At times, we might think that gratitude is for suckers. After all, life can be brutal and harsh and days can be overfilled with a**holes who cut you off in traffic and then give you the finger. Grateful? For what? For a**holes?
I hope that made you laugh, just a little. And you can feel grateful for actually having a sense of humor. In fact, why not be grateful for all the small and large wonders that you trip over every day? You don’t have to like everything you encounter, but that doesn’t mean that life is not a marvel.
And yet often, our lives are full of sadness and madness. So, what are we supposed to feel grateful for?
Gratitude is a positive feeling we experience when something beneficial comes our way. It could be the benefit of having met someone who offered us guidance. It could be the thrill of love, or the joy of accomplishing something difficult—and feeling grateful for having hung in there! Simply being alive is a great starting place for feeling gratitude.
Simply being alive is a great starting place for feeling gratitude.
What stops you from being grateful? Is it fear that you’ll be taken advantage of or mocked? Or does saying “thank you” feel like a weakness, a bother, or unnecessary? Or maybe you can’t find anything at all worth being thankful for. You have your reasons, but when you can take the radical leap to appreciate whatever shows up, you allow yourself to see the possibilities in everything.
What Are You Grateful For? Name It
Try this experiment: Every day for two weeks, thank as many people as you can for as many things as you can. Then, be your best Sherlock Holmes—take some notes. How does your gratitude-in-action affect your interactions? Does it nurture warmth or encourage greater friendliness? What did it cost you to express your gratitude? How is being this grateful different from how you typically interact with life?
When being grateful seems far-fetched, try naming the tiny things that might be right in front of you, just waiting for your appreciation. These might include:
- Gratitude that your phone didn’t break its screen, again, when it fell off the table
- Gratitude that potatoes are cheap and delicious
- Gratitude that laughing is free
- Gratitude for one-bite brownies
- Gratitude that libraries still exist
- Gratitude for enough to eat
- Gratitude that water comes out when you turn on the tap
- Gratitude for a beloved pet, plant, person, place, or possibility, and for all cats that play the piano
You may find that your tolerance for being able to handle stressful situations greatly increases when you strengthen your gratitude muscle. Turning the gratitude dial up to 11 releases all kinds of juicy neurotransmitters into your bloodstream. Chemical darlings endorphins and serotonin and lots of feel-goodies are triggered when you cop an attitude of gratitude. Isn’t that fun!
As for me, I recently got into a squabble with a family member. Just as I was about to let ’em have it, something told me to take a pause. With some effort to stay alert, instead of rocket-launching my defense, years of mindfulness practice helped me stay present to what I really wanted, which was peace. So I gently looked for the most peaceful solution to a gnarly interaction, and suddenly a horrible moment became a wonderful moment. I was so thankful! I was filled with energy and excitement. I hadn’t fallen into my childhood habit of hurt and indignation. I stayed awake. I made a different choice. I felt such huge gratitude!
3 Mindful Practices for Giving Thanks
The most radical acts of gratitude are also the simplest, but they connect us with the wonder and majesty of every moment. Try these three lovely ways to get your gratitude wagon rolling:
1) Say thank you!
What do you notice about the effects of your genuine appreciation for what’s here?
2) Make a list
Journaling about what you appreciate strengthens cognitive awareness, and helps you notice what you might otherwise miss out on.
3) Rise and remember
Wake up every morning with the awareness that life is a gift. Be grateful, and notice how this simple act of gratitude sets the course for your mood.
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