Carving Out Time for Gratitude
What are you thankful for?
Fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, policy changes, stories of how humans treat each other and our planet- the news of our current reality is tough to take in. We can find moments of refuge that provide strength and well-being, and allow us to fortify ourselves in the midst of the currents around us.
A question that comes up at many Thanksgiving dinner tables in the United States this week can be turned into a time of renewal and positive connection in the midst of the increasing uncertainty and suffering. Sometimes, we give thanks in a way that can be rote or routine, so the invitation this year is to really carve out some time – we like to use the space between dinner and pumpkin pie – to look within yourself and around the table at what brings you that deep sense of appreciation.
We are wired with an innate positive response to activating gratitude: we have all experienced the positive feelings rising, the smile spreading across our face – when we take time to access thankfulness. We also know what it feels like to want to include others in that warm, connected feeling. Gratitude seems to radiate, whether it starts with an unexpected high-five when someone travels from far away to join the table or a beaming friend shares a story of appreciative awe from the birth of a healthy child.
What is gratitude? In my upcoming book, The Mindful Day, I describe it this way:
“Gratitude comes from directing attention to what is good, with appreciation for it. There are two components to being grateful. The first is affirming that there are good things in the world, and that you receive gifts and benefits. The second is recognizing that the sources of these good things are outside of you. Other people—or if you’re of a spiritual mindset, a higher power—contribute to the positive parts of your life. This reinforces that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, and promotes feelings of belonging, interconnection, and joy. Gratitude generates the sense of ‘I have enough,’ a springboard for generosity.”
Bringing our awareness to the good we already have paves the way for a sense of profound abundance. We realize we can stretch ourselves to be more generous, we can give more to those who need it- our money, time, patient attention – whatever it might be. The key is to shift from the the trance of our busy, packed days, to look up from the news of the day and wake up to sense all that is right here.
Here are 3 simple practices to deepen your experience of gratitude
Total Time: 15 minutes, weekly
How: Start with a few minutes of simply sitting and breathing in stillness. You can close your eyes if you like, to allow your mind and body to settle. In this calm space, ask yourself what you are most grateful for at this time in your life. Open your eyes and write 3-5 things. Finish by enjoying the good emotions that will arise.
Tips to consider:
- Be specific. “I am grateful for my sister waking me up this morning with a cup of coffee” versus “I am grateful for my sister.”
- Less is more. Elaborate the what and why instead of listing many things. Even better if you focus on specific people in your life.
- Consider hard times that had good outcomes, recovery from challenges, and the unexpected blessings. What difficulties did you overcome? You’ll elicit strong feelings if you include surprises.
- Write regularly. Work this practice into your routine and commit to it, but no need to make it daily – research shows that weekly gratitude journaling has more impact than daily- so to savor the good feelings every time.
3 THINGS BEFORE SLEEP
Total Time: 5 minutes, daily
How: As you close the day, think of 3 things that Share these with another person, a roommate, friend or loved one – try this as pillow talk, a text, or part of saying goodnight as Arianna Huffington does each night with her daughter.
Sharing your appreciation with others creates connection, something we all naturally long for.
Total Time: 1-2 minutes – at home, work and play
How: Bring someone to mind that you are grateful for- perhaps it was an action they took, a kindness extended, or even something you witnessed that they did for someone else. Send them a thank-you message – a brief missive of appreciation. The random pop-up on the other side of the screen is a special surprise that may change the course of their day. You get to reap the benefits too – try it and notice any positive emotions that you experience after hitting send.
Gratitude can be cultivated – and deepened with practice. It takes attention. When we are grateful for the life that is right here, it radiates in all directions- inward and outward. A grateful mind and heart shifts how we show up for the people around us, and we act more generous, open and connected. It also takes intention- setting your mind to be grateful, and developing habits and routines that prompt you to pause, reflect, capture in writing for yourself or extend gratitude to others. Set an intention to try it this week.