Gratitude is a magical thing.
In the words of Melody Beattie, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
I think we all agree that gratitude is right and salutary, but how can we really implement into our daily existence and see tangible results?
On this (U.S.) Thanksgiving Day, I’m reminded of the phenomenal effect having a gratitude practice has had on my life, and how in shifting my perceptions from lack/want to appreciation/fullness, I have created a whole new world of abundance and joy. (Yes, that’s a link to the Aladdin song. 😀 )
In short, when we start to appreciate what we have, subtle shifts start to happen. It’s not woo-woo, hippie-dippy stuff either… it’s quantum physics. It’s a brilliant example of how the observer affects that which s/he observes. What we pay attention to/focus on expands in our lives. We just need practice.
And the more we practice gratitude, the better we get at feeling these feelings that create more of what we want, and hence the more we will attract things for which to be grateful.
But like so many things, it must become a habit. A way of living… of thinking… and of being.
Today I share with you a few easy-to-start gratitude practices which can and will change your life if you let them. But even though the practices themselves are essentially easy, keeping them up is the difficult part. You may not see a difference in the beginning, but as you commit to these practices, day after day, the “compounded interest” of sorts, compiled over time, will be truly life changing.
Because the small things that we do every day are what really change our lives.
Perhaps the easiest way to begin the practice of gratitude is with a gratitude journal. Now, this can be as simple as writing down in a notebook three things for which you are grateful before you fall asleep at night. Just three. It will take you a few minutes. Or you can invest in the Tim Ferriss endorsed 5-Minute Journal created by UJ Ramdas, and Mimi & Alex Ikonn. This book/journal is a highly strategic positive psychological way to start reframing your thinking starting with just 5 minutes a day. My amoureux and I started using it a while ago, and we love it.
Why: The practice of focusing your attention on the positive, on the good, on what’s working puts you in the field of appreciation and in the field of attracting more to feel grateful for and about.
Maybe “journaling” isn’t your thing, and you’d prefer to have a gratitude jar. It’s a similar concept, and both are effective. Here’s how it works: every day you write one thing on a small piece of paper and pop it into the jar.
Why: Same principle as the journal, but what’s so great about this approach is if ever you’re having a difficult moment (feeling sorry for yourself, or focusing too much on all that you don’t have,) pull out four or five pieces of paper, and read these things out loud. Shift your focus from what you don’t have, to all that you do.
Easy enough, right? Sure. But this goes beyond the perfunctory, “Thanks!” when you’re handed your tea at Starbucks, or you’re treated to lunch by a friend. When someone does something really nice for you, take the time to truly express your gratitude. Look someone in the eye, take your time, and say something to the effect of, “I really appreciate that you _______. It really makes me feel _______. Thank you so much.”
Another way to do this is through a classic thank you note. Sadly, nowadays, handwritten correspondence is falling by the wayside, but thank you notes are an excellent way to go above and beyond a simple “thanks.” They show attention and care and really convey your gratitude in that you took the time to buy a card, handwrite it, find/buy a stamp, and put it in the mailbox. Which, again, now in the age of technology and email, this seems like the equivalent time-wise of buying a can of pumpkin puree instead of taking the time to roast your own pumpkin. (We know which one’s better. 😉 )
Why: I can’t even convey all the feel-good feelings that are going to be swimming in your body whilst you write this… and chances are that person will be so touched and surprised that they will share their gratitude with you for having taken the time to really express yours. Gratitude — the gift that keeps on giving.
It may be your best friend, your mom, your spouse, but including another person in your quest to practice more gratitude in your life can be a game changer. Every day, in the evening, for example, you and your gratitude buddy text or email each other with just “I’m grateful for this, this, and that.” Simple, but rewarding.
Why: This practice creates accountability, reminds you of other things for which to be grateful, and also it encourages you to think positively. The beauty of having a partner with this exercise is that even on those not-so-sensational days, you’ll still have to think of three things to share with your gratitude buddy. You can’t let him/her down, after all!
Food. Unfortunately on our planet, food is thing many go without. So many. If you are fortunate enough to not only have food to eat, but also the possibility to make a choice about what kind you consume, taking a moment to be grateful is, I think, our duty. It is our duty, and also a humbling honor given the state of things for so many people on this planet.
Why: We are what we eat. By pausing for a minute to “bless”, or simply be thankful to have food, we are practicing gratitude, and priming ourselves for a mindful eating experience.
It may sound perhaps slightly off topic, but the more you perform acts of kindness, be they random or not, the more you will feel connected. The more you will feel the oneness of all of creation. Plus, when we do nice things for others the more we like ourselves… making gratitude almost involuntary.
Why: Without loving kindness, there can be no gratitude. Timeless concepts explain this: Reciprocity… Karma… Cause and effect…. Call it what you want, but it’s a thing. A real thing.
To conclude, let us all ask ourselves the following question:
Could my life be better than it already is? If your answer is yes, chances are you could truly benefit from a gratitude practice.
The following quote by one of my favorite teachers, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, seems to me like the perfect quote or prayer to read before any Thanksgiving meal. It is a reminder of the wholeness of life, the inherent abundant nature of our planet, and the part that we must play in it through action and intent.
“This food is the gift of the whole universe—the earth, the sky, and much hard work. May we live in a way that makes us worthy to receive it. May we transform our unskillful states of mind, especially our greed. May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness. We accept this food so that we may realize the path of practice.”
With love and gratitude to you, dear readers.