“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” – Meister Eckhart
We mostly think of gratitude as something we feel when something nice happens to us. What if, instead, we thought about gratitude as a choice we make? As something that we do? A practice, perhaps?
Gratitude is good for you
Do a quick Google search on the benefits of gratitude and you will immediately get a sense of how powerful a practice of gratitude could be. Gratitude is good for our physical health – it improves the quality of our sleep and helps to reduce stress and increase resilience.
Gratitude is also good for our mental health – it can stabilize our emotions and create a sense of optimism. It has been shown to help reduce feelings of burnout and to help bring healing to those suffering from PTSD.
Additionally, gratitude can help us improve the quality of our relationships as it helps us to be more empathetic and less aggressive. Being grateful improves self-esteem, which makes us better friends and partners to those we love.
Are you in?
A practice of gratitude is deceptively simple
There are no barriers to entry when developing a practice of gratitude. It doesn’t require any supplies. It doesn’t require any previous training. “All” we must do is choose to seek something to be grateful for in every situation and circumstance of our days.
A practice of gratitude has a lot in common with yoga and meditation practices
A practice of gratitude may be simple, but it is not easy. It requires the same discipline as a yoga practice. And, like a yoga practice, I promise you that showing up is most of the battle.
It asks us to “return” in the same way that meditation does. While your meditation style may have you returning to your breath, to your body, to a word or mantra, a practice of gratitude will have you returning to a question:
For what in this moment of [joy, pain, peace, stress, anticipation, anxiety, exhaustion, invigoration, fear, courage, and so on] am I grateful?
Read through the italicized list of descriptors again. Can you see the dual challenges awaiting us as we develop this practice?
In moments of joy, it can be hard to pause to practice gratitude
It is relatively easy to find something to be grateful for when we are having a moment of joy, but it can be super hard to pause in a moment like that to focus on feeling and even expressing thanks.
I don’t know about you, but I am likely to let myself get swept away in feelings during a joyful time. When I am stopped in my tracks by a rainbow or breathtakingly beautiful fall tree. When I get goosebumps watching a father walk through the farmer’s market holding his tiny daughter’s hand. When taking the first delicious spoonful of soup. In moments like this, I often don’t dial into gratitude until I’m thinking back on my day. In other words, gratitude becomes a gift of hindsight.
In painful moments, a practice of gratitude can be a survival strategy
In moments of pain, it can be exceedingly difficult to find something to be grateful for, but it is relatively easy to find the wherewithal to pause. In moments when my emotions are hard to navigate – such as a difficult conversation or when I’ve been surprised by difficult news – gratitude becomes a strategy for getting through the moment with as much grace as possible. The pause required to focus for a second on gratitude provides the space that allows me to realign with my values and priorities, .
Gratitude begets more gratitude
Whether you and I use our gratitude practices in the moment or after the fact, we all realize the benefits in the list above – and others that are ours alone. When we do, we experience the magic of gratitude – recognizing its gifts leaves us awash in yet more gratitude.
And on (and on) it goes. So much so that I would add to Meister Eckhart’s famous words – “thank you” will be enough and never quite enough. After all, a heart trained in gratitude will never stop seeing gifts for which to be grateful.
As an expression of my gratitude for this community, please join me for a FREE weekly gratitude “support group” during the month of November. We will meet via Zoom on the five Tuesdays in November at 6:00 pm ET. It’s never too late to join. Email for the Zoom invitation.