Happy thanks giving: starting a gratitude practice

Posted by on Nov 23, 2015 in Blog, Mindfulness Training, Personal Coaching, Spiritual Shifts | 0 comments

Happy thanks giving: starting a gratitude practice

I can’t believe I let this happen again. It’s been nearly another year since my last blog post. And yet, what I find most disturbing is not that I haven’t blogged in so long, but that the year is almost over. I’ve only just gotten used to writing the five in “2015”, and in just a few short weeks, I have to start getting used to a six. They say that time moving faster is a sign of getting older, but I have several young clients  (by young I mean college-aged) and these kids are telling me that they’re finding that time is moving at an unsettling pace for them as well, so I have decided that there must be rip in the fabric of the time-space continuum. And because I know nothing more about physics other than words like quark and string theory and time-space continuum (knowing absolutely nothing about how to define any of them), I will stop there and move on to something that I know more about.

So, what to post today?! Well, in this moment, I feel like I SHOULD write about Step Four of my thoughts on “How To Make a Big Life Change”, that step being “Stand Behind Your Decision.” I feel like I SHOULD blog about it because the Itty-Bitty-Sh**ty-Committee in my brain is telling me that I have already taken two years too long outlining such steps, and I’m still only halfway through. Anyone who reads this blog who has been considering a leap may have very well changed their minds by now. The actual self-talk around this SHOULD goes something like this– “Do you know how many people (who are seriously successful psychologists/coaches) take this much time blogging about a six-step concept? Exactly no one.” But, I am not going to listen to that voice because, well, apparently I need to take over two years to get halfway through blogging about a six-step concept. And, I want to blog about something else today. So. There. I’m not going to SHOULD on myself. Take that IBSC.

Today I want to talk about “thanks giving”, or starting your gratitude practice. At least that’s timely, eh? Here we are, just a few days away from the one day on the calendar in which Americans are encouraged to have gratitude for the fact that, among other things, we can choose between approximately 30 toothpastes at one of the 12 grocery stores within a five mile radius. And that, for most of us, we can get there by car.

I know that I am not the first person to write about gratitude. Or about all the things that we have to be grateful for, and how so few of us take more than this single holiday to think about these things. But, I think it bears repeating. I think that it bears repeating because I am someone who is ridiculously fond of having a daily gratitude practice, and someone for whom it has been life changing. If you are a client of mine, we’ve probably already talked about this. If not, and you don’t have a gratitude practice, then keep reading.

Now is the perfect time to start a gratitude practice, because if you celebrate Thanksgiving, you’re already somewhat tuned in to the idea that it might be nice to think about that for which you are grateful. Start this practice now, and keep doing it, every day. Because the truth of it is this– every day you will find things that you can be grateful for– even on the crappiest of days. Believe me. I know this is true. You can even be grateful that as crappy as your day is, you still have it better than some other folks who are having even crappier days. Sometimes that needs to be part of your practice. There’s nothing wrong with having thanks for things not being worse.  Sometimes that’s all you can come up with, and that’s okay.

And what is the practice of gratitude? Well, it can be an in-the-moment awareness of that which you feel grateful for. But, for me, and what I recommend to others is that it’s a list. It can be a literal list, written down. Saved or tossed or burned. Or it can be a list in your mind. Those details don’t matter. What matters is that you take some time every day to think about these things; to truly pay attention and let it inform you about how you’re seeing your life.

First, start with the biggies. What stands out for you? Look at the things that you can clearly see that you can be grateful for, without even having to compare yourself to the rest of the world. Take an inventory of your life. What does it look like? What brings you joy, satisfaction, delight? Find the stuff that it is easy to feel grateful for first.

Then, extend that out. What things might you have to be grateful for that other people in the world, or even many people in our own country don’t have?

Remember that this practice is not just about being thankful for things. Make sure to give a gratitude shout out to those in your life who you love and who love you. These folks are on my list every day. Things are just things, but the love we get from (and give to) our peeps is a prize above diamonds.

Now stretch this out to the things that you take for granted; things that you might not even see unless you were really looking for them. Like garden gnomes. I mean, I’m not saying that you should be thankful for garden gnomes– just that, sometimes you don’t see garden gnomes when they’re there. Unless you would be thankful for finding a garden gnome, and in that case, put it on your list.

