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Thankful

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1,500 Days of Gratitude

September 24, 2018

Photo: Annie Spratt

Today, marks 1,500 days of gratitude practice.  Recently we celebrated four years together, but somehow this milestone takes my breath away.  It has become commonplace in our lives to mark annual events (birthdays, anniversaries) and it is easy to become complacent.  But, when I break this down to days – as is done in a gratitude journal – this milestone feels profoundly tangible.  I remember when I started this task and it was a 7 day challenge.  Then it seemed that 21 days would be onerous, and somehow we’ve hit the 1,500 day marker on the journey to 10,000 days of gratitude.

Ten thousand days amounts to the opportunity to witness a complete lifetime transformation in a person.  But we transform in so many ways along the way; we don’t reach the end point and suddenly – poof – we are a different person.  Each day brings something new, and each day we either handle it with an overarching view of cynicism, bitterness and regret or we find those small moments of gratitude, joy, oneness and service (and the other tools we’ve added along the way).  By finding those gems each day, we can not only celebrate the wonder of life but also weather and more easily transform those periods – and they can stretch on for years, sometimes – of real challenge.  Not everyone will stay the course of 10,000 days with me, and so it is in the small steps and the consistent practