In the 1980s, I started a daily practice that I still maintain today. I was attending an intense personal growth workshop at Deerwood, Minnesota. One night, as I lay on the top bunk in a rustic dorm room filled with a dozen women, someone mentioned her practice of gratitude.
Aware of my natural tendency to focus on the half-empty cup, I decided to try it that night. I did it again the next night and the next. Now, more than 20 years later, I still continue with a gratitude practice each day.
Why? It helps me shift my attention to the positive, improve my perspective, and appreciate what is working well in my life. This, in turn, increases my energy and my happiness. Not a bad outcome for an investment of five minutes or less a day!
Could Gratitude Help You?
It’s easy to drift into focusing on the negative, on problems, and on what isn’t working in your life. But what you focus on expands. So focusing on the negative and on problems gets you more of that, not the enjoyment and fulfillment in life you long for.
If you could use a little improvement in your attitude (and who couldn’t!) gratitude could be very helpful.
Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at University of California, Davis, says gratitude is “an attitude we can choose that makes life better for ourselves and for other people. I think about it as the best approach to life. . .When things go well gratitude enables us to savor things going well. When things go poorly gratitude enables us to get over those situations and realize they are temporary.”
Psychologists, spiritual teachers, writers, and researchers say that gratitude can:
** Increase your energy and optimism
** Shift your focus to what has gone well or delighted you
** Help you not take things for granted
** Make you more resilient to life’s hassles and stress
** Encourage your satisfaction with life
** Increase your compassion
** Enrich your experience of life
** Increase your happiness and well-being
** Improve your health
Who doesn’t want some or all of this?
A Gratitude Practice
So how do you incorporate more gratitude into your life? I recommend a daily practice of some kind. For instance, you could:
– Keep a gratitude journal. Each night write five things for which you are grateful.
– Before you go to bed, give thanks for one thing for which you’ve never before been consciously grateful.
Making the practice a part of your daily routine will regularly focus your attention on gratitude. Knowing you’ll be doing this each evening will raise your awareness and attention throughout the day. “Oh, I need to remember that tonight.” “What am I going to be grateful for this evening?”
Grateful to Whom?
Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity church, wrote “It has been found by experience that a person increases his blessings by being grateful for what he has. Gratitude even on the mental plane is a great magnet. When gratitude is expressed from the spiritual standpoint it is powerfully augmented.”
If you believe in God, a Supreme Being, the Universe, or a Higher Power, send your gratitude in those directions. If you don’t believe or aren’t sure what you believe in, focus more on what you’re grateful for and don’t worry about to what or whom you are grateful. It will still work!
Grateful for What?
In my initial gratitude practice, each night as I brushed my teeth (I couldn’t miss the opportunity to double task!) I’d think of three things for which I was grateful. In the last 10 years or so, I write each night in my journal five things for which I’m grateful.
I’d be lying if I said it was easy every night. When I’m feeling low, it’s tough to think of anything for which I truly feel grateful. Still, I persist and eventually come up with five things. Many nights I have so much I feel grateful for that I can’t write fast enough.
Brother David Steindl-Rast says “We go through life in a daze. A power failure makes us aware of what a gift electricity is, a sprained ankle lets us appreciate walking as a gift, a sleepless night, sleep. How much we are missing in life by noticing gifts only when we are suddenly deprived of them!”
To get you thinking about what you’re grateful for, here are a few ideas taken from my own gratitude journal. Cozy shelter in the storm. My health. Skagit Valley raspberries. My husband. Fragrant lilacs. Driving with the convertible top down. Hummingbirds. Books. Work I love. Toddlers. Samish Island. Feeling peaceful. (Wow, just listing these makes me feel great! I could go on for pages — and I won’t.)
What you are grateful for will differ from me. The gifts and the abundance in each of our lives are so vast that the possibilities are limitless.
In Your Life
To begin playing with the practice of gratitude, here are two suggestions.
1) Start with a big infusion of gratitude. Take 5 or 10 or even 30 minutes right now. Write as many things as you can think of for which you are grateful. Notice how writing this list changes your energy.
2) Choose a daily practice (see ‘A Gratitude Practice’ above) and play with it for two weeks. Notice how this practice affects you. See if this is a practice you’d like to continue or if you’d like to try another one.
Practice gratitude and see how it changes your life.