Why is it so difficult to be grateful? Not just for the smaller things in life, but also for our career and the effort that we’ve put into it. Because think about it; even if you don’t have any working experience yet, you have already put in many, many hours of education at the very least.
- Gratitude block 1: The negativity bias
Don’t beat yourself up for focusing on the negative, for negativity is evolutionarily programmed into us.
Since we have evolved with predators like snakes, forest cats, and preying birds around us, we are always wary of (potential) dangers and therefore engaged in constant risk analyses. These days that translates in a predominant focus on all the things that (almost) went bad – negatives – in order to find out ways to avoid having that bad experience next time.
This evolutionary program has also filtered into our cultural habits and language. We have, for example, tons of words to describe a bad day – it was the worst, embarrassing, horrible, mortifying, etc. day. A good day, on the other hand, tends to be nothing more than “good” or “fine.” The obvious problem is that when you’re focused on the negative aspects of your day, it’s hard to match this with feelings of gratitude, both toward your career and for the simpler things in life.
- Gratitude block 2: Social comparison
Social comparison is also an evolutionary trait that’s ingrained in us – a constant check to see what our position in the group, band, or tribe is. Now this doesn’t necessarily have to lead to feelings of ingratitude, because social comparison can swing either way. However, with the pervasiveness of social media in our lives, more often than not we end up comparing the highlights of our social group presented to us on our screens to the state of ourselves at that very moment.
Now in everyday life, it’s darn hard to compete with the looks, happiness, and achievements of our social media friends. Even more so because we’re not constantly comparing ourselves to the same person; rather, we’re comparing ourselves to the multitude of highlights that come across our timeline every day.
It is no surprise, then, that a University of Pennsylvania study of 143 undergraduates found that reducing their daily social media usage – Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat – to 30 minutes significantly reduced their feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and FOMO. So while we’re focused on our own negativity, we’re simultaneously focused on other people’s positivity. Through social comparison, then, negativity toward ourselves tends to be reaffirmed, or worse, “validated.”
- Gratitude block 3: Goal digger culture
Although the constant urge to be productive and progress forward may have evolutionary roots too, this is very much a cultural aspect too. In capitalism, we are always looking up and aspiring for more. We focus on growing our business, developing our skills even better, and improving in general – indefinitely.
Naturally, if our gaze is always upward, forward or focused on the future, it’s hard to appreciate what’s here right in front of us; to be thankful right now, for the here and now.
What perspectives help to feel more grateful?
So, with the complexities of gratitude in our modern world established, we’ll discuss 4 career perspectives that help us feel more grateful. By regularly entertaining these perspectives, we train our minds to make feeling grateful part of our thinking routines and, accordingly, our regular lives.
- Gratitude Perspective #1: Every experience is a learning experience
Remember that we just mentioned that we’re hardwired to focus on negative experiences to prevent them from occurring again? The good news is that this means that we’re constantly learning from our experiences as well, maybe even more so if they’re negative.
For example, from your everyday working experience, you automatically learn what type of working environment does not work for you, what tasks you don’t like, and what kind of leadership and working routine holds you back. This is invaluable to give your career (and life in general) direction – simply because it enables you to steer away from these negatives and move toward the things that resonate with you instead.
- Gratitude Perspective #2: (Working) life = infinite XP accumulation
Similar to the point above, you’re not just learning about your personal preferences, you’re also constantly gaining experience. Just like in a videogame, everything you do and live through accumulates your personal experience. This is not just about getting more experienced in your tasks at work. You’re also becoming more experienced in things like dealing with difficult situations, being a professional, and solving (personal) issues with your business partners, colleagues, customers, clients, and so on.
So, take a moment to look at your (working) life from these 2 perspectives, and allow yourself to feel grateful for getting to know yourself and for the experience that you’re constantly getting – at work, and in life.
- Gratitude Perspective #3: Every interaction equals a connection
And you’re having a ton of interactions everyday, not just on social media. There’s of course the interactions with your colleagues or employer, but also the interactions with your customers, clients, partners, or office staff which connect you to all these people. And, as the founders of LinkedIn understood very well, connections lay at the heart of our (professional) relationships.
These relationships, in turn, provide you with a vast array of resources that you can draw from – a social introduction, a professional entry, a skillset, inside information, professional experience, and so on. These resources, in turn, can help you thrive in your day-to-day professional life.
Finally, even the people in your family, (sports) club, and any other regular interactions can be invaluable connections. They are perfect candidates to ask for feedback on your latest prototype, or they can function as extra pairs of eyes and ears when you’re on the lookout for a new job.
- Gratitude Perspective #4: The present is tangible
Planning ahead, aspiring for success, goals on the horizon – these can all be great drives to get and keep you going. Yet, none of these (future) aspirations may actually ever happen. Accordingly, it’s quite hard to practice gratitude for the things you don’t have (yet). Conversely, the things that you have right now and all that got you to this very moment are real, tangible, and something you can thank yourself for!
Moreover, if you feel that you lack perfection in your tangible reality right now, just keep in mind that you’ll always find flaws in everything – even in the most perfect future that you can fantasize about. Because, that’s those hardwired evolutionary and cultural traits discussed above that continuously work in the back of our minds.
How to feel more grateful everyday
So, begin by acknowledging how your mind is not always doing you favors in terms of gratitude, but know that this is universal for all of us – we all feel like imperfect imposters more often than not.
Then, take a moment to look at your life from all 4 perspectives explained above, step by step. When you get to perspective #4, simply look around you to see what you already have, and allow yourself to feel grateful for all that you’ve worked for and all that you continue to work for at this very moment!