My new next door neighbor came by today for the first time. I showed her around my house and told her about all of my renovations and projects that I’ve done since I’ve been here. And as we left to go out for lunch, I was almost literally struck with a feeling of gratitude for all I have been blessed with. It was a wonderful feeling, and it made me smile and breathe deeply.
Practicing gratitude is a very positive and powerful act. But we do it so infrequently. We get caught up in the events, the dramas, and the busyness of our every day lives. We feel overwhelmed, we go into automatic pilot, or we shut down. We rarely remember to slow down. We rarely remember to take time to “stop and smell the roses.”
We also have a tendency sometimes to focus on the negative, on what’s wrong, what’s not working in our lives. When we think like that, we tend to see the cup as half empty. We focus on what’s lacking. Complaining, blaming, and being miserable are easy things to do. What’s wrong with this picture?
I read a wonderful definition of gratitude in a book by Timothy Miller called “How to Want What You Have.” He describes it as “the effort to savor, appreciate, and be thankful for the small, nice experiences that come your way.” Those experiences are available to us, in abundance, every day.
When we practice gratitude, it doesn’t necessarily make the bad stuff go away. What it does do is it tends to put a different slant on things. It takes us out of our entrenchment in the negative. It opens us up. It lightens us up. It gives us some relief. When we practice gratitude, we tend to slow down and take in more breath. Our bodies can open and so can our hearts. Practicing gratitude helps us see the cup as half full instead of half empty.
So I offer two suggestions to help you start practicing gratitude in your life. One is to start a gratitude journal. Then every day for 2 months, if you can make that commitment, but at least for one month, list five things that you are grateful for about your day. It can be external (sunshine, recognition for a job well done, support from a friend) or it can be internal, things specifically about yourself (your courage, your honesty, your energy.) After one month, notice what’s different in how you are in life, in your attitude toward life. Once you’ve experienced how keeping a gratitude journal can help you shift (hopefully into a lighter and more positive place), use it “as needed” and especially when you are feeling very low or stuck. Even if you struggle with it and it doesn’t feel sincere, do it anyway because if you stick with it, you will feel a shift that will give you some relief.
My second suggestion comes out of Timothy Miller’s book also. He gives a 14 day plan for practicing gratitude. I’m going to put in an adapted 7 day plan and let you add your own. By doing this, it helps you have a focus for your practice each day, and it helps you stay focused on gratitude throughout the day. It makes your practice very real and very present.
DAY 1 – Practice gratitude for the food you eat, regardless of whether it is special or routine. Don’t change your eating habits.
DAY 2 – Practice gratitude for the fact that you have a house, an apartment or whatever it is that shelters you. Practice gratitude regarding the comforts it provides you.
DAY 3 – Practice gratitude for the people who like you or love you. Don’t focus on how many, just that they are there.
DAY 4 – Practice gratitude for the freedom to go where you want, express your opinions, read what you want, etc.
DAY 5 – Practice gratitude for whatever good memories you have.
DAY 6 – Practice gratitude for the sensory pleasures of sight, smell, sound, touch, etc.
DAY 7 – Practice gratitude for any opportunity you might find for laughter, and practice gratitude for the pleasurable sensation that it brings you.
And remember, gratitude is the intention to count your blessings every day