“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” –Epictetus
Is it possible to increase your health, happiness, & connection to others through a simple act that takes minutes a day? It may sound too good to be true, but the answer is, yes!
What could possibly create health, happiness, and better relationships in only a few minutes day? Gratitude. Really, you might ask? Being grateful can do all that? Yes, it can! Really!!
What is gratitude?
At its most basic, gratitude is being thankful for what you already have. As crazy as it sounds, practicing gratitude and maintaining a grateful outlook on life are associated with:
- Decreased stress and depression
- Increased happiness and wellbeing
- Better relationships
Gratitude is about counting our blessings, acknowledging that in any given moment we have at least some things, often many things, for which to be grateful. The sources of our gratitude can range from the sublime, like a loving relationship, a fulfilling career, good health, or an amazing vacation, to the mundane, like the beautiful banter of nearby songbirds, the smell of flowers, the warm sunshine on our face, or a good hug.
Even when times are hard, focusing on gratitude can allow us to embrace the opportunity for growth that all tough times provide. If we are alive and breathing, there is reason to be grateful and all is not lost.
According to Brother David Steindl-Rast, gratitude is noticing “… all that is already present and abundant – from the tiniest things of beauty to the grandest of our blessings – and in so doing, to take nothing for granted. We can learn to focus our attention on, and acknowledge, that life is a gift.”
The positive effects of gratitude and maintaining an appreciative perspective on life deepen with regular practice. Practice is not difficult and does require a big investment of time.
There are many ways to create a gratitude practice. I suggest starting with the following practice:
- Get a journal or notebook, open to a blank page and write the date.
- Once a day, sit down and make a list of at least 3 things you are grateful for—in that moment, on that day. Write at least 3, but feel free to write as many as you like!
- At least one of them should be something that is tangible and happening right now. This could be the cool breeze gently blowing on your face, the sound of kids playing (or perhaps the sounds of silence!), your dog nuzzled up next to you, or the warm cup of coffee or tea at your side. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you are able to feel grateful for it. This will help you develop an appreciation for the countless small miracles that are occurring around you all the time.
- As you make your list, think broadly. There are countless things to be grateful for. Consider the following categories:
- Your personal life
- Your environment
- Your work life
- Once you make your list, close your eyes, and literally feel the gratitude you have for each of the items on your list, one-by-one. Don’t just think about them, really, truly feel your gratitude for each. It doesn’t have to take long, but you do need to feel them deeply. If you are having trouble connecting strongly to the feeling of gratitude, it can be helpful to imagine not having that person or thing in your life.
- If you prefer, simply do this exercise mentally without writing it down. Simply find someplace where you can relax, close your eyes, and create your gratitude list, deeply feeling the gratitude for each item before moving on to the next. This can be a great addition to an existing meditation practice.
I practice gratitude each morning as part of my morning routine. I routinely find myself expressing gratitude for everything from the warm glow of morning sunshine, to the color of the morning sky, the huge mesquite tree whose shade I like to sit under when I meditate, hugs from my family, my incredible team at work, my good state of health and physical fitness, or simply the fact that I get a few moments to myself each morning. Once you start looking for reasons to be grateful, it’s easy to get on a roll.
Since starting this practice, I find myself feeling grateful more often and without making any effort to do so. The simple act of acknowledging some of the things I have to be grateful for can quickly pull me out of a foul or negative mood. Since starting this practice, my life is without doubt richer and more satisfying.
And there’s no better time to get started than the present! So, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath, and acknowledge a few of the many things you have to be grateful for.