Developing the habit of gratitude has become a common buzzword in mainstream media, touted as the key to less stress, better health and more happiness.
Considering there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books written on the topic (based on a quick Amazon search), however, it seems we need a little instruction on how to be grateful on a regular basis. In the developed world at least, where most of us can take our fundamental needs for granted, too often, it seems, we reserve gratitude for that colossal gift or happy event: something exceptional and out of the ordinary.
But I hear you, devil’s advocate: Even if we have enough to eat and a place to sleep, modern life is stressful! How could we possibly feel grateful when we are feeling upset or thwarted and things aren’t going our way? If we show gratitude for the small and paltry, then that might be all we end up with. Plus, being appreciative puts us in a position of indebtedness and weakness.
Au contraire, mon frere. The power of gratitude lies in its ability to transform your state of mind. It’s virtually impossible to feel grateful and depressed at the same time, or grateful and entitled, or grateful and unhappy. Moreover, expressing gratitude puts you into a place of readiness to receive even more, not less. After all, why would the powers that be shower you with your heart’s desire when you don’t even appreciate what you already have? (And if you’re still not convinced, take a look at the people who wallow in entitlement and eternal dissatisfaction – do they seem happy to you?)
So if your gratitude muscle needs a little exercise, here are some suggestions on how to pump it up:
1. Go on a rampage of appreciation. That’s what Abraham-Hicks calls it in their book, Ask And It Is Given. Hone your powers of observation, notice what you typically take for granted and actively identify things in your immediate environment that are pleasing to you – the way your favorite cashmere sweater feels on your skin or the cool breeze coming in the window. Then, extend the rampage to things not directly related to your welfare: the playful way that father is interacting with his daughter at the grocery store, for example, or the smooth ride of the newly paved highway.
2. Deliberately direct your focus. Mundane stuff, isn’t it. But once you become oriented toward looking for things to appreciate you’ll find that your day is filled with such things and you will start to feel a quiet buzz of contentment. (Plus, it’s easier to feel grateful for little things that are not chronically associated with negative emotion or resistance.) And whatever you’re not grateful for? You don’t have to change your feeling about it, just don’t focus on it. Like you would with a wandering dog on a leash, practice pulling your focus back, again and again, to what’s pleasing and feels good.
3. Use a cheat sheet. For sure, it’s difficult to feel grateful in those moments when you are feeling thwarted or out of sorts and distinctly unappreciative of your current situation. So you need a back-up plan: keep a gratitude journal or a pre-written script which you can refer to and rely on to conjure up feelings of appreciation. The longer you can focus on it, the quicker you can regain a positive grounding.
4. Get regular. Five to 15 minutes is the recommended daily allowance of focused gratitude. But I also grab a quick fix when I’m in transit, walking to the elevator or down the street. Like a curious beagle, I sniff out things to appreciate — the confident swagger of a five-year-old, the smile of a courteous policeman, or a storekeeper clearing the sidewalk of litter — and give myself a gratuitous burst of energy.
5. Be grateful in advance. Is there something you’d like to have (more of) in your life? Instead of fretting or wondering when or if it’s coming, assume it’s on its way and start feeling grateful before it even arrives.
I’ll leave you with these words from an unknown author:
“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. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”