Appreciation and its Impact on Happiness

Recently I was reading a New Yorker article about an Iraqi SWAT team attempting to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS. I liked the whole piece but one part really grabbed my attention. Rayyan, a SWAT team commander, is describing his life.

In 2005, his older brother Safwan had been gunned down by terrorists, and two of his fiancée’s brothers had been murdered. His father’s house had been blown up. He’d been shot in the leg and the chest and the hip. At his engagement party, gunmen had tried to shoot him a fourth time, and wounded his sister instead. More recently, ISIS suicide bombers had killed his brother Neshwan, a police officer, and abducted his brother Salwan, who had remained in Mosul.

While wishing the absolute best for Rayyan, I also found his story to be a vivid reminder to remain grateful. Every day I wake up in a warm bed, close to a well-stocked kitchen. I have disposable income and the thought of one of my family members being abducted or killed is outside my reality. Unfortunately, these things are a reality for millions of people. It’s easy to forget that though and I think a good deal of blame falls on mainstream society. It loves to reinforce the belief that you never have enough.  

Society is Not Your Friend

It takes an active effort to be appreciative, few people will remind you of how good you have it. Commercials, coworkers, family and friends. Consciously or not, these entities often push you to focus on what you don’t have. We’re rarely greeted with a message that says be happy! You already have an amazing life! 

You can afford to eat until you’re content.

You can practice any religion without fear of retribution.

You can freely criticize your government without getting locked up.

These are not universal rights enjoyed the world over, they are ideas that our grandparents died for. They’re easy to take for granted but I believe this is a mistake. It’s only by a fluke of nature that we ended up here. We could have easily been born in Mosul, where life would be much, much more difficult.

The Benefit of Appreciation

By appreciating what you have you become happier. This is crucial because it applies whether you have $20 or $20,000,000. In either case, there will always be someone with more than you. If you can’t appreciate what you have you won’t be able to enjoy it. If you can find a way to appreciate the smallest details, you’ll get so much more out of life.

I remind myself to stay appreciative with a simple morning routine. After meditating I take out my journal and write down three things that I’m grateful for. While this works in the moment, I’ve found that the real benefits come when the exercise transitions to daily life. You start to appreciate the short line at the grocery store, the way the internet works perfectly, how cool your boss is. Once you learn to appreciate these things you become happier and more present to the moment. It’s a beautiful way to live and something that I feel is lacking in our culture.

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