Merriam Webster dictionary simply defines gratitude as “the state of being grateful, thankfulness.”
A clean simple definition of gratitude for sure, but there are several ways to look at thankfulness as a practice, and ways to direct it.
Gratitude really is like a muscle you can develop, and the more you practice, the better you’ll get at doing it, and integrating it into your life, where you live from a state of thankfulness much of the time.
If you are one of the many folks (like me) that have seen pop-spirituality movie “The Secret” (see my post “Does the Law of Attraction Work“), you would have seen the powerful scene in the movie where a man tells the story of keeping a gratitude rock in his pocket to help remind him to be grateful throughout the day. So maybe you’ve tried this practice on your own or something similar.
Maybe your results in being thankful have had a wonderful effect on your life, or maybe you’ve been struggling with it.
Or maybe you were like me, having mixed results, writing out a long gratitude list everyday.
To develop an attitude of gratitude, here’s what I recommend you do, if you’re a newcomer to the practice, or if you are struggling or want to refine your practice.
Don’t Fake Gratitude
I think this is one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made.
Immediately trying to be grateful for everything in your life, including challenges and hardships is too difficult for you to take on all at once.
It sets up a state where you feel like you are lying to yourself, and internally your mind screams out “b$!!$H!T!”
So to begin, start looking for the littlest things to be grateful for like having a roof over your head, having clothes to wear, having an internet connection to explore new possibilities for changing your life, any having a job, being healthy, etc.
Now I know you may not be completely happy in these areas, and I get that, believe me.
But finding any little piece of them to be grateful.
Now if you have an overall negative state of being, i.e. a very depressed attitude or a lot of anger at yourself or others, there might not be anything you are grateful for.
I suggest you allow for your negative state to be there, make room for it, but also start practicing gratitude.
You might say “Well, I’m faking it then.” Actually, no you’re not.
You’re creating a lot of your depression or anger, because you have beliefs that you are probably unaware of the “fuel the negative state” you’re living in.
Your mind can’t process this and will fight this idea, because it cannot handle the paradox of self-acceptance of the depression or anger you feel, and being grateful at the same time.
That’s why the next point is very important, if you are struggling with this.
I think it’s vitally important to constantly pay attention with awareness to what we are or aren’t thinking.
It all starts with awareness, and if you’re not aware, you can’t get into the nooks and crannies of your subconscious, and your beliefs that get in the way of living more from a state of well-being.
Gratitude stems from acceptance of what is, right now, and without this it’s very hard to be grateful. As always, I advocate meditation in order to cultivate self-awareness and self-acceptance.
Acceptance of others is also part of this, but will come quite naturally once self-acceptance is regularly practiced.
If you haven’t done gratitude practice before, you should start by writing out a daily list of what you’re grateful for.
It will be difficult at first, like anything else in life you’re not yet well practiced at. These are also known as gratitude affirmations or statements.
Once you get down the practice of gratitude, you won’t need to do it daily.
In fact, studies have shown that people who practice gratitude just on a weekly basis, experience great benefits from it.
I recommend getting a nice journal to do this in. Make it more sacred than just a spiral notebook.
This isn’t some class your taking, it’s your life! So treat it with respect and care.
Once you get used to doing this, you can make a master list of things you are grateful for, and read them daily, instead of writing everyday, but that’s at your discretion if you still want to write them out daily.
I’ve found that I can do it naturally now because I’ve done so much thankfulness/gratitude practice, as it’s part of my way of thinking.
Example list of basic gratitude statements:
“I’m grateful to be alive, right here and now.”
“I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head.”
“I’m thankful for my relationship and the love I give and receive from it.”
“I’m grateful I’m learning to be relaxed and finding ways to relieve stress everyday.”
“I’m thankful that money comes to me, because I help and serve others.”
“I’m grateful I’m working to gain self confidence each day.”
Advanced Gratitude Practice
This is where you are grateful for the difficulty or hardship in your life, because you realize there is a lesson there to learn, which will evolve you in ways you can, or can’t, yet see.
It also is a great angle to take for overcoming fear in your life. As Robina Courtin, says in her amazing Google Talk called How To Be Your Own Therapist – “you can learn to love your problems, like you like ice cream.”
This is advanced, because then almost anything becomes something you can be grateful for.
For instance, my mother got sick in 2009 with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is an extremely debilitating neurological condition.
She eventually died in April of 2011.
But to my surprise, I learned to be grateful for her illness even though she suffered greatly, and so did we all.
I learned a lot from how she dealt with it, and it also made me look at my lifestyle and the burnout pace I was running.
“I’m grateful for the lesson that having debt is teaching me, and I’m working to improve my money situation daily.”
“I’m thankful for my health problem, because I’m learning to change my lifestyle and appreciate life in a new way, that I wasn’t before.”
“I’m very grateful that my relationship ended, because I learned so much from it, and it was time it was over.”
So everyday, find something, at least one thing to be grateful for.
It’s really a powerful way to re-design your life. Not to mention, that your life and the lives of those around you will be better for it.
Something to Contemplate
Lastly, I want to mention that you don’t even need to write down gratitude statements.
Though I recommend this at first, you can simply take a minute to contemplate all that you have that you are grateful for.
I hardly write them down anymore, because I find it more powerful to simply breathe, go inside and contemplate. I do this