Today we conclude our week-long exploration of gratitude. We’ve looked at what exactly gratitude is, what the wise ones of the past had to say about it, how the major religions of the world view it, and what modern science has recently discovered. Today we’re going to discuss some things you can do to start feeling more gratitude right now, and start experiencing the benefits of “the parent of all the virtues” in your life.
“Many people who order their lives rightly in all other ways are kept in poverty by their lack of gratitude.”-Wallace Wattles
Before we start looking at specific exercises though, I think it’s important that we cover one point a little bit more: gratitude isn’t something that we should only feel for “positive” events, circumstances or things in our lives. As we learned in our look at the religious viewpoint, we should feel gratitude for ALL things, ALL events, and ALL circumstances, no matter if we see them as positive or negative. This mostly comes down to changing how we look at the world.
Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
For one thing, we may never know all of the ripples an event may have, and how they may have actually been for our benefit. We’ve all heard the story of the man who was leaving home one day, headed to the airport in order to catch an important flight. Some event, however, kept him from making it. It could have been a flat tire, a traffic jam, or even an illness. Whatever it was, it delayed him from getting to the airport on time and he missed the flight. He was upset about this, right up until the moment he learned that the flight he was booked on had crashed. What seemed at first like a negative turned out to be for the man’s ultimate good. Things aren’t always this dramatic, and again, we may never know how they work for our benefit. We are just trust that they do. This may sound naïve to those who don’t believe in all this “law of attraction business” or the more non-physical benefits of gratitude, but give it some thought. Strictly from a rational, physical viewpoint, if we can shift our thinking into this mode of being thankful for everything, regardless of what it is, then we will do away with a huge portion of the worry, anger and fear in our lives. These emotions cause us higher blood pressure, ulcers, headaches and other physical effects which lower our quality of life.
“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” – Alphonse Karr
Also, many times the complaints we have are just because we are looking at things the wrong way around. Open your mailbox. Most people don’t feel grateful for a power bill, a phone bill, cable bill, their rent or mortgage or any of the other bills we have to pay regularly. But when you realize that that power bill means you have lights and air conditioning, that phone bill means you can pick up your telephone and talk to anyone you’d like to, the cable bill means you have hundreds of channels of entertainment and news to choose from, and your rent or mortgage means you have a roof over your head and a safe, dry place to sleep, your attitude changes quickly. It soon becomes obvious that these bills are truly reminders of our blessings instead of something to complain about.
So, what can we do to develop an “attitude of gratitude”?
One method gaining popularity is to keep a “gratitude journal. A small notebook often kept by the bedside or on your desk where, once a week or so, you take a few minutes to write down events and people you are grateful for. It isn’t recommended to do this every day. In fact, some research has shown that once a week is actually more effective than daily journaling. Also, don’t just go through the motions. Remember, simply counting your blessings is nothing more than bookkeeping. Get in there and really share what it is about that particular item that you are grateful for. Make the conscious effort to FEEL gratitude as you are writing. Quality is more important that quantity here. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean the quality of your writing. It means the depth of your feeling of each item is more important than the number of items you have. Also, writing about people we feel grateful for seems to be more effective than writing about things. And for the more techno-minded among you, there are even gratitude journal apps for your smartphone and an online gratitude journal.
Another idea is for each member of the family, often during dinner, to, instead of discussing negative events during the day or sharing gossip, to discuss something specific that happened that day that they are grateful for. Not only does this help us focus on positive events and increase our awareness of things to be grateful for, but it also introduces our children to the idea of gratitude and helps establish an attitude of gratitude in them at a younger age.
You can also use a “gratitude trigger” to increase your awareness of things in life to be thankful for. This can be an object around your home or your office, or something you carry with you in your purse or pocket. Each time you see or touch this item, take a few moments to either review the things in your life to be grateful for or pick one particular item and meditate on it and why your are grateful for it. Either way, make use of your emotions in this exercise. Don’t just recite a list or merely “think” about your blessings, but take a deep breath and FEEL gratitude.
Do you have a particular exercise you use to help you feel gratitude? Do you have experiences with any of the ones mentioned here? Do you have something you feel especially grateful for that you’d like to tell others about? Please, use the comments section below to share your ideas and experiences. And thank you for joining me on this exploration of gratitude, the parent of all the virtues.