This is the fourth of 10 posts I’m writing about how to combine gratitude and compassion for a happier life. The inspiration for this series comes from the following research finding:
“Because of the way your brain works, the pursuit of gratitude and compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness itself.” – Dr Amit Sood, from the Mayo Clinic
Wow! Might be worth a try, huh?
How can we implement this in practice to turbo-power our happiness?
I’ve come up with a simple 4-part framework for combining gratitude and compassion, and I’m sharing how to do that using 10 different examples in 10 posts. In each post I focus on a different area of gratitude as a jumping off point.
This week my gratitude reference point is Boundaries.
In my last post in this series I wrote about vulnerability. Something I’ve come to realise in my life, is that vulnerability and boundaries go hand in hand.
Learning how to be vulnerable didn’t come naturally or easily for me. How to open up about my feelings, my dreams, my challenges, my desires, my grief, my glory, my shadow, my shame, my deepest longings and my inner fears… all that was and is an incredibly important part of my growth.
AND none of it was possible for me without boundaries.
Why is vulnerability important? If you’re aware of the work of Brene Brown, you’ll be familiar with the idea that vulnerability leads to authentic connection, and it helps us build compassion and empathy. It heals. It builds bridges. When we’re able to be vulnerable, it helps us understand ourselves better. And in deepening our own inner experiences we deepen our ability to empathise with the experiences of others.
Basically, it expands our capacity for love and humanity.
So vulnerability is pretty amazing. (By the way, if you haven’t heard of Brene Brown before please check out her TED talks, they are brilliant).
How do we expand our ability to be vulnerable?
In my last post I talked about DISCERNMENT. And that is definitely part of it for me. Learning who it’s safe for me to be vulnerable with and who it isn’t.
Creating healthy BOUNDARIES is another key.
When we actively choose what we will and won’t allow to take root in our lives, we are placing our boundaries. And you know what? Not everyone likes it. Especially when they notice they are bumping up against one.
I discovered that sometimes I had to choose: between my growth and evolution, or forsaking myself in order to try and make EVERYONE ELSE happy. I chose my growth, because I realised that I can’t make everyone else happy anyway. That’s their job.
Once you weed out the situations, the habits (and yes, sometimes the people) that are holding you back… and you actively choose to hang out with the people, engage in the situations and develop the habits that will support your growth… then things really start to transform.
You declare by your actions what has real permission to show up in your life, and what doesn’t. So be careful with those choices. It’s one thing to want it. It’s another to actively choose it.
I’m Grateful for learning that boundaries are an important element in accelerating my growth, and that they create a safe space for me to be vulnerable enough to really connect with others.
When my boundaries are squishy, it’s usually because I’m trying to please someone. Or worse, I’m bending over backwards, tying myself into a pretzel trying to please everyone. That’s a losing proposition. In all my (nearly 50) years on this planet, I’ve never managed to please everyone in my life. Not once.
There were times when I sure did exhaust myself trying though… and looking back I realise what a waste of energy that was.
I know how defeating that exhaustion can feel, because not only had I failed to please everyone, I’d also abandoned myself and my own needs, dreams and desires in the process. That’s a lose-lose situation.
I have a lot of compassion for people who struggle with this kind of pattern in their lives.
Now, looking at things from the other side for a minute… let’s have some compassion also for the people we’re trying to please. Underneath it all, if they really love us, they do want the best for us. It’s just sometimes people can get some very fixed ideas about what IS best for us, and then they might try and push those ideas on us. That can be annoying, but let’s remember the love and good intentions that their misguided pushiness comes from.
That’s where healthy boundaries can really help. If we can stand strong in our boundaries then we get to say “Thank you for your suggestions, I’ll definitely consider them. I know you love me, that you want the best for me, and that’s where you’re coming from in thinking I should do XYZ… at the same time, please trust me to know what’s best for me.”
Clear boundaries allow us to acknowledge the love of others; feel grateful for it and appreciative of their concern; listen to what they have to say and take it on board if it’s helpful… all without getting trapped in an unhealthy battle of wills.
Sometimes all the person giving the advice really wants is to be heard and acknowledged by you. They’re trying to show their love and concern, and they may also want to feel that you value their input. Most people in these situations want to be appreciated, and they want to know that you know they love you.
When you can do that, then things will start to move back to a win-win situation.
This is based on a Buddhist practice called Metta. It involves imagining sending ‘loving kindness’. What’s that? I imagine it to be like the feeling you get from a loving, nurturing hug.
Firstly, for all the times in my life that I’ve tried to please others but forsaken myself, I send loving kindness to myself. And, for all the times that I’ve pushed my “you should do XYZ” opinions on others too forcefully, or gotten upset with them when they didn’t follow my advice, I send loving kindness to myself.
(The practice of compassion always begins with the self. If we can’t practice self-compassion then it’s going to be very hard for us to have compassion for others.)
I once had a good friend when I was younger who always complained about her boyfriend. Like, non-stop. Finally one day I said: “You should just break up with him. Obviously he doesn’t make you happy.” Well, she followed my advice. But then she was even more miserable and she blamed me! Clearly I did NOT know what was best for her. I forgive myself for that, and for lots of other mistakes… I send my younger self, who didn’t know any better, loving kindness.
Secondly, for all the people I love, respect, and admire… I send them loving kindness for all the times they feel torn between pleasing others and following their own inner guidance system. They may be conflicted in this way without me knowing it. I send them loving kindness.
Thirdly, for all the people I don’t even know who may be struggling in this way… I send loving kindness. For all the people I do know but don’t have much of a relationship with, who may also be struggling with this… I send loving kindness.
Fourthly, for all the people I know who actually irritate me, or people that I’m currently having issues with who may also be struggling in this way… I send them loving kindness. Especially people who I’ve wanted to please but know I can’t!
What can I do this week to put it into action? How can I express my gratitude for having developed healthy boundaries, while at the same time practice compassion for myself and others who have expectations that are not always met, or who give advice that is not always followed?
This week, if someone offers me advice, I pledge that I’m just going to listen to them. I’m not going to say “yeah but…” and tell them why I don’t think their advice applies to me. I might not act on their advice in the end (and I certainly won’t do that just to please them) but I will give them my full attention. I’ll keep an open mind. And I’ll ask them why they think XYZ is the right thing to do in this situation. Is it something that they’ve done in the past that worked? Or is it something they’re suggesting because they once did the opposite and that didn’t work out for them?
I’ll look for the story behind their advice… because talking with them about that story, listening to their experiences and what they learned, asking questions about how it felt for them… well, that’s probably going to be really interesting. And it’s probably going to bring us closer together.
Afterwards, I’ll thank them for caring enough to want to give me guidance born of their own experience. I’ll let them know how much I appreciate it. (Even if I still don’t think it applies to me!)
What can you do to combine gratitude and compassion this week?
Let me know in the comments if this post has helped you!
To YOUR Abundance,
Julie Ann Cairns