Updated: Feb 13
Daily gratefulness is truly something that can create major changes in your life
It’s pretty easy to remember to be grateful around Thanksgiving, right? Everyone shares what we’re grateful for, and while we really are grateful, we quickly forget after that day to keep maintaining awareness of what we’re grateful for. Typically, we’re grateful when someone gives us something, or does something for us, but beyond that, most of us don’t give gratitude much thought.
“Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some." ~ Charles Dickens
To live a mindful life of meaning and purpose, we have to develop an attitude of gratitude. Practicing gratitude every day, for all experiences, is good for you and for others. When you really feel grateful, the emotions stimulate the brain, telling it that all is well. Your brain then turns on what is called the parasympathetic system, which releases feel good hormones into your system that lower your heart rate and your blood pressure. You feel even better!
What does an attitude of gratitude look like? Mindfulness is all about presence, being aware of the moment and what you are experiencing right now. How many things are you grateful for in this exact moment? As experiences occur, are you able to feel grateful for something that occurred in that experience? An attitude of gratitude includes feeling grateful for all experiences, even those that we may perceive as being negative. Wait, what? Why in the world should you be grateful for a negative experience?
Wait, what? Why in the world should you be grateful for a negative experience?
I am not saying you should feel grateful for a terrible experience itself, but to look for meaning in those experiences and be grateful for those. I’ll give you a personal example. I was raised in poverty. I lived in HUD housing and I had to go to work at 13. When I got married, we were poor for a while, but we both worked incredibly hard to pull ourselves out of that condition within a few years. Fast forward a few more years and we were living quite comfortably in the nicest neighborhood I had ever lived in. Shopping with a couple of my new “middle-income” neighbors, I came across expensive crystal ware in a department store. I had no idea why this caught my attention, but I started collecting crystal after that. I began with Waterford glassware and vases and even little bells and continued collecting various items for several years. These shiny things in my hutch that cast off beautiful prisms of color made me feel luxurious, maybe even a little decadent.
Then the Northridge earthquake occurred. Violent and terrifying, every belonging in my home flew somewhere. Including all of my fancy crystals. The crystal items in my hutch flew out with such force, they dented my dining room table as they shattered everywhere. Now of course I was grateful that none of us were injured in the earthquake. But I was upset about my shiny things. I am nothing if not determined, so I went back out and started replacing all of the pieces I had lost. And then the Landers earthquake hit. And my crystal pieces shattered again.
I admit, I was a little slow on comprehending the lesson here. Mindfulness includes finding meaning in our experiences. My dogged determination initially distracted me from looking for that. Instead, I was planning out how I could replace the crystal yet again, but this time, I would put it away in the bottom cabinets of the kitchen so that the pieces wouldn’t become projectiles in the next earthquake. And that’s when it hit me. If they were in the bottom cabinets of the kitchen, I wouldn’t be able to see them every day. And that’s what I needed. To see them. But why?
I finally figured out that seeing those expensive, shiny objects was a reminder to me that I was no longer poor. That I didn’t have to fear poverty returning. I was never aware of that before losing the pieces, not once, but twice. I didn’t replace the pieces that time. And while I was not grateful that we were hit with two powerful earthquakes, I was again grateful that my family was safe and uninjured. Beyond that, however, I was deeply grateful for the underlying lesson. I have never needed a material thing since to remind me of how blessed I am. I can enjoy the simpler things in life fully and have confidence that I am not at the mercy of some unseen force that can change my trajectory.
..I was no longer poor. I didn’t have to fear poverty returning.
So that’s how you create an attitude of gratitude. Even if negative experiences occur, we find the meaning in those experiences which we’re grateful for and from which we learn valuable lessons.
Gratitude provides many benefits. During the multiple studies that have been conducted on happiness, which Shawn Achor really launched with his Harvard class on happiness and which is now replicated in most universities, one of the methods that proved successful in increasing individual happiness was gratitude. Very specifically, identifying three things each day that you’re grateful for turned out to increase your overall happiness level. And happiness has been shown to improve your health, focus, mood and productivity. So why not practice gratitude?!
You can keep a gratitude journal or a gratitude jar to get started. Simply write down three new things you are grateful for each day. They don’t have to be complicated. The sun, trees, water, your breath, your family…it’s pretty easy to find three things to be grateful for each day. I like the jar – I just use a mason jar – because I write the things I’m grateful for on small pieces of paper, fold them up and drop them in. If ever I’m feeling down, or even slipping into a pity party, I can go to my jar and pull out a piece of paper. I’m immediately pulled back into gratitude as I read something I was grateful for in the past.
It is important that you identify three things you’re grateful for. In the studies, one or two things might help you feel momentarily better, but three things had an impact on the brain’s neuropathy. In other words, writing down three things to be grateful for actually rewires the brain over time. And that moves you into an attitude of gratitude!
Remember to be mindful,