Henry David Thoreau once said, “I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” Insightful and deeply relevant in the chaotic space that defines our world. I believe that most of us need to take the time to remind ourselves that feeling thankful is an important ingredient in our ability to live a balanced life. We have a tendency to burn through our days, rarely taking the time to pause, and acknowledge the heartfelt aspects of our lives that beg to be recognized.
Adopting a practice of thankfulness and gratitude on a daily basis initiates a mindset of acceptance. A gratitude practice is an exercise that teaches us to flex a little muscle and steer the direction of our thoughts. For the most part, this empowers us to witness our life from a place of positivity, rather than one of regret or disappointment.
Giving the Positive Aspects More Sticking Power
Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of Psychology at the University of California, is a leading voice in the power of gratitude. His book, Thanks! How the Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, has created a shift in the way we view the impact of our perception on the things in life that matter.
In one study, conducted by Emmons and his colleague Mike McCullough, University of Miami, participants were randomly assigned one of three tasks. Each group kept a journal. The first group listed five things they were grateful for in the past week. The second group was asked to record five negative aspects of the week that caused them displeasure. The third group was instructed to list five events that affected them whether positive or negative. After 10 weeks, the group that had focused on gratitude was more optimistic, happier, had fewer health concerns, and exercised an average of 1.5% more.
Study after study confirms that we can actually train the mind to look at the glass as half-full. There is no doubt that it takes quite a bit of effort; we tend to focus on the negative aspects of our lives. We are creatures of habit and allowing ourselves to recreate our thought process is never an easy task. However, when we take the steps necessary to create an attitude of gratitude, our world becomes a little sweeter.
“The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences, “states psychologist Rick Hanson “and Teflon for positive ones.” By developing a practice of gratitude, we encourage the positive aspects our lives to have more sticking power, and not just slip between the cracks into obscurity.
Creating the Shift
How do we shift our perspective when we are so programmed to cling onto what does not serve us? By consciously utilizing the power of gratitude, we begin to fill that cup one drop at a time. We begin to see the world from a different angle.
In the words of the late Dr. Wayne Dyer, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Gratitude is an attitude; one that we can choose to cultivate. We create our world by the choices we make. What we put our attention on grows, what we take our attention away from withers and fades. When you place your attention on the positive aspects of your days, you breathe life into a place of beauty and acceptance.
Someone recently asked me, “How can I feel grateful when my life is such a mess?” which is a common question when we first dip our toe in the water. Again, it is all in the perspective. I have a client that has a very aggressive form of cancer and he said to me, “I have never felt more grateful than I do now that I am faced with my own mortality. Suddenly, I find gratitude in the scent of spring, the sight of a blue jay, the sound of children laughing.” There is always something to be grateful for, always.
Seven steps towards embracing an Attitude of Gratitude
- Keep a gratitude journal. Each morning, as soon as you wake up write down three things that you are truly grateful for in your life. Sit with them for a few moments. Reflect on your list and bring the feeling gratefulness into your day.
- Remember to love yourself. Look in the mirror and think about something that you like about yourself. Gaze into your own eyes and really appreciate who you are and what you have accomplished in your life.
- Share the love. Remind yourself to tell the people you love why you appreciate them.
- Remember the little things. Before you go to sleep at night, remind yourself once more about the little things in your life that you appreciate.
- Give thanks before each meal. In the age of dashboard dining, we often forget to take a moment and appreciate that we are blessed with a warm meal each day.
- Pray. If you are religious, prayer will also cultivate your gratitude. Start and end your day connecting with your source.
- Meditate on it. When you meditate, your brain wave activity is lowered as you enter into an alpha state. This state ushers you away from the turbulence of schedules, To-Do lists and responsibilities, and into a place of stillness. It is in this place of silence that affirmations more easily find a home in the subconscious portion of your mind.
Morning Gratitude Meditation
- Sit comfortably
- Place your hands on your lap, palms facing up in a receiving position
- Bring your attention to your neck and shoulders, and allow them to relax
- Bring your attention to your mouth
- Open your mouth wide and then allow it to close, allowing space between your upper and lower teeth
- Relax your jaw; let your tongue rest gently on the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth
- Bring your attention to your body and send it a message of relaxation and peace
- Bring your attention to your breath, breathing in and out through your nostrils
- With each inhalation, think the words, “I Am…”
- With each exhalation, think the word, “…truly grateful”
- Now, close your eyes for a few moments and follow your breath repeating the words of gratitude.
- When you are feeling a sense of calm, slowly release your attention from your breath and your words and gently open your eyes.
- Acknowledge the sense of peace you have created.
- It is in this place of stillness that we create positive change; never in a place of turbulence
- When you are ready, close your eyes once again and think, “What am I truly grateful for in my life?”
- Allow the faces, moments, memories and thoughts that fill you with gratitude to visit this space of stillness
- Embrace this moment for as little or as long as you feel comfortable
- When you are ready, slowly open your eyes, and remind yourself to carry the message of gratitude into your day and into your life
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. – Melody Beattie
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