A few weeks ago, I paid off the remaining $2500 balance on my student loans.
I could have continued making low monthly payments for another couple years, but it simply felt better to divorce myself from this institution as quickly as possible.
So I did.
I share this in the context of Thanksgiving (or Appreciation Week as I like to think of it) as I hope to use this event to clarify the distinction between gratitude and appreciation.
Certainly not everyone shares my love of distinctions, but I believe that it’s the attention to details that separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. Because my desire is to create an extraordinary life, and I believe that paying attention to how I feel is the most efficient way to create the outcomes I want, over the years I have found that this particular distinction to be worth its weight in gold (as my mom used to say).
Okay, so here’s the thing…
At this time of year, everyone is telling you to be grateful. Show your gratitude. Count your blessings.
Open just about any self-help book and you’ll get the same stock advice. (And yes, stock advice irritates me.)
While gratitude is all well and good, I want to share why appreciation is better.
At first glance, you may think that gratitude and appreciation are synonymous and I am just playing word games here. I’m not.
Indeed, if you look up the two words in the dictionary, they are used to define each other.
However, if you take the time to go deeper, I’ll think you’ll notice that there’s a small, but very significant difference between the two. And most important, recognizing this difference can make a big impact on what you create in your life going forward.
The underlying distinction I wish to make here is that gratitude and appreciation occupy two different feeling states. They are neighbors, but live in two different zip codes.
If you really open up your palate, you’ll notice that thoughts of gratitude, while often tasty enough, always come paired with the unmistakable tinge of the past. And more often than not, these past thoughts are unwanted. (It’s like drinking a nice sip of wine at a restaurant, swallowing, and then noticing a lipstick stain on the glass. One unwanted thought sours the experience, no matter how sweet the wine.)
In contrast, thoughts of appreciation exist only in the present moment. (Great wine! Lovely glass! Great wine!)
Okay, let’s go back to my example about paying off my student loans to show more about how this works and why this is important.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I began my day noticing thoughts of appreciation. Soon my thoughts drifted back to the last several months and all the pleasing things I’ve created. Clients. Money. Happiness with my family and so on…
And then I remembered that I just paid off my loans a couple weeks ago. As that thought entered my mind, I noticed that my thoughts stopped flowing. My focused deepened.
My thoughts (in order) quickly moved along something like this…
Ah yes, I am so glad to have those loans paid off!
Whew! I am grateful to be out of debt.
Boy am I thankful I don’t ever have to deal with those blood-sucking bastards ever again!
While paying off my loans sounds good, it only took me a few seconds to find myself connecting to a bad-feeling thought from my past unpleasant history with Sallie Mae.
Certainly it makes sense that I should feel good about relieving myself of this debt. And indeed, I am grateful to be free of the loans. But what makes sense or what I should feel is irrelevant.
The only relevant question is, “How do the thoughts I am choosing right now make me feel?”
Why? Because how I feel (and the thoughts I choose) today will determine everything what I create in my life tomorrow. And I am very, very interested in being the deliberate creator of my tomorrows.
So when I think about my loans right now – even though they no longer exist – it does not feel good.
As much as I try, I cannot think about paying off my loans without simultaneously activating the old thoughts of struggle and resentment. It’s just an automatic reflex from years of conditioning. I cannot turn it off. That’s not good or bad, it just is. There’s nothing to fix. Nothing to overcome. Nothing to change.
However, it is in my best interests to pay attention to those feelings.
Here’s the deal…
The Universe does not care how you’re supposed to feel when you think a thought.
It’s not a person. It has no opinion. It does not care about your good intentions (or your bad intentions, for that matter).
The Universe just does one thing. Always.
The Universe simply amplifies whatever you give your attention to. Every time.
It’s a wonderfully clean, mechanical, predictable process. Use it to your advantage!
Because the Universe amplifies (instead of interprets), it’s in your best interest to be very clear in what you are feeding into the machine. Like a boat crossing the ocean, just a few degrees off course can quickly lead you to unintended and unwanted destinations.
Many times you are thinking thoughts that should feel good, but upon closer inspection, do not. Feelings of gratitude often fly under the radar in this way. The first thought or two is usually positive, but if you’re really paying attention, it does not take long for things to go downhill.
Here’s three quick examples from my life contrasting gratitude-based thoughts with their appreciation-focused counterparts…
See if you can feel the difference between them.
Example #1 (My view).
I am grateful for the lovely view from my house. Thank God I have this house! I can’t believe I used to live in the suburbs… Man, that was pretty lame… I am grateful to live here now.
I love my view. I love the sun rising over the mountains. I love seeing the sky and stars. I love the light that comes into the house all day long. I love seeing the wildlife… I could go on and on.
Example #2 (My wife)
I am so grateful for my wife Karin. I don’t know what I would do without her. I’m especially grateful because I can remember all those past relationships that were pretty rocky. Thank God I got out of those relationships. Thank God I have her in my life.
I appreciate my wife. I love talking to her. She makes me laugh. I find her very attractive. She’s very easy to be with. She’s my best friend… I could go on and on…
Example #3 (Money)
I am so grateful I have lots of money in the bank. It was not so long ago that nothing was coming in. My banks accounts were really low. I felt pretty fearful. That’s why it’s such a relief to have money now.
I love having money in the bank. I love the feeling of freedom that I feel from having money. It’s wonderful. I know more is on the way. I love spending it on the things I really like. I want more of this!
So there you go. I share this because understanding (and applying) this distinction between gratitude and appreciation has paid huge dividends for me over the years. Felt it was worth sharing.
Don’t believe me, of course. Try it for yourself.
See which approach feels better than the other and go with it.
The better you feel, the better it gets…
Here’s a video I created on the subject a couple years ago…
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