How often are we living in a state of full contentment? Anyone? Please raise your hand/say “aye” if “full contentment” describes how you live your life most of the time. *crickets*
Yeah, me, too. Stress builds up and tears us down, friends disappoint, plans we counted on get changed, we get frustrated. The amazing thing about inviting gratitude into our lives, though, is that it can help turn dissatisfaction into contentment. At the very least, mindfully taking a moment to look at the thing that is causing us frustration/dissatisfaction and making a choice to feel grateful for even a small piece of that thing, takes us out of the negativity surrounding it, even if just briefly, giving us respite.
And when we take that moment to say thank you, a small shift occurs, pointing us in a better direction. We – and gratitude – have that kind of power over our reactions. You don't need to have a faith in something bigger than yourself in order to experience the benefits of a gratitude practice. When we actively seek the positive angle and offer appreciation for it, we shine the light on the best parts of our day and our experiences. This doesn't make all the darker, less happy stuff magically disappear, but it takes the attention off it, even if just for a while.
I know several people who have an active gratitude practice, and they will tell you that embracing that practice has very positively impacted their lives in a variety of ways. Their relationships deepen, their work life improves, the time they spend in nature is more profound, as they are looking for the good stuff! I love this idea, and I regularly suggest when I work in classrooms and with teachers that they employ a similar practice (a gratitude poster, journal, anonymous thank you notes…) in order to encourage students to actively look for the good around them.
One of my friends is part of a gratitude circle – she and several others send each other positive, uplifting texts almost every day, with the theme “things I am thankful for.” That’s a pretty broad theme, and one we can all choose to embrace, whether we make it public or keep it quietly in our hearts and on our phones… the power of gratitude is that it spills over into many areas of our lives. The excitement over sharing a happy moment, the memory of savouring the perfect cup of coffee, the profound relief of working out a problem, the celebration of getting into a challenging yoga pose... intensifies the experience, allowing us to feel the joy more deeply through sharing it with others. The sharing alone is something to be thankful for!
Our brains are programmed to see the negative. Through generations of being on the lookout for danger and hazards, our eyes evolved to scan a scene in order to keep ourselves safe. And, while this practice remains a good one when we are crossing a busy street or navigating our way through a crowd, much of the time we are safe, and we don’t need that Debbie Downer perspective.
Making the decision to look for things to feel happy about and grateful for does a ton of great things for our bodies and minds – from making us more optimistic and spiritual and helping us sleep better to reducing the amount of envy we feel and increasing our productivity! The stats are great, but the personal experience is even better. When we choose to feel gratitude, we find ourselves more emotionally fulfilled, hopeful, and willing to forgive others.
In our home, we have a gratitude jar, complete with slips of paper and a pen. Whenever one of us feels like sharing a thankful thought for a special (or funny) moment, an experience, a favourite meal, we make a literal note of it. At the end of last year, we spent time reading the gratitude slips from the year, and it was a meaningful, sometimes emotional, sometimes hilarious time.
Currently, our family is under some stress, as many families are (it’s the time of year, with exams approaching, and there are a few other factors coming into play, as well). I find myself caught up in the sense of discontent, and I feel dissatisfied more often than usual. While I do want to let myself feel the emotions, I don’t want to get carried away by them, and so I give myself a gentle (and sometimes, not so gentle) reminder to come back to gratitude. To spend time sitting with my thoughts with the intention of consciously bringing “thank you” back into the mix… for the lessons being learned, the challenges that can bring us closer to who, what and where we want to be, and mostly for these other people with whom I am on this journey, the ones who fill up our gratitude jar.
I would love to know: for what do you feel gratitude? What inspires your personal style of a gratitude practice, or do you wish to start one? Make a comment or get in touch through the contact tab.
please check out these great articles on the transformational power of gratitude:
Life Coach, Yogi & lover of Meditation, mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter, cookie baker, seeker of truth & laughter, volunteer. Passionate about women's stories and the women who share them.