Cultivating a practice of gratitude
When I was young my parents taught me to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. It became ingrained and a natural habit. So much so that as an adult I would say ‘thank you’ without even stopping to think what it really, really means. Even when I started learning about gratitude – because we all know gratitude is the path to manifesting – I didn’t fully grasp the power that this seemingly simple practice holds.
Gratitude is expressing thanks for a gift or something that you have received. The International Encyclopaedia of Ethics says that gratitude is ‘the heart’s internal indicator on which the tally of gifts outweighs exchanges’. This somewhat implies that you show gratitude for things that you did not necessarily earn. In contrast ungratefulness is to take gifts and blessings for granted.
This, for me, is just a technicality. I have found power in showing gratitude to all things, no matter how big or small – whether it has made its way into my space through my own efforts, or as a gift.
It is a massive part of mindfulness – to be aware of, and thankful for, your blessings. To sit with them with no attachment and no judgement on whether it is good or bad – just to simply be grateful. You can be grateful for the situations that taught you resilience or persistence or patience as equally as you can be grateful for the situations that taught you love, compassion and ecstasy.
As you take time out to sit and think about things that you are grateful for, you bring yourself into the ‘Now’. It allows you to practice mindfulness through focusing on the present moment instead of what is to come or how you desire things to be.
It’s not all about money or material things, it can be something small
It is really easy to fall into the frame of mind that you can or should only practice gratitude when your life is ideal. Have you ever caught yourself saying ‘I will be so much happier when I have a new car’ instead of being grateful that you have a car – even if it is an older model? While we need to show gratitude for the material things in our lives, we can practice even more gratitude when we become grateful for things that we often take for granted.
For example, instead of being grateful for being able to afford a nice meal, send a quick thought of gratitude to the farmer that cultivated the ingredients. I am not saying that you shouldn’t be grateful that you can afford the meal, I am suggesting that you shift the focus away from money.
We can be grateful for all sorts of things like the air we breathe, the water that washes our skin and hair, the coffee that smells soooo gooood and wakes us up in the morning, the cacao that allows us to connect deeper and deeper to our heart chakra…
It is an emotional response but also very much a choice. As with all things in life, you get to choose where you want to aim your attention. You get to choose whether you want to spend a moment in gratitude or not. And I get it, sometimes you just don’t feel very grateful. We all know those times when you get a flat tire when you are already late for a meeting. Or when one child gets the chicken pox just as the other is finally over the worst of it. It is in the more difficult times, when we don’t necessarily feel grateful that we need to be grateful.
Why? Because just sitting in gratitude for a moment has the potential to turn your mood – and your whole day around. Remember, expressing gratitude makes you both happier and more hopeful.
It doesn’t only affect you
Sara Algoe and her colleagues conducted some research on gratitude and what they call the ‘witnessing effect’. They found that people who observe others being grateful are more likely to self-disclose and be helpful towards those expressing gratitude. They also wanted to be around both the giver, and the person who expressed gratitude more.
Other studies found that the way, and how often you express gratitude could help your romantic partner – especially if they tend to have attachment anxiety. Attachment anxiety is when someone is insecurely attached, and they show this by constantly worrying that you will reject them and needing reassurance all the time.
Shift the focus from lack to abundance
Charlott van Oven Witvliet and her colleagues define gratitude as the ‘appreciation of a gift received’, happiness as ‘the enjoyment of a present good’, and hope as ‘the desire for a valued future’. They found that people who were more grateful tend to be happier in the present and more hopeful of the future compared to people who are less grateful. They also found that remembering and writing about things that you are grateful for increases your happiness in the presence and hope for the future.
Gratitude and intention setting
If we consider how practicing gratitude increases our happiness and hope and shifts us away from a mindset soaked in lack, towards a mindset focused on abundance we can see how powerful this practice can become when combined with an intention setting practice.
By starting out your intention setting sessions with a gratitude practice you raise your vibration. You lift your mood and your thoughts and direct your focus on good things – in the past, in the present and in the future. Setting your intentions for the year, month, week or day is a powerful way to focus your attention and invite in more of the things that you want. It shifts you away from things that you want to avoid and inspires you to work towards the things that you do want. Intention setting has a lot to do with feelings and emotions and by practicing gratitude at the beginning of your intention setting session you create a space that is optimum for setting your intentions and following through with them.
