What moments or experiences come to mind when you think about the word gratitude? For many of us, our thoughts immediately turn to momentous occasions like the birth of a child, graduating college, landing your dream job, healing from sickness, and other life-altering events.
Gratitude, however, can also be found in the more mundane everyday experiences. David Henry Thoreau wisely observed, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Seeing through a lens of gratitude dramatically changes your perspective and increases your happiness. Rather than looking at your neighbor’s car with longing and envy, it’s looking at your old dented car with the appreciation for having a vehicle to take you around. It’s finding joy in the simple things like a smile, a warm shower, a hug, a bird singing, or a homemade meal, and then to actively engage with the feelings accompanying your experience.
One way to actively engage with gratitude that has consistently yielded great results is writing down those small things you are grateful for, particularly as you are going through difficult times. Over time, writing in a gratitude journal can shift your perspective from self-pity to appreciation, and improve your overall mental health according to this study.
Practicing mindfulness can also be an excellent way to intentionally nurture our capacity for gratitude. Mindfulness increases our ability to pay attention to things around us and to live with more intentionality and present moment awareness. As such, it helps us become more receptive to finding appreciation for little things that we otherwise would tend to overlook. Keeping those things in mind, we would like to share this mindfulness practice with you in hopes that it can help you find gratitude even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Get into a comfortable posture and turn your attention to your breath.
Close your eyes and sit in silence for a minute, just breathing naturally.
Think about the food you have eaten or will eat today. Don’t think about other meals or how your meals could be better. Instead, focus on the fact that you get the privilege of eating every single day, a privilege that many people like you in the U.S. and the world do not have. Food nourishes your body and gives you energy. Take a moment to feel gratitude for the food you enjoy and what a miracle it is.
Think about the clothes you are wearing. Don’t think about what your clothes look like, or the clothes you wish you had. Instead, appreciate the fact that you have clothes to wear, the fact that somebody made these clothes for someone like you, and that you are blessed with material comforts. Take a moment to feel gratitude for the clothes that keep you warm in the cold, keep you dry in the rain, and keep you comfortable every day.
Think about the people in your life, like your family and friends. Don’t think about the negatives or things you wish were different. Instead, appreciate the people you have in your life, the good times you’ve shared and all the special moments to come. Appreciate the love they share with you. Take a moment to feel gratitude for the love, support, laughter and fun you’ve enjoyed in your lifetime.
What else in your life can you feel gratitude for? Many people in the world do not have clean drinking water, homes to live in, or even the chance to enjoy clean air and sunshine. Take a moment to feel grateful for all the wonderful, beautiful things in your life. Each and every person or thing in your life that brings you joy, comfort and laughter is a miracle.
Sit still for a minute and notice what feelings come up. Were you able to feel grateful for all the things you have? Did you catch yourself smiling during this exercise?
Take a few deep breaths and come back to the present moment. Slowly open your eyes.
Being able to find reasons to be grateful, even when you are having a bad day/week/month, is a powerful way to take control of your own happiness. Since gratitude has a snowball effect, you will find that seeing through a lens of gratitude becomes easier over time.
We are so grateful to partner with and learn from all of you. Happy holidays to all of you from all of us at Illumination Institute.