I like to lift weights—as in deadlifting several hundred pounds.
I’ve got a black belt, I’ve wrestled and played football in high school, and I have remodeled more than one bathroom with my own hands. I like to think that along with being in touch with my feminine side, I’ve got a masculine side to me as well.
That is why I would like to talk about something that I think can be incredibly manly: gratitude.
It’s probably not something that the poster boy of manliness, John Wayne, reflected on on a regular basis—but guess what? The modern man today gets to define manhood from within, not by worrying about conforming to anyone’s expectations. Certainly not society’s.
It’s not a stretch to say that everyone wants to be happy these days. Since we have solid research showing that daily thankfulness can make one happier, any truly modern man ought to—in my opinion—take a look at practicing daily gratitude.
Even though I’ve lived in Berkeley, California, for more than a decade, dug a food compost in my backyard (long before it was “cool”), and there was a period of time during med school in which pretty much all my clothes were from a thrift store, when it comes to practicing gratitude, I was a bit of a late bloomer.
I grew up Catholic, a religion in which prayer of giving thanks is a common practice, but I never really thought about how much I needed gratitude—or how the practice might really contribute to my well-being or life—until well into my adult career. I just didn’t ponder on it until I seemingly “had it all,” but I still wasn’t really happy.
Years after graduating med school and residency, I had achieved many of my dreams—to become a doctor and be able to really help people at work in the ER. I had a house, a 401K, a daughter, and a sweet 2001 Honda Civic (the EX, at that—please try to control your envy!).
But, in a big way, I wasn’t happy. Sure, I was making great money—but I was working too much. I was burnt out. When I cut back on work, but still wasn’t happy—and the vacation life didn’t do it either—I started researching happiness. And, time and time again, I found one of the Catholic prayer practices from my childhood—gratitude—coming up as a practice of happiness.
My first impression was this was too “touchy-feely” for guys like me. Dudes thankful for the grass and dirt diet they ate? Lame. But since what I was doing wasn’t working, I was open to trying something new—and so, I began to practice daily gratitude.
Here’s how I did it, pretty simply: I began to take a few minutes in the morning to think about two things for which I am grateful. First, a small thing—and second, a bigger thing.
Being thankful for the small things—like the carpet padding in my bedroom, or the little hummingbirds outside my window—helps me to stop and smell the roses. It grounds me back into the present moment.
And often, what ends up happening (for me, anyway) is that when I start the day looking for something to be thankful for, I often continue noticing little things throughout the day. As it turns out, there are good things everywhere—if you are, of course, looking for them.
I’m great at being negative and finding imperfections. As an ER doctor, that is a very useful skill. If someone comes in dying, small changes in skin color or the size of their pupils can give a wealth of clues that may save a life. But, looking for the abnormal can make the rest of my life miserable, especially my health or my relationships. So, starting the day with a solid dose of gratitude can break me out of that mindset by resetting my perspective a bit.
And what I’ve noticed is that these couple minutes of gratitude at the beginning of the day make a huge difference. It can often add points on my 1-10 scale of daily happiness.
It sounds crazy, I know—but it works for me, and I believe it can work for you too.
So, a minute of being thankful for something small—and then, a minute of being grateful for a bigger thing, like people I know, or my daughter, or my sister. Or, just being alive and having my health. Or, being a doctor and having the incredible opportunity to impact lives.
With the bigger item, I like to tap into and stir emotions deeper than simple pleasures. I like to connect to the big stuff: my big “why” and mission. And, I like to revel in some of the tangible things I’m really lucky to have.
I’ve since learned to go a little further with my morning gratitude moment as well. You’re going to think I’m nuts. (Even I think I’m nuts, but try this anyway!)
When I get the feeling of being genuinely thankful for what I have (it takes a moment to relax into it), I amplify this feeling. I make it bigger and bigger—more powerful—almost overwhelming or exploding. I visualize it as gold light glowing in my body, bursting out, and overflowing from my fingers, blasting out of my ears and hair. (With some pretty sweet sound effects too.) Sometimes, I imagine it all coming back to my center core—or sometimes, I’ll just leave it glowing and overflowing, because I have so much to give.
How’s that for a start to a day? Charged with gratitude. It feels incredible. Not as good as lifting heavy weights, but pretty good for a two-minute mind pump.
Modern men can lift weights—and modern men can practice gratitude. Modern men can be happy. The modern man can have it all.
Author: Larry Burchett
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Danielle Beutell