your skin, your lover’s sigh, your children’s voices, and the companionship of your friends. Recognize the fact that after you’re gone — after your ego is extinguished – all those things will still exist, just as they exist now for you but not for the dead.

If all that works, then make a resolution that, from now on, you will devote just 15 minutes a day to making that day more fulfilling by slowing down, focusing on your breathing, and then contemplating all the little things that enrich your life, all those things you can only enjoy if you are willing to be grateful for them.

“Gratitude,” said Cicero, “is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

Think about it…

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