The Antidote to Dissatisfaction

In our modern Western world, we are deeply enculturated to experience dissatisfaction.

Studies indicate that the average American is exposed to around 10,000 advertisements in a day.[1] That’s 10,000 times from the time we wake to the time we fall asleep in which we are exposed to the message that what we have is not sufficient, that we are not sufficient. When we go throughout our days completely inundated with messages of Not Enough, we cannot help but be effected.

And this message is far more pervasive than paid advertising, alone. The message of Not Enough is rampant in our workplaces, with productivity standards we are expected to meet and pressure from our employers, outsourced from the pressure they are receiving from their higher ups. In schools, children are expected to participate in an increasing number of extracurricular activities, while being an exemplary student and well-behaved in the classroom. Many of us have been taught this message by our families and communities, well-meaning as they may have been, passing to us in various ways the hunger for more esteem, beauty, financial security, etc.

Sometimes we may be able to achieve these things, leaving us feeling good in the moment. But if, at some point, we make a mistake (and no human has ever lived their life mistake-free; in fact, it’s a necessary part of living, and of learning, too), or if we (or our lives) are never able to quite measure up (whether to other’s standards, or to our own), then we meet dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction is essentially the bully in our heads that recites the litanies of ways that we are not measuring up, that the world is not satisfactory, that others are not meeting our needs, that we don’t have what we deserve, that we don’t deserve anything…you get it. The list continues into a black hole of Not Enoughs.

This is a system-wide issue. We live in a system that perpetuates a belief that if we can only attain this or once we achieve that, things will level out and we will finally be happy, that we will finally have—and be—enough, that the psychological and spiritual hunger within us will be satisfied.

Though this system of dissatisfaction is deeply rooted in a capitalist Western society, it is the internal colonization of our individual systems of thought, our core beliefs, where the rubber really meets the road. We cannot change the external system unless we change our own thinking.

The antidote

If we are to change our minds, to heal the deep wound of lack and Not Enough, what is the medicine that we need? What can help us transform our patterns of thought and relating, to help us move beyond experiencing the world, our lives, our selves as Not Enough?

The answer is simple. Gratitude. “Gratitude is the antidote to dissatisfaction.”

My wise and sensible husband said those exact words to me several years ago, when I was feeling lost in a dark place. Something about those words created a shift, an opening for me. Since then, I have been a student of gratitude, watching for it in the corners of my own life, noting its presence in emerging research and in the teachings of the wisest spiritual leaders.

And my husband’s words hold true. Gratitude is, indeed, the antidote.

If you want to change the world, start here.

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is a lens, a way of seeing. It does not change the facts of a thing, but instead, more profoundly and importantly, it alters how we experience the circumstances, the content, of our lives.

To wear the lens of gratitude is to learn to recognize the abundance of gifts already afforded us, to see what we have. For many of us, this is a challenge, to turn the ship of dissatisfaction and scarcity around to look and truly see that which is already in our lives.

This shift is subtle. And yet we become different people when we move into a place of gratitude rather than scarcity. This shift happens both in the moment in which we shift the focus of our attention toward gratitude and long-term as the practice of gratitude becomes more deeply rooted within our being and our awareness.

To see these gifts is not necessarily to simply list them off. This can be helpful, but more deeply, recognizing our gifts is an attitude of receptivity, of presence. When we slow ourselves and become mindful, bringing our awareness to the elements that make up our lives—the soap dish, the slant of light coming through the window, the taste of fresh raspberries—we begin to see clearly the ways that each of these elements bless us. 

The moments and tiny pieces of our lives become a gift. In fact, they were always a gift, but now we are here to see them. Now we are available to receive. When we can finally receive these gifts, then we can receive the nourishment that they offer. Our souls can finally be filled.

4 Steps to Decolonizing Your Mind and Experiencing More Gratitude

1. Next time you feel yourself coming from scarcity, STOP. This is a great opportunity!

Here are some signs that you may be coming from a place of Not Enough:

-Feeling like something is missing

-Feeling unhappy

-Longing…for something or someone

-Thinking that things are not ok

-Low self-esteem

-Comparing yourself to others

-A sense of urgency

-Thinking that you don’t have what you deserve

-Feeling insecure in a relationship

-Feeling like you’re too busy

-FOMO (Fear of missing out)

These may be some signals that you are experiencing a sense of scarcity.

2. Pay attention to the process, not the content.

We’re conditioned to believe that happiness lies in getting what we want. This is the trap of Not Enough thinking. It compels us to seek out the “problems,” the factors that are keeping us from happiness. In other words, it keeps us focused on content, distracting us from the real problem: the process.

The process of scarcity is one that holds our attention on what we lack. So long as our attention is held in this place, we will suffer.

To quote Zen teacher Cheri Huber, “the quality of your life is determined by the focus of your attention.”[2]

3. Consciously choose gratitude.

Redirecting our focus is not an act of denial or pretending that things are different than they really are. It is a choice that we make. When we experience dissatisfaction, we are choosing (albeit usually unconsciously) scarcity as the focus of our mental energies. Once we realize that this is a choice, then we have the opportunity to choose differently, consciously.

Instead of focusing on the ways that you are not supported, that you are not enough, that the world is not meeting your needs, or whatever other content dissatisfaction throws at you, turn your attention to gratitude.

Focus on the things that do support you. Consider the things that bring you joy. What do you appreciate? What makes you smile just a little?

I encourage you to not only think of large things—sometimes these bigger gifts can be challenging for us to take in. If you find yourself feeling disconnected from any genuine experience of gratitude when you start naming things like, “my job” or “family,” try getting smaller. Here are some examples that have worked well for me:

The curve of the teapot

The taste of chocolate

The tufts of fur between my dog’s toes

One of my favorite hiking spots

The beating of my heart

The trees that continue to create oxygen so that I can breathe

Having a warm home that I can make into a cozy nest for myself

4. Immerse yourself in the experience

Let your imagination do its work here. Allow yourself to feel the textures, to smell the smells, to see the details of the things for which you are grateful. Visualization and imagination are powerful tools that can help you soak in the nourishment that you get from these gifts. So move slowly in your imaginings. Let yourself experience the details. Relish these things that bring you joy.

While the shift from scarcity into gratitude is a simple one, it is not always easy. Our brains have been inundated with the messages of Not Enough for a long time, and have created well-worn grooves in our mental pathways. These habits of thought are not changed overnight. Like any habit, altering the ways that we think takes time and most of all, practice. Be gentle with yourself. And be diligent in your practice. The more you practice, the more you will find yourself living in a world that offers itself daily to you for growth and for nourishment, the more you will be surprised by feelings of satisfaction and peace, the more you will wear away the old stories of scarcity and find freedom in gratitude—the freedom of having, and being, Enough.

 

[1] Saxon, J. (n.d.). Why Your Customers’ Attention is the Scarcest Resource in 2017. Retrieved from https://www.ama.org/partners/content/Pages/why-customers-attention-scarcest-resources-2017.aspx.

[2] Huber, C. (2010, May 18). Smitten with Directing the Attention. Retrieved from http://cherispracticeblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/smitten-with-directing-attention.html.