A New Lens on Gratitude

Every 365 days, right around the second or third week of November, gratitude becomes the thing that’s on many people’s minds in the United States. The reflection period of the holidays starts to kick in, and we humans begin our annual practice of stating both internally and externally what we’re grateful for – a brief few days or weeks of intentional focus on family, friends, and the things that we cherish. Fast forward to the beginning of January and this time of gratitude has passed and we’re on to bigger and better goals and ambitions, with gratitude likely not showing up again in any sort of impactful way until the following November. Gratitude thus, is an event, whether we recognize it as that or not.

Is it possible we’ve been viewing gratitude incorrectly?

Gratitude, if we’re honest with ourselves, should really function more like a human trait than an event. Much like I am a male, I am also grateful. Much like I have brown hair, I am also grateful. Much like I am right handed, I am also grateful. Because the truth of the matter is that gratitude is always there – we simply don’t choose to recognize it most of the time.

Let’s take a basic scenario. The fact that I’m writing this post on a computer insinuates that I have countless layers to be grateful for. It means that I have the financial means to own a computer. It means that I have electricity and a roof over my head to use it. It means that my hunger needs must be met, otherwise I would be spending my time trying to find food. And it means that I have the luxury of leisure to be able to put these thoughts on paper. Anyone reading this post can sing a similar tune.

Gratitude is built into everything above, and those simple truths stated in the previous paragraph mean that I have gratitude in spades. It is a trait, hardwired into the DNA of my life.

When gratitude is viewed as an event, as it so often is this time of year, it unconsciously allows us to bucket our gratitude into a handful of weeks each year. In reality, gratitude can and should be a trait that’s built into everything. We go about our days interacting with people, contemplating various thoughts, pursuing this or that goal. Gratitude is hardwired into all of this – whether we choose to recognize it or not is on us.

Traits are truths. Gratitude is a trait, and therefore truth. As much as I love this time of year, we don’t need a holiday to take the time and recognize the gratitude hardwired into our lives. If we just open our eyes, it’s there, no matter the month and no matter the situation. Much like we have eyes to read this post, so too do we have eyes to view our own gratitude.

Asking good questions.

Bad questions lead to bad answers. Good questions lead to good answers. It’s a maxim that I try to keep neatly tucked in the back of my mind any time I’m struggling with a situation.

“How am I supposed to move forward in a world like this?”

That is a bad question, albeit valid, that will inevitably lead to a bad answer.

“How do I move forward in a positive way, regardless of my circumstances?”

That is a good question that will inevitably lead to a good answer.

The difference is not in the content. The difference is in the framing. When we insinuate a bad answer, we will easily come up with one. When we insinuate a positive answer, our minds will do what they can to produce one.

Today is a struggle for many. Today is elation for many. But regardless of which side of the equation you fall on, today is an opportunity to control our own happiness by asking good questions. We cannot control other people or situations. What we can control is how we respond to them.

Anger is not handed to us from someone else. It’s lit within ourselves by our own hand.

Suffering is not some external force on our lives. It bubbles up internally from things we allow to affect us.

When living at the extremes of emotion, as we are today, the outcome of those extremes comes from the questions we ask. May myself and others ask good questions that inevitably lead to good answers. It’s important always. But it’s critical now.

It’s a great day to be (more) human.

Some of us will watch news that elates us.

Some of us will watch news that makes us cringe.

Some of us will post our thoughts for the world to read.

All of us will read others’ thoughts throughout the day.

Through those thoughts being processed, those thoughts being posted, and those posts being read, there is an unspoken opportunity. It’s an opportunity that we’re presented with each and every day, but rarely is it so polarizing to capitalize on. The opportunity is simple, though not necessarily easy.

We have an opportunity to be more human.

For those that celebrate victory, know that there are countless others who are wrestling with defeat.

For those that suffer defeat, let the suffering be temporary and move toward re-uniting a people that have been divided.

No social media post will sway someone’s opinion. No rant will echo with others. No insult need be repaid with insult.

At the end of the day, none of us really know what we’re doing. We’re absorbing information, and making decisions based upon our own experiences, beliefs, and agenda. None of these are wrong. Outside of the sliver of humanity that truly is hateful, the majority of us just want ourselves and others to live happily.

That happiness doesn’t begin with winning an election or an argument.

It begins with understanding that we’re all equally flawed, we all have our reasons, and we’re all just trying to figure it out.

On a day where it will be very easy to remove the human from humanity, we have an opportunity to recognize the commonality we all share – the commonality of the human condition.

