Sometime last fall, I bought a little purple notebook and called it my gratitude/appreciation book. The purpose of this notebook was to help me figure out what was meaningful in my life. I had just began my dark and confusing “dark night of the soul” phase, so everything that I once thought meant something, came into question.
Each day I had to write 10 things that I was grateful for and 10 things that I appreciated. And yes, there is a difference between gratitude and appreciation. To me, gratitude is being thankful for something in preparation towards appreciating it, while appreciation is fully acknowledging the quality of something you are grateful for. You can be grateful for many things but not appreciate them.
As I wrote my daily lists, I found so many things to be grateful for but realized how much I struggled to find what I truly appreciated.
A few of the many things I was grateful for was: having a really good paying job in an extreme sport, a very loving boyfriend, and a fancy apartment with all sorts of “things” to fill it with, such as nice furniture. However, I realized that when I wrote these things down under the gratitude list, I could not add any of them to my appreciation list, no matter what day it was.
It’s not that I didn’t want to appreciate them, it’s that I couldn’t when I tried. It was very confusing to me. I had all these wonderful things in my life, yet I just felt like I truly didn’t give a shit about most of them.
It took me several months to figure out why I felt this way: I just don’t appreciate things as much, when I have too much. I feel as if I’m happier when I have less because I actually pay attention to what really matters. And to me, that’s something of true value.
Ever since I became homeless a couple of years ago and slept in my Jeep with only a suitcase, my appreciation towards everything has changed. I learned the true meaning of appreciation during that time and it made me realize that if I can’t truly appreciate something, I don’t want it.
There’s no point in having something if you can’t truly appreciate it. And when I mean appreciate it, I mean giving whatever it is high value and paying attention to it without forcing yourself. In my opinion, when you have to force yourself to appreciate something, it really means nothing to you. You only keep whatever it is around because the fear of having less. You’re grateful for it, but you don’t truly appreciate it.
When I lived in my own fancy apartment this past year, I remember looking around at all the “stuff” I had there: the big screen tv, the nice couches, the comfortable bed, the huge bathroom with a huge bathtub, a huge walk in closet that was pretty much empty and a nice kitchen. There were many aspects of this apartment I could flaunt I guess, but I realized how superficial they were to me. I truly did not want any of it because I felt they did not hold any real value. They were just “things” I didn’t really need. I was grateful for all of it, but I did not truly appreciate them.
Then I look back to when I was homeless and sleeping in my Jeep during the first part of 2016. It was cold outside, I struggled to find a safe spot to park every night after work, I was crammed in the back seat, and I wondered if someone was going to try and break in while I was sleeping. I remember how truly excited I got the first time I was able to stay in a motel room no matter what it looked like. All I really cared about was that it had a bed, a shower and the room was warm. That feeling I had was true appreciation and it felt really good.
This made me realize that just being grateful for things doesn’t cut it with me as gratitude only covers the surface. I need more than that. I need to feel the appreciation beyond the gratitude. And the only way I can truly appreciate something is to have less of it.