Your real life is counted by those moments when you feel grateful. —Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
“Gratitude, yes gratitude,” you tell yourself. “I know it’s important .”
Yet if you are like a lot of us, you give a daily gratitude practice a try, even start a dedicated journal, but life happens and one day you wake up (or get a reminder like this article on Thanksgiving!) and realize you’ve let it all go.
There’s a reason why generations of spiritual teachers have told us about the importance of gratitude. Art of Living’s founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar takes it a step further when he states that “real life” only happens when we feel grateful.
Fortunately—lest we forget—every November in the US, Thanksgiving comes around to remind us to feel grateful. When we make gratitude a daily practice, our lives can change forever.
Why is gratitude important?
When you ask Google this question it replies with a list of 193,000,000 results in less than a second.
In one of these results, Robert Emmons—a leading expert—explains that a gratitude practice can strengthen your immune system, soothe aching joints, help lower your blood pressure, and allow you to sleep longer and deeper so you wake up feeling refreshed and ready for a new day.
Gratitude also has psychological benefits, which include feeling more positive, alert and alive, and experiencing greater joy, pleasure, optimism and happiness.
Generosity and compassion are more common among folks who practice gratitude. Studies show they are also more likely to forgive, reach out to others and feel less isolated.
How to Practice Gratitude
There are many ways to make gratitude a habit in your life.
Keep a gratitude journal. A journal helps you stay focused on what you are grateful for. Write in it daily, or keep a running list on your phone or in a Daytimer. Review your list at the end of the day to remind yourself of all you are grateful for. Until this becomes a habit, set alarms to remind you to stop and take stock of the good in your life.
Write a daily or weekly letter of gratitude to someone you know. You can send it or not. A study of college students seeking mental health services found that those who wrote one gratitude letter every week for three weeks enjoyed better mental health (at both four and twelve weeks) than did a group who wrote nothing or another that journaled about deeply felt negative experiences.
Pay attention. Stop during the day, take a breath and focus on what brings you joy. It could be a bite of your favorite dark chocolate, your dog greeting you when you arrive home, your partner giving you a hug, an achievement at work. Whisper thank you to each of these blessings and watch your list grow longer each day.
Meditate. Take time each day to sit quietly in meditation. This practice removes you from the past and future and brings you into the present moment. Now you can express genuine gratitude for everything from the sun shining on your face to your incredibly tasty lunch, the sound of the wind rustling through the trees and the huge bonus that just landed in your bank account.
Remind yourself daily that, “your real life is counted by those moments when you feel grateful.”
A Gratitude Meditation
Meditation moves you into the present moment. It is also a powerful tool to balance your mostly outer experience with the rich resources you have within.
The more present-focused and balanced you are, the more you are able to notice the goodness around you and be grateful for it all. And that includes what you may define as “good” as well as what may, in the moment, seem “not so good.”
Here are some simple steps to move you into a gratitude meditation.
- Sit quietly in a spot where you won’t be disturbed.
- Take a few deep breaths in and out to calm yourself. Feel the pressures of the day slide off your shoulders.
- Focus on your breath. Feel it entering your nostrils and moving back out again in a steady stream. A breath focus brings you into the present moment. You can’t breathe in the past or the future, only in the now.
- Once you are settled and your breath is calm, mentally go through a list of things in your life for which you are grateful: a beautiful day, a sip of your favorite tea, your family, your friends, your work, your pets.
- Say thank you to each item on your list, keep breathing, and move on to the next one. If thoughts or worries enter your mind, don’t resist them. Let them float in and out again like clouds passing overhead. Or, load them all into a hot air balloon and watch them float off into the sky.
- When you are finished with your list sit quietly for a few minutes and let feelings of gratitude wash over you.
- Then slowly, when you are ready, open your eyes and move into your day, or into your rest if you meditate at day’s end.
If you are new to meditation and find it difficult to sit still for any length of time, accept that and keep it short. Start with just ten minutes or even five. The more you practice the more effortless this process will seem and you may notice yourself sitting quietly for longer and longer periods of time. If not, that’s OK too. What’s important is to make space in your day for a life changing practice.