The Magic of Gratitude
I often suggest that my clients keep a gratitude journal, so I wanted to share a few thoughts today about bringing greater appreciation into life. Gratitude practice appears deceptively simple yet has the power to radically transform your life in a relatively short space of time.
Gratitude is a fundamental aspect of ancient wisdom. In my early 20s I was introduced to Lam Rim Buddhist teachings which includes meditations on cultivating an appreciation of this precious human life. As I travelled around India, I was exposed to horrendous suffering, previously unimaginable to me, on a daily basis. Meditating on Lam Rim whilst being exposed to such suffering had a profound impact on who and how I am; it changed the course of my life completely. Returning home after an extended period of travelling I wanted to shake people up to what I had seen, felt and experienced. However it became increasingly apparent to me that no matter what people possess or experience in life, the feeling of not being enough or having enough is incredibly common, driving us to busy-ness in order to be more and get more to fulfil this lack. I’d studied business and marketing at university and I could see that the advertising industry preys on this sense of insufficiency. It constantly manipulates us to sell the illusion that we’ll be happier / better / more fulfilled / more attractive once we consume their product. When we look outside ourselves for happiness and satisfaction, the experience is only ever going to be fleeting; and so the endless cycle rolls on.
Learning to develop an attitude of appreciation and gratitude stops this cycle in it’s tracks as we learn to connect with the blessings already present in our lives.
Leading gratitude researcher Robert Emmons describes gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life.” His research indicates that people who practice expressing gratitude regularly experience a 25% increase in happiness and what’s more the results are fast! Just a few hours spent journaling over a few weeks can create a positive upward spiral which lasts up to six months. A regular gratitude practice not only benefits our emotional health, but our physical health as well.
Some of the many benefits to practicing gratitude include improved self-esteem, increase in positive emotions, better sleep, more energy and improved relationships. A deeper appreciation of the many blessings in life also leads to greater spiritual awareness and connection.
While it’s easy to feel appreciation for the big stuff in life, like a new job or a special holiday, gratitude practice goes much deeper than that. It’s about learning to seek out and appreciate the simple pleasures life brings. It means opening your heart to the beauty of life; recognising and connecting with the small moments of delight however fleeting. That might be a smile from a stranger, watching the sun set or noticing the first flowers of spring. It’s about bringing greater awareness into your day and actively focusing on small, previously unnoticed events and experiences. Gratitude practice is an active process. Don’t just wait to feel it – actively look for those magical moments and you’ll gradually be discovering more and more of them.
Practicing gratitude regularly creates shifts in your consciousness changing the way you perceive things by adjusting what you focus on. It also boosts your serotonin and dopamine levels – that’s what anti-depressants do too!
I know it’s not always easy – I’ve had some pretty major challenges to overcome in my life. Even if you can’t find anything on some days even just looking is beneficial! Actively searching for something will still help by activating positive neural pathways.
Ideas for practicing gratitude
- The most important thing to bear in mind is to make your practice regular. Whether it’s once a day, twice a week or once a week doesn’t really matter – but commit to a regular practice and do it! Aim to get into a routine that works for you. Some people like to do it last thing at night, others are too tired then – find what works for you and stick with it.
- The most common gratitude practice is to keep a journal and this is usually what I’ll ask my clients to do. Write at least three things you’re grateful for every day.
- Start a gratitude jar – a great one for children. Every day write on a slip of paper the things you’re grateful for and pop it in the jar. At the end of the year you can open the jar and look back through those memories.
- Incorporate gratitude into your meditation practice or prayers.
- Share with your family or partner things you’re each grateful for that day – perhaps before your evening meal or at bedtime.
- It’s all too easy to take the mundane things in life for granted – say thank you more often for everyday things – whether it’s a good night sleep, a hot shower first thing in the morning or your partner doing the washing up.
- Choose a gratitude theme for a few days or a week and focus on that specifically, eg. health, family, friendship, community, food, money, services, nature etc.
- There’s so much to appreciate in nature, especially at this time of year when everything is bursting into life. Take some time out to stop and really deeply appreciate the joys of spring…gentle sunlight filtering through pale green leaves, the vibrant colours of spring flowers and blossom, the smell of the earth after a fresh shower of rain…
- Be specific with your gratitude practice. Don’t just say ‘I’m grateful for my family’ – be specific, eg. ‘I really appreciated that lovely phone call from my sister – she always makes me smile.’
- Focus on new things each day – you’ll soon find your practice boring if you write the same stuff day after day.
- As much as you can feel the gratitude as well as writing it.
- How else can you express your appreciation of life….can you paint it, dance it, sing it? Find different ways to express your gratitude to prevent your practice from going stale.
- Write a letter of thanks – for an even more powerful experience deliver the letter yourself and read it out to the person. Some people have described this as a life changing experience.
- Place visual reminders around your home or workplace to remind you to honour the beauty of life; the small moments of delight.
- Life is not always easy – I know that. Attempt to be grateful for the hard stuff too. What have you learned from that experience? What strengths have you used to cope? Have you discovered anything about yourself? Is there anything positive at all that you can take from that experience? What will you do differently next time and how helpful is it to know that now?
- Practice mindfulness and aim to cultivate gratitude in the moment of now as you go through your day.
Do you already practice gratitude? How has it changed your life? What ideas can you share…I’d love to hear from you 🙂 If not, what are you waiting for…start today and watch the magic unfold in your life!