Appreciation as described in Dictionary.com is: “the act of estimating the qualities of things and giving them their proper value.” Another definition given to this word is: “recognition of the quality, value, significance, or magnitude of people and things.” So, as we reflect on our own lives, how do we truly estimate what we have and how much is it worth? I guess it depends on what perspective we take. Do we estimate the value, significance, and quality of what we have in our life compared to others? If so, who do we compare ourselves to?
I think the reason why many people don’t have enough appreciation in their lives is because we have been taught to compare what we have to others. How would we feel about our own life’s value, significance, and quality if we did not compare it to anyone or anything? What if we were not taught that more is better and that we always need to strive to have more and better in our life? How can we ever really appreciate what we have when we tend to look upwards and onwards, while rarely looking down and back? There is such a tendency in our society to compare what we have to those that have more than us. Why is that?
Is it because we are taught that the more we have the better off we are? Is it because we are constantly trying to prove our worth to the world? How can we truly learn to be appreciative when we are incapable of giving “proper value or significance” to the things we already have? Who has set the standard for assessing value, significance, and quality anyway? It appears to me that the standard for value in the western world may be based too strongly on what we have, how smart we are, what we do and how we look. I guess if we use that standard as our basis for comparison, then it is difficult (or next to impossible) to ever have enough, be smart enough or look good enough. And thus, we don’t really have time to appreciate how much we have because we are too busy focusing on how far we still have to go.
We tend to be so focused on the future, and how much more we need and want, that we tend to forget about how far we have come. By the definition of appreciation provided above, we are constantly estimating the value, significance and quality of things by comparing them to some standard, which, in my opinion, has become unrealistic and difficult to attain. The sad thing is that even when we get to a place where we have attained some of the things we so greatly desired, we are so focused on still attaining more that we do not even appreciate what we have. The constant state of striving for more and better does not allow us to stop and truly appreciate what we have.
What if the standard of comparison were to change? What if we let go of the elusive search for more and better and simply became more content with what we have right now? What if the standard of comparison was simply about what makes us feel good? But, even that leaves out the things in life that don’t feel good but do allow us to learn and grow. I don’t know about you, but I have gone through many experiences in my life that have been extremely unpleasant, yet as I reflect back on them I have a great sense of appreciation for what they taught me. I had a time in my life when health and money issues were quite challenging, but now as I look back I know that I learned and grew a lot from these experiences. I have come to appreciate them even though they were unpleasant at the time.
And, what about appreciation for the small and simple things in life? It is only possible to notice these small wonders when we let go of trying to attain those “big” things that we’ve been taught will bring us happiness, such as money, possessions, and good looks. Have you ever just stared with amazement at a beautiful sunset, a blooming flower or even the first snowfall of winter? Have you ever experienced that warm and fuzzy feeling inside when someone you care about says, “I love you”? There are so many things to appreciate if we simply slow down and allow ourselves to notice them. When we let go of the pushing and striving we can appreciate so much more.
What if we were to begin to focus more on what we have, and less on what we don’t have? What if we stopped looking at our cup half empty and came to realize that no matter how challenging our life may seem, our cup is still overflowing? It is difficult to be truly appreciative when you are coming from a place of lack, wanting and striving for more. When our focus is always on the future we cannot truly appreciate, because appreciation is in and of the present moment. The more we focus on what we want, the less we will appreciate what we already have.
And, often the things we think we really want are not those that will make us happier or more fulfilled at all. They are desires we strive toward, only to discover that when we achieve them, we’re no better off as a result. The new car, the bigger house, the better job… Instead of focusing on how much we have in our lives, we tend to focus on how much is missing or how much better things could be. If only…
So, what I propose is we free ourselves from the “if only.” Instead of always wanting more and better, stop and appreciate what you already have. Begin by making a list of all the things you have to be appreciative of. They can be as small as a warm cup of tea and as great as a loving family. No comparing to others, no desperate hopes for a better future, just a true sense of appreciation for what you have in your life at this very moment.
No matter how difficult life may seem, there is always something you can be appreciative of. What if we stopped comparing ourselves to those who have more, and instead began to notice all those who have less and are still happy? What if we stopped running forward so much and just stood still to appreciate what a wonderful world we do in fact live in? Not looking at what is wrong, but appreciating what is right. Not looking at how much more we could have, but how much we already have. Not how much better it could be, but how good it already is. What if we began to realize that each and every one of us is full of value, significance and quality just as we are? Things would be a lot different.
What if we began to appreciate what beautiful human beings we are and how much value and significance we bring to our planet and our fellow man each and every day? What if we began to appreciate all that is good within us and stopped focusing on what is not good? What if we gave up comparing and just accepted ourselves for the wonderful, valuable, significant human beings that we are. All of us should be appreciated for our contribution to this world, but we will not be appreciated by others until we begin to appreciate ourselves. I am confident that when we begin to appreciate ourselves more and more we will begin to view the rest of the world with a greater sense of appreciation. When we begin to recognize the quality, value and significance that we are, just the way we are, then we will truly be able to feel appreciation for ourselves and others. I look forward to the time when our world is full of a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude. The only way to get there is if each and every one of us begins to feel appreciation for who we are and what we have.