Cultivating the Gratitude Attitude
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, and confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
Gratitude makes sense of our past,
brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
– Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More.
When you’re feeling grateful, your mind clears, you have a sweeter relationship to everyone and everything, and you become more aware of how much you truly are loved. The world becomes a friendly place to live. Luckily, every moment offers an opportunity for thanks. And every “thank-you” can return you to the present moment (another way to become present to what is REALLY going on.)
Practicing gratitude does take a bit of attention and time, but it shouldn’t only be reserved for that one big Thanksgiving Day. It might take you a few seconds or a few minutes every day to put your attention on what you are grateful for, but it’s worth it. Appreciating your life can change your perspective and make you feel good. It has been proven it can change lives. And it has a ripple effect!
According to the latest research on gratitude, by Dr Robert Emmons, a researcher and psychologist at U.C. Davis, grateful people really are different than those who aren’t so grateful. Here are some of the qualities of grateful people:
- They have lower levels of stress and depression
- They have a greater capacity for empathy
- People see them as more generous and more helpful than others
- They have a tendency to see the interconnectedness of all life
- They have a responsibility and commitment to others
- They place less importance on material goods, theirs and others
- They are less likely to judge others based on materialism
- They are more likely to share what they have with others who don’t have as much
- They are more satisfied with life and have more vitality and optimism
- They have higher levels of positive emotions
Are you a grateful person? You can experience an overall shift to a more benevolent view of the world and see each moment as a gift with just a little practice.
Gratitude practices can be a powerfully transformative and can improve your emotional and physical well-being. Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance, says:
“You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.”
I believe her. Here are some easy ways to get your gratitude groove on every day:
Keep a gratitude journal
Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami and Dr. Emmons have been conducting an ongoing Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness. They found that people who keep weekly gratitude journals feel better about their lives as a whole, and are more optimistic about the future in comparison with those who didn’t keep gratitude journals.
A gratitude journal is simply a notebook where you write a list of people, things, or experiences you are grateful for. Take a minute or two every night before you go to sleep, or first thing in the morning when you wake up (just before you meditate), and write a list of a few things you are grateful for. Some days it’s simple to come up with them and other times it might feel like you can’t think of even two things. That’s when you might remember how amazing it is that your heart has been beating since before you were born, that you can breathe, or that you can see or write. Things on your list don’t have to be new and different.
When I do this practice, I find myself tuning into gratitude more often. It’s like retooling my awareness to look for material for my journal. You might be driving to work or walking to school one morning and notice the way the clouds form in the sky, or the way the sunlight reflects off of the leaves of a tree, and instead of ignoring it, perhaps you notice it. You take it in and make a mental note to include that in your gratitude journal. Perhaps when you’re having lunch with a friend, she grabs the check and pays it. And not only do you thank her, but you make that mental note to write it down again.
In essence, you simply notice how blessed you really are – how supported you are in this life.
Remember all things
In his book, The Wisdom of Wallace Wattles, which inspired the movie, The Secret, Dr. Wattles, says, “It is necessary to 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.”
When eating bamboo sprouts,
remember the man who planted them.
Thich Nhat Hanh illustrates interconnectedness in his book, Peace is Every Step. He writes,
“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. …… If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. Without sunshine, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. The logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist. Looking even more deeply, we can see ourselves in this sheet of paper too. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.”
Before each meal you can become aware of and appreciate the interconnectedness of all things.At our retreats, before we eat, we bring our awareness to the elements, our senses, nature, and everyone and everything that had a hand in creating the moment. We express gratitude for the abundance that is present in our lives. I like this simple blessing that Ralph Waldo Emerson used:
For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
Keep coming back to present moment awareness
Every moment offers an opportunity for thanks. And every “thank-you” can return you to the present moment. Gratitude practice for me is about letting go of thinking and welcoming in the present moment. Accepting this moment as it is, and knowing that everything is happening for your evolution is a great practice too. “Faith is born of gratitude,” says Dr. Wattles, “ The grateful mind continually expects good things, and expectation becomes faith.”
You can also practice welcoming the present moment. Receiving. Every moment, every morning, every evening, and every meal is an opportunity to say thank you. A formal prayer isn’t required – easily bring your attention on what you’re grateful for in the moment, it can be a touchstone to the miracles of life that might have gone unnoticed. I often say thank you to the universe, the creator, and its every thing that created this moment. I appreciate the abundance that is present my life. That makes me feels good.
Keep up the gratitude practice even when you don’t feel particularly grateful
When life is difficult and when you feel sorrow, great anxiety, or if you are dealing with a difficult relationship, choosing to be grateful can transform your perspective, even for a few moments, to one of appreciation and contentment for all that is: both the wonderful and the frustrating. Scientists have found that feeling grateful produces the endorphins in your brain, the same chemicals that reduce stress, lessen pain, and improve your immune functions.
Being grateful puts you in a totally different mindset and energy level, and enables you to reestablish your connection to your source, your spirit. It is impossible to be grateful and unhappy or in fear at the same time. The negativity and anger you had felt begins to dissipate. Peace and possibility envelope you. You can take a deep breath. The struggle stops and your heart calms. An attitude of gratitude and appreciation can trump negative emotions every time. Thank you.
Learn to Meditate
A daily practice of meditation can be the primary approach to experiencing peace of mind, greater intuition, harmonious relationships, and better health. Meditation can make you more aware of how much you are supported in this life. It will expand your awareness and make you more compassionate toward yourself and everything else. Sign up here for a free gratitude meditation.
By Sarah McLean, McLean Meditation Institute© 2016 All Rights Reserved. Find out more about the author here.
Yes! You have permission to reprint this article, ONLY if you include this: Reprinted with permission from Sarah McLean, Sedona, Arizona www.McLeanMeditation.com