Appreciation = Joy

11/22/2011 11:59 am ET | Updated Jan 22, 2012

Appreciation is everyday magic.

It grounds me. It lifts me. It expands my mind and spirit while contracting my ego.

When an investment appreciates, it grows. When I appreciate, I make an investment in my own growth.

Naturally, I try to appreciate as often as possible -- in regard to little things as well as major life issues. I have simplified the experience in this personal equation:

Genuine appreciation = genuine joy.

Please don't mistake me. I believe life is hard. And unjust. And cruel. And at times, we can face challenges that seem to overwhelm our capacity to cope.

But life is also sweet and love-abundant. Anywhere you go, at all levels of society, in all cultures, people find ways to pursue their hearts' work, to care for each other and to create marvelous things.

These two world views may seem contradictory and therefore incompatible. In fact, they are only parts of a whole. The contradiction is both natural and useful. The co-existence of loss and love, of sorrow and joy, of dissolution and creation produces a constructive irony which deepens us and helps us develop.

The author Michael Meade, in Fate and Destiny -- The Two Agreements of the Soul, puts it this way:

"Love often appears where deep loss is acknowledged."

Genuine appreciation depends on truthful observation of the world. Such appreciation often multiplies the impact of the beautiful, the serendipitous and the tender things in life. Witness the sun rising -- the tranquil glory of the experience is likely to stay with you all day, bringing joy each time you recall it or share it with a friend.

Yet, appreciation also means facing hard truths and grappling with difficulties. Pain often characterizes these confrontations. But such suffering can also bring us courage, lightness and adaptability as we allow the truth to free us from the limits of preconceived stories and ideas.

I'm talking about that negative voice which pretends to command reality. You've probably heard it, too -- "the system's rigged," "we are doomed," "life sucks," and "it doesn't matter what you do." This voice says it will protect us from disappointment, but really it only offers one guarantee -- that we will lack joy because we are living according to a script that forbids it.

Truthful appreciation of the negative can open my mind as well as my options. The more I appreciate, the more I find that epiphanies are not just things that happen to characters in short stories, they are my everyday experience. The crisis that had me by the neck yesterday -- honestly confronted -- becomes a new awareness that can lead to fulfillment.

Those of us who have gone through separation or divorce know firsthand how hellish a breakup can be. And yet, I know that I grew from the experience. And painful as it was, I would not go back and undo it. I survived it, came to terms with it, and learned a lot about what I value in life from it. Did divorce bring me joy? Of course not. But my understanding of it helped me find joy in the years following.

The true beauty of appreciation is that it dwells in the mind of the beholder. There are no limits. No consumption is required. We are free to use it whenever we like and how often we like. It orients us to finding value and meaning in our experience. It suggests our purpose is to learn, learn and learn again.

Like love, appreciation knows only the bounds we create for it. Like hope, it opens our sense of possibility. Like compassion, it suggests we always have a positive role to play with our companions on this planet. Small wonder I feel joyful writing these words.