tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Gratitude is key to living in the moment

One of the big mistakes that so many people make in life is they always think about the future. They never take pleasure in the moment because they are always worried about tomorrow or next week, next month or next year. They can never enjoy the present because they are too concerned about what they are going to do later. This is a particular problem for men, who by nature tend to be goal-oriented. Women, who generally are more process-oriented, don’t seem to fall into this trap quite so often.

I am convinced that excessive want, sometimes called greed, is at the root of this problem. People who always want something are always looking ahead to when they might get it; they cannot appreciate what they have and where they are at that moment. People who cultivate a real sense of gratitude find it much easier to live in the present.

I have found this to be an important concept in my business. As a reporter, I am frequently interviewing people. In my early days, I used to worry more about what I was going to ask next than about what the person was saying. I never really listened to the person because I was thinking ahead. I wasn’t appreciating the value of the moment, because I was worried about the future.

Over the years, I have become much better at interviewing. I make a great effort to really listen to people when they take the time to answer. I don’t think much about what I’m going to ask. Often, I find, an obvious question comes out of their response. I don’t have to dream up the next question; they basically give it to me. My interviews now are much better than they were 25 years ago.

I connect with people much better today than I did 25 years ago because I really try to live in the moment with the person I am talking to. I make the most of the present. This concept has proven fruitful in my work, but it has really been helpful at home. I try to live in the moment with my wife and kids. I try to give them my attention without being distracted. I actually put the newspaper down when Susan asks me something. I look my kids in the eye when they talk to me. This is simple, perhaps silly, stuff, but it has made a big difference in my life. I am grateful that they actually want to talk to me. I am thankful that they care what I might have to say. Since I started to really value the conversations and time I have with my wife and kids, I realize I don’t have to want anything for the future because I have so much in the present.

There are 525,600 minutes in a year. I invite you to commit that number to memory. If we can easily count each minute, then let’s make an effort to really live each minute. Rather than skipping over any of those minutes, really make an effort to live each of them. This is what I learned to do when interviewing people. This is what I try to do on the job. When an employee, customer or vendor brings something to me, I really try to live in that moment with them. That means listening to what they are saying, taking time to comprehend it and think about it. And this is what I try to do at home.

So much of respecting another person’s human dignity is simply acknowledging them. That means that when they initiate interaction with you, you take that interaction seriously. You shut out distractions so you can really focus on them. If they sit down next to you for five minutes, give them the full five minutes. Relationships are built one minute at a time and we should be thankful for each minute of attention that anyone gives us.

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