The next minute is not what we think it will be — not even close. But it can be what we decide to focus on. If we constantly look for what’s missing from our lives — that big house, dream car, perfect relationship, ideal job — then the upcoming minute might be filled with regret, remorse, sadness, frustration, and hopelessness. If we consistently appreciate what is currently before us and available in our lives — the car that runs, the roof over our head, the job that provides resources, and the relationships we do have, most importantly with ourselves — then we spare ourselves disappointment.
I was running a workshop when I met Hannah, a 50-year-old nutritionist, and one of the topics was overcoming depression through gratitude. During the break, Hannah approached me, held out her right arm, and pointed to a bracelet adorning her wrist. Dangling from the bracelet were all the letters of the alphabet. She proceeded to tell me the story behind this bracelet. For years she struggled with depression and anger because of a highly stressful job and some unhealthy relationships. Antidepressants had come and gone, but nothing seemed to work. By the midpoint of her life, Hannah, by her own admission, was not a pleasant person to be around. She could have just shut down; instead, she placed her faith in bringing gratitude to what was already in her life. This shift gradually and dramatically altered her experience of the stream of minutes that followed. Hannah smiled as she told me, “The change was so obvious that people at work asked me if I was taking medication. I think they were hoping it was something they could take.” To stay connected to her practice of gratitude, Hannah uses her bracelet and a journaling exercise in which she chooses a different letter of the alphabet and records all the things she’s grateful for that begin with that letter.
I’m not suggesting you ignore the ruts in your life by covering them up with chocolate frosting. That would leave you with a chocolate-covered rut. But at the same time, the rut is not all there is. Would you agree that this very minute the path is also paved and can be navigated without driving over the ruts? This is within our control. To understand where you are placing your awareness and to recognize the ruts, take the following one-minute mindfulness inventory.
what is missing
• Do I tend to focus on what I don’t have? If so, how is this affecting my relationships?
• What do I think is missing in my life?
• How do I feel when I place my awareness on what’s missing?
what is present and available
• What is present and available to me?
• How can I begin to redirect my awareness to the gifts I have?
• How does looking at what is in my life make me feel? Does it give me hope and energy?
• How will feeling this way affect my relationships?
I am reminded of the film Under the Tuscan Sun, in which the heroine, played by Diane Lane, moves to Italy after her divorce. The things she wishes to have in her life — people to cook for, a family, and a wedding — manifest in such unexpected ways that she doesn’t immediately recognize that they are present. When her realization dawns, she glows with peace, joy, and wholeness.
Donald Altman, M.A., LPC, is the author of One-Minute Mindfulness, The Mindfulness Code, and Meal-by-Meal. Known as America’s Mindfulness Coach, he is a practicing psychotherapist who conducts mindful living and mindful eating workshops and retreats through colleges, community centers, and health care organizations. Visit him online at www.OneMinuteMindfulnessBook.com.