The 45-minute drive home last Wednesday night from Leavenworth to Overland Park, Kansas gave me some time to think. I just dropped off my younger son, Andrew, for a five-day personal development seminar, and I welcomed the chance to remember a similar night six years ago.

Andrew, I concluded, was fortunate. Attending as a 17-year-old would give him valuable resources he could use for his entire life. I received these same tools shortly after my 41st birthday.

Not that I’m unappreciative to have received these tools later in life, just the opposite. In a way, I received a new lease on life and the opportunity to look at my world from a different point-of-view. For that, I will always be grateful.

Before attending the seminar, I didn’t understand the blessings that existed around me. I was too busy focusing on what I should have and less aware of what I already had. Knowing my son was about to walk in the same training room I once entered gave me the opportunity to recall the person I used to be.

Now, several years later, I’m finding peace and confidence in knowing the person I’m becoming. One catalyst for this growth was in the realization of the gifts that already existed around me- but did not know how to acknowledge or appreciate.

For the past six years I have attempted to live in every moment. Savoring what’s before me and what’s in my life right now has made all the difference in rebuilding my relationships with my children; with strengthening my marriage; and with learning how to love and value myself more.

Making the shift

Learning how to want what you have can bring peace and happiness – it has brought me peace and happiness. To shift from wanting more of what we think we need to appreciating what we have, takes patience and a dose of courage, too. Consider these three steps to begin the shift:

    Live with compassion. Compassion gives us the capability to open our heart and share it with any one we choose. By doing so, we sometimes experience a change of heart.

    Feeling true compassion allows us to tap into feelings deep within ourselves. When we begin to feel the pain of others we become better prepared to face our own pain with a keener sense of awareness. Sometimes by helping others connect to their hearts, we become more connected to our own.

    Increase your awareness. Begin to pay closer attention to what’s going on around you. Appreciate the tight hug from your child, enjoy the twenty minutes your family gathers to eat and reconnect, understand what you have today can be gone tomorrow.

Attention is a state of mindfulness that prompts us to stay alert and soak-in what’s happening right now. There’s no question there are many distractions which are vying for our attention. We can become lost in checking email, watching television or just simply decompressing from a particularly stressful day.

Over time, and without much warning, we can find ourselves disconnected from what, and who, is most important to us. Slowly, we turn into a human doing and away from a human being.

However, learning to become more attentive is a skill that can be developed and nurtured. Focus on the details around you. If someone is attempting to have a conversation, become fully present for the conversation. Make eye contact and acknowledge what is being said.

The ability to increase our awareness does not add more details, and then by extension, more stress to our lives. Sharper awareness actually allows us to sort through the unimportant and lock-in on the truly important. Awareness provides a better understanding of what we do have.

    Show gratitude. Gratitude isn’t just a kind gesture, it’s also a state of mind and a way of life. What keeps most of us from showing gratitude is when we want more than what we have.

It’s difficult to show gratitude when we are making comparisons. Statements like, “I will be happy when…,” undermine our potential to show gratitude because it implies there’s little to be grateful for right now.

To learn the power of gratitude, find opportunities to show your appreciation. Practice saying “Thank you,” more often to the people and experiences you encounter. If you truly feel the person or event provided value for you, let it be known.

By blessing others with gratitude something amazing happens – you become blessed, too. In those blessings, you will find the peace to be grateful for what you have, right now.

Finding home

Leavenworth, Kansas is a town of prisons. The United States Penitentiary is located on one end of town and Fort Leavenworth, the only maximum security prison for the United States military, is on the other. Somewhere in the middle sits a community center that contains no locks on the doors or bars on the windows. But when I first stepped inside six years ago I thought I would never be free.

My fear held me captive. I was terrified to let go and relinquish my need to be perfect in everything I did. My pursuit of perfection kept me from seeing what was right in front of me – waiting there, perfectly for me.

What was waiting for me was my life. A life that I didn’t think belonged to me because I wasn’t worthy to receive it, or so I thought.

Now, six years later, I can’t wait to continue living it. I have everything I want. It is all around me and in me. My life is full of beautiful gifts and moments. I get to wake-up in a warm bed, write about wonderful things, hang-out with my kids on the weekends and I get to kiss my wife every night before we go to sleep.

I may not do everything perfectly, but at least I get to do them. And that is enough for me.

Entering my neighborhood after the drive home from Leavenworth I noticed the lights on my house. They appeared much brighter and seemed to have enough power to pull my car the rest of the way. Sitting in my driveway, I allowed the memory to linger a few moments longer.

I felt happiness knowing my son would have some life-changing tools he could rely on for a very long time. I felt peace knowing I now have the power to appreciate what I have. This feeling of peace feels warm and comforting. It feels natural and truer to who I always knew I could be. This feeling of peace feels like home and it feels like I’m finally free.

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