To a more human future,

Adam Griffin

What to do When You’re 22

At twenty-two years old I had just graduated college. I moved to a city I didn’t know, got a job at a gym beginning my days at 4am paying what amounted to pennies, and tried to start a company on the side that I had no business starting.

At twenty-three years old I was failing at the aforementioned startup company (of which I borrowed OPM for – Other People’s Money), and not doing much else beyond partying.

At twenty-four years old I talked a girl into marrying me (she somehow overlooked the above two points), gave up on the startup dream, began paying back my OPM debts, and moved to another city that I didn’t know. It was in this new city that I got another job at another gym beginning my days again at 4am paying what again amounted to pennies. I worked for free during the days at a commercial real estate brokerage in the pursuit of a “real career” and hated every minute of it. So I quit.

At twenty-five years old I transitioned from commercial real estate to residential real estate. Though I hated it less, the margin wasn’t by much. So I quit. Again. The next stop on the career merry-go-round led me to the real estate school at a private university where I helped fill their classes with aspiring real estate developers. At last, I enjoyed a job. Unfortunately…I didn’t love the pay. So as the pattern above would tell you, once again I quit.

At twenty-six years old I got a job in sales at a tech startup. It was a gamble, making even less of a salary than I had at the university, but the potential upside of sales was much greater.

From twenty-six to my now thirty-one years of age my life has had the imprint of tech startups all over it, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

The gamble paid off.

I write this simple narrative of my life to respond to the question proposed in the title:

What to do when you’re 22?

The answer? I have no freaking clue.

But I know that it begins with exploring. The 20s are a special decade. They’re a decade that sets the tone for the rest of our lives. We have a map in front of us and can take off in any direction we choose. Some people may enjoy the first path they take, and that’s great for them. But for the rest of us, the first few paths aren’t the correct paths. They teach us what we don’t want to do, which is oftentimes just as valuable as knowing what we do want to do.

When you’re 22, explore.

When you’re 23, explore.

When you’re 24, explore.

When you’re 25, explore.

When you’re 26, explore.

Repeat the pattern above until you find work that you enjoy, that you’re good at, and that serves the world. You have the rest of your life to get really great at something. Spend your 20s figuring out what you want that something to be.

The Purpose Myth

Purpose. It’s one of those concepts similar to finding a soul mate that can leave us doing a lot of aimless searching, often without the sequential finding. Barnes & Noble bookshelves are filled with titles that promise to help us find it. Articles designed to inspire and excite spread like wildfire across the internet with the hopes of finding it. And countless hours are passed thinking about what that elusive it is for our own lives.

But what if…it’s all a myth?

One of the most feared and adored animals on the planet, the lion sits atop the animal kingdom yet is perfectly satisfied with feeding herself and her family, resting, and roaming. There is no thought of purpose. There is simply being. The tree towers above civilization, peering down on life below it passing by, yet is satisfied soaking in enough water but not too much, absorbing enough sun but not too much, and enjoying the views along the way. There is no anxious quest to be a better tree. Now neither trees nor lions have this little thing called the prefrontal cortex that makes humans what we are – animals with the capacity to think about and prepare for future events yet realized. But what evolved in our brains to help us survive turns out to have a second side to its sword, one that can harm us.

Clearly when we look around the world, there are countless people that to the outside world have “found their purpose.” But most of those people didn’t actually find anything. They simply took something that they were moderately good at it, went an inch wide and a mile deep into that skill, and the resulting work is their craft, the thing we mistake for their purpose. When we view it like this, purpose becomes not a question to ask (“What is my purpose?”), but an action to take (building my craft). The problem that has arisen from that tiny little prefrontal cortex and the subsequent relentless pursuit of purpose is that it’s left many of us believing that we’re supposed to shine brighter than the others. And this is where nature all around us shows we’re wrong. The lion does not care to be the greatest lion. Just being a lion and playing its part is enough. The tree does not care to be the greatest tree. Just being a tree and playing its part is enough.

What if, as humans, we’re much closer to nature than we realized, and our time on earth has nothing to do with what the bookstore shelves tell us? What if the key to this whole thing is to socialize with our tribe, contribute to the greater good of the tribe, and simply pass through history like the rest of the living earth? This doesn’t remove purpose from our days. In fact it enhances them. It allows us to focus on the true purpose that we’re wired for – socialization, community, and contribution. Not as individual purposes, but the shared purpose of humanity. Two lions don’t have different purposes, and maybe neither do we?