by Lucila McElroy
Welcome to the Gratitude Graffiti Project 2015! I hope that you can find a moment to create your “Gratitude Stop” or visit one around town! A “Gratitude Stop” is simply a place where you can share what you are grateful for and inspire others to do the same!
This year, I wanted to start by sharing a personal story about why I was inspired to start the project. So here we go…
Looking from the outside, my life has looked like a happy and successful one. I have had a successful life coaching career, reaching and exceeding most goals I set out for myself. I have a healthy family, a husband, three well adjusted daughters and a beautiful home in an idyllic tree lined street.
Looking in, however, I have struggled with feelings of anxiety, depression and “not good enough”.
For as long as I can remember I have been on the search for happiness. What I hadn’t realized is that I had unconsciously “bought into” one of the most prevalent beliefs of our society today – the belief that Happiness comes from something outside of ourselves and it will come (for real and everlasting) when we finally reach whatever we deem as “perfect” in our mind. The “perfect” job, the “perfect” husband or family, the “perfect” Zen, even. I achieved my “perfect” world over and over again, and within minutes, hours or days of achieving my goals I became desperate and disappointed, judging my achievements and suffering through my search for happiness, ready to reach for the next level of “perfect”.
This belief came with a huge consequence: I gave up all control over my happiness. I was so busy wanting to reach my goals to feel “good enough”, that I could not see what I already knew deep down.
The chase for the “perfect” life ended when I realized that I had it all backwards. My happiness was not something I had to chase but something I had to train in, from within. My teacher, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, says that the real cause of happiness is inner peace, which can be found only within the mind, not in external conditions.
So how does one train from within to feel happy? How does one develop inner peace?
For me, it started with a shift in belief that I CAN train my mind (like we do the muscles in our body) to feel happy. What I have since discovered is a set of practices that if contemplated, studied and used can single pointedly and methodically nurture us from within and transform our world. One of these is the practice of gratitude, so simple that it’s often overlooked as a skill to develop, a choice in lens from which to see the world moment by moment.
And this is why Candice (co-founder of the project) and I, along with now the many volunteer community champions, decided to bring the practice to our communities through The Gratitude Graffiti Project. Realizing that we need support and the reminder to practice gratitude our project is now part of towns all over the world helping people develop this life changing skill.
Within a few years, our “gratitude stops”, inviting people to express their gratitude on windows, ribbons or paper, are in hundreds of locations from NJ, to California to Canada and Hong Kong, including schools, hospitals, retail stores, a hospice, restaurants, coffee shops, libraries and your homes.
I believe the reason why our project is spreading like wildfire is because we no longer want to feel dissatisfied, busy and overwhelmed. We are all longing to feel happy but we haven’t learned “how” to methodically and systematically increase our feelings of inner peace.
As many participants have now reported, our project provides the “how” and it’s so very simple.
What are you grateful for today? Now go share it!
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