“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” – Cicero
On thanksgiving morning, I certainly have gratitude to be sitting alone in a quiet house at 8:30 a.m., not a soul awake in the house – the benefit of having teenagers!
The dictionary defines gratitude as “the quality of being thankful; a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” There are two key components to gratitude. First, gratitude involves an affirmation of goodness. Second, gratitude involves a recognition of its source. As we pause to notice the goodness and generosity around us, we become aware of the people & resources, causes & conditions, that lead us to this feeling state. Gratitude reminds us of our connection and interdependence.
My friend and noted gratitude communication researcher Ross Brinkert observes, “Gratitude is not only good for the receiver, its also good for the sender. You can transform your own feelings by sending gratitude to somebody else.” One of the many powers of gratitude is its ability to incline the mind. This concept of inclining the mind abounds in the study of mindfulness and meditation. It rehabituate the mind away from the constant judging, comparing and evaluating that characterizes our usual experience. This inclining process is a reframing of our experience, a “gladening” or even a softening of the mind (click here for a guided practice). This inclination allows us to find the sacred in our ordinary, everyday experience.
Please register today for Discovering the Voice of Your Heart: A Half-Day Meditation Retreat on Saturday, December 10 from 10:00 to 1:00 at the Tredyffrin Library. Through November 29, enter the promo code “TURKEY” for a 33% discount! The day will be accessible to everyone, regardless of experience. We will do several guided meditations and partner activities of 10 to 20 minutes along with leader talks and discussions.
So why practice gratitude?
Robert Emmons identifies physical effects such as stronger immune systems, improved self-care and even better sleep as benefits of consistent gratitude practice. Psychologically and socially, those that practice gratitude are more likely to experience positive emotions, feel happier & more optimistic and feel less lonely and isolated. Grateful people exercise more self-control and are better at delaying gratification. This reminds me of mindfulness. Through returning our attention to our focus or anchor, in mindfulness our breath, our body, our senses, we are able to respond thoughtfully instead of react habitually. In this way, we turn a habit into a choice. It seems using gratitude as our “anchor” can serve much the same purpose.
With gratitude, what we are not doing is nearly as important as what we are doing. Its hard to multitask while practicing gratitude. We are unlikely to be checking our cell phone or mindlessly eating a hamburger. When we practice gratitude, we aren’t engaged in jealousy, greed, grasping or comparison. We are creating a space in our experience. As we leave the realm of judgment, comparison and criticism, our natural wisdom and compassion emerge.
So how to practice gratitude?
For gratitude practice to have a lasting effect, it must be intentional and consistent. Gratitude must be a way of relating to the world and not just an afterthought.
One of the best ways to cultivate gratitude is to write it down. The intentionality of actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) allows you to be more reflective compared with just “thinking” about gratitude. Check out this video on SoulPancake’s website, An Experiment in Gratitude. They did an experiment where people were asked to write about someone who had a positive impact on their life. Writing and then sharing what they’d written to that person had a powerful effect on the happiness of the gratitude giver.
Would you like to give it a try? How about the “Three Good Things” practice? This is essentially a gratitude journal. Each day, you recall 3 things that went well for you recently, positive experiences, interactions or observations. Take the time to describe each of these good things. Note how you felt then and how you feel now upon reflection. Conclude by explaining what you think caused this event to happen? Was it your preparation, the generosity of another, the gifts of the earth? Click here to try it out yourself. I’ll collect the responses and share them in an upcoming blog or podcast.
You can practice gratitude is by expressing it through a gratitude letter to an important person in your life or just give them a call. Brinkert recommends communicating gratitude with an element of surprise. Much like “random acts of kindness”, “random acts of gratitude” help your expression stand out. He writes, “Expressions that come unexpectedly actually have a lot more weight than things that are expected. It’s really important to make the opportunity to thoughtfully surprise people because that really stands out for them.”
Finally, because gratitude is for you as well, simple mindfulness & meditation practices support the concept of inclining the mind. Meditations on gratitude and joy help you set an intention toward gratitude and remind you of the gifts you have given and received. Wishing you the best in your own practice of gratitude! If you’d like support in your practice, check out my podcast or website, www.yourmindfulcoach.com.