Don’t just rack your brain for history here– use all of your senses in THIS MOMENT, and use them often. I frequently make my daily list while I’m on my morning walk. It could be that I saw a precious cottontail rabbit in someone’s yard, or heard the song of the cardinal from the branch of a tree. It could be a brief conversation that I had with a stranger or even something simpler, like the smell of someone building a fire in my neighborhood when I come home on a cold night. Or the taste of an apple. It can be the gratitude for having that apple, and having the means to buy an apple that is organic.

The truth is that you can find ways to be grateful for everything. And sometimes, the best way we can do this is to use some contrast. For instance, every now again I have some lower back and hip discomfort that gets activated for reasons that are sometimes straightforward and sometimes mysterious. So, on a day when my spine feels tender as I get out of bed, I may offer up gratitude for the fact that I can walk, can stretch, can move my legs.  On a day when it’s in spasm, I can be grateful that I have a bag of frozen peas for icing it, or a chiropractor that can get me in relatively quickly if things go really cattywompus.

I may feel a moment of envy when someone tells me that they’ve taken several international trips in the last six months– so then I am grateful for the fact that I can generally take a trip every two to three years.  If the negative creeps in for you (and it will for most of us because we’re human), try to find a creative way to get around it. You can do it.

After a significant romantic relationship ended a couple of years ago, I experienced dating debacles and false starts for a while, and it was a painful and frustrating time. I would see friends with their partners, appearing joyful and connected, and I felt gratitude that I could experience their joy through them; thinking to myself how happy I was for their happiness, and that I was looking forward to love coming my way again, whenever the timing was right. I think that we can come to that equanimity in those situations and find joy for others more easily through having a practice of gratitude.

I will also recommend not just keeping your gratitude to yourself, but sharing it with others. I get a lot of happiness from telling those I love and care about that I feel grateful for them, for our relationships, for the times that we spend together. As cliché as it sounds, we truly do not know when we say goodbye to someone if that may be the last time we see them. One day, it will be. With everyone we love. So, without getting maudlin about it, I try to remember that every time I part with a friend or a family member, or a lover.

The same goes for my cats. I let them go outside in the backyard. They do not venture beyond, but I do see coyotes in the neighborhood and I have seen them jump six foot fences in a way that almost defies gravity. I have also seen them walk the streets with cats hanging out of their mouths. Every time I let my furkids out may be the last time I see them, and I remember that. They enjoy the feeling of the sun on their faces and bodies so much that I can’t let myself keep them from it, even though doing so may lead to a cruel and premature death. So, each time I let them out, I remember that, and love them up.  And I feel gratitude for their presence in my life.

Other thoughts:

You have trillions of cells in your body that know exactly what to do. Be grateful for them.

Seven years from now, no single cell that resides in your body now will be there. You will be completely new. Be grateful for that.

If you were able to eat today, give thanks.

If someone touched you gently before you got out of bed, or when you passed each other in the kitchen, or as they walked out the door this morning, Hallelujah. And if not, and you want that in your life, be grateful for your desire for it, and speak gently to someone who you pass today. And if someone speaks gently to you, be grateful for that moment.

If you got to have a good cup of coffee or tea this morning. . . yes. . .be grateful. And if someone made that cuppa for you? Be doubly so.

On days when it looks like there is nothing new, find five things that do not change that you can feel gratitude over when you think of them. You can use them over and over again. Your health, perhaps? Your work? And if you don’t have good health or a job, get smaller. Get as tiny as you need to and find something. Find a flower. Smile at someone and feel what it’s like when they smile back. Remember a beautiful moment that you once had and instead of wishing it hadn’t passed, have gratitude that you were able to have the experience.

Five things. That’s all. Every day. Think of them before you even get out of bed. Or on your way to work, or on the treadmill or in the line at Starbucks. Then remember them throughout the day.  Soon you’ll find yourself noticing things even beyond your list.  Then it gets really fun.  You will realize that you are starting to get at the true nectar of life.  And that’s a pretty special realization.

Research has shown that having gratitude is good for your physical and mental health. So really, there’s no reason not to do it. And even if it doesn’t help immediately, as you cultivate the practice, things will change. There have been times in my life when I was in despair; when I touched dark places. We all do. But having that practice of gratitude did something for me—even if I couldn’t exactly tell you what, or if I wasn’t able to express what the feeling was in that exact moment. It is cumulative, though, and it will change you in some way.

So. Try it out, yes?

Happy thanks giving.

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