It is also a way to measure how well you are achieving your intentions. As you continue your practice you will start to notice that you are able to give gratitude for intentions that are transforming into your reality.
It grows and becomes more automatic with use and practice
It might seem a bit awkward and even fake when you start out. I get it. When I first started practicing gratitude, I would sit in front of a blank page desperately trying to think of things to be grateful for. Not because I didn’t have many things to be grateful for, but because I just wasn’t used to paying attention to them – yep, I took so very many things for granted. But remember, gratitude is a practice. It isn’t really something that we can master. It is a slow build-up of a habit day by day until it becomes ingrained in your every ‘moment by moment’.
An easy way to get into a daily gratitude session is to piggyback it on another habit that you are already doing. Run through a mental list while you are brushing your teeth, take a moment to thank your dinner for nourishing your body and mind, show gratitude for your home when you unlock the front door. Start to integrate moments of gratitude into activities that you do every day.
Some words of caution
Gratitude is not necessarily indebtedness.
Sometimes people shy away from expressing gratitude because they equate it to indebtedness. This is often the case when you are not open to receive. When you believe that you have to give back if or when you have received something good. There is a sense of guilt that comes along with accepting something which the expression of gratitude cannot negate.
This is not necessary. You can accept something and be grateful for it, simply because it is in your space. Through the practice of gratitude you will be able to open your heart chakra and slowly become open to receiving. The more you practice gratitude the more you will receive (remember how witnesses react to this?). And the more you receive the more you potentially have to give. And the more you will want to give. Note that I said want to and not have to… as with all things there should be a balance. Through practicing gratitude you cultivate appreciation and generosity.
Remove the ego
A daily struggle, I know. Keep in mind though that when you practice gratitude it should come from your heart. It is not about feeling more blessed than others. It is not about thinking that you are better off, and it is definitely not about thinking that you are better than other people.
By removing your ego you remove the obstacles that stand in your way of expressing true and authentic gratitude. You remove envy, jealousy, pride (well too much pride), ambition and anger.
A word on toxic positivity
Gratitude is not about always being positive. It is about accepting the moment as it is and being thankful for it. For example, instead of trying to convince yourself that your low-paying job is great, you can accept it for what it is – a low-paying job. You can be grateful that you have a job while setting the intention of finding one that pays better or learning the skills that will give you a promotion.
How to bring practicing gratitude into your everyday life
- Make it part of your routine. Write down 3 things that you are grateful for in the morning when you wake up and/or in the evening before bed. Combine it with your daily intention practice. Doing this in the morning can set the tone for your day while doing it in the evening is a great way to wind down before bed.
- Write thank you notes. There is power in putting pen to paper and by writing a thank you note you send the gratitude into the universe in a permanent, physical form. Plus, how awesome does it feel to receive a heartfelt ‘thank you’ from someone?
- Thank someone mentally. Remember that everything is vibrations, so even when you send out gratitude in thought form they still have the power to raise some serious vibrations.
- Gratitude journal. A study done by Paulo Boggio and his colleagues has found that people who write about gratitude are able to regulate their emotions more often. They tend to check in with their emotions and can even ‘down-regulate negative images’ – which really just means that they can handle and adjust negative emotions easier. Check out our Gratitude Journal, which is filled with a year’s worth of journal prompts that support you to spend five minutes a day creating a written gratitude practice.
- Gratitude jar. Write down one thing that you are grateful for on a small piece of paper each day and place it in a container. Read the notes when you are preparing to set your intentions for the new year. This will help to create a space of gratitude from which you can create powerful intentions for the next year. You can also read a few of these when you are having a tough day as a pick-me-up. It’s okay, I won’t tell!
- Take pictures. Find things in ‘ordinary’ life that makes you smile. Take pictures of them. Soon you will start to notice more and more things that you can be grateful for that you never even noticed before.
- Meditate. Gratitude is connected to mindfulness (as we pay attention to the here and now) and we can cultivate both of these while we meditate. You can combine this with a mantra and/or while practicing with a mala. (Find out what malas are here or buy your very own here.)
Practicing gratitude helps us to really take note of the small things. It brings our attention to things that we might otherwise have taken for granted. Through practicing gratitude we don’t only hold the power to change our own lives, but also to change the lives of those around us. Are you ready to harness that power?