capturing the beautiful calamity of healing in therapy

The 3-Ingredient Good Life Recipe

If I had to break down “how to have a good life” into an equation, it would go something like this: If you can’t find happiness, find passion. And if you can’t find passion, find purpose. And if you can’t find purpose, find gratitude. And if you can’t find gratitude, find acceptance. Start at one of these levels, and you can achieve all of the above.

The 3 required ingredients are: Passion, Gratitude, and Acceptance.

You don’t need the money, the job, the flashy life, or anything external for that matter. You don’t need to go out and get anything at all. It’s already inside of you, waiting to be cultivated. Anything else is extra.

Let’s start with passion because it’s fun and because it’s something we’ve all likely experienced at least once in our lifetimes. In this beautiful, crazy world, there is so much to learn and experience, and no that doesn’t always mean skydiving out of airplanes (though it definitely can!).

The point is, passion means getting lost in something you find fulfilling. Psychologists have coined this term as flow, the state of total immersion and total involvement. In flow, time and outside thoughts dissipate, as energy is channeled into the activity at hand. The focus is sharp; you don’t have room for anything else to take your attention. Find your flow! This is your permission for the best homework assignment ever. You may find flow in one hobby, but you may find it in several. It can be athletic or artistic, solo or in a group, indoors or outdoors. For example, I can achieve flow when I’m hiking or writing. I can also achieve it when I’m playing tennis or reading a good book. I know others who lose track of time it through other activities: gardening, painting, fixing up things around the house, cooking, dancing, playing with their pets.

I interpret flow as a means of passion and mindfulness, all of which evoke a more sustained level of happiness. Passion revitalizes and gives life so much meaning than the series of work, eat, and sleep. It colors the universe; shades it into the picture we want it to be. Passion is the barrier between merely existing and actually living.

Where passion gives our recipe to the good life flavor and tastiness, gratitude gives us sustenance. Gratitude, I believe, is the universal equalizer, the humbled force that allows us to reflect and appreciate. Cultivating gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does need to be authentic.

How to start with gratitude?  Who/what/where would you miss if they/it were gone tomorrow? That’s what you’re grateful for. You start it there. You write it down, you think about it before you go to sleep, you remind yourself about it when you’re feeling stressed, you share it with somebody you love, you do whatever works for you to make this a nonnegotiable part of your life. There is no right way to ‘do gratitude,’ but it needs to be cultivated and embraced.

If you think you have nothing to be grateful for, you will never have a good life. Tough words, but it’s the truth. A life without gratitude is a hollow one, a constant chase towards something bigger, better, an faster. So, find something/someone to be grateful for. It can be the sunshine. It can be coffee or a comfortable pillow. It can be anything at all. Gratitude grows, just like a plant, as long as you water it.

The last ingredient, and this is the bonding agent for gratitude and passion, is acceptance. Acceptance is the tricky one for most.  We can be generally grateful and know how to have fun while still loathing and/or beating harshly on ourselves. Acceptance is comfort and peace with exactly what is. It doesn’t mean liking or not liking; it means neutrality; it means “being with it” rather than resisting it. The aforementioned ‘it’ can be applied to any person, place, or thing. Many people who enter therapy struggle with this phenomenon. After all, they came to change something! However, as Carl Rogers once famously quoted, The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.

Acceptance, like gratitude, is something that needs to often be practiced in various ways. For most, it will not come naturally, and it will need to be mentally exercised and sharpened over time. Life itself has no ethics, bounds, rules, or regulations; acceptance allows us to continue enjoying life in spite of that.

The great part about this Good Life formula? It doesn’t matter where you start. They are all connected and attached to one another, all of them can bring each other up (and bring each other down). If your life isn’t “good,” one (or more) ingredients is likely lacking or weakened. Take an inventory of your recipe and massage what needs to be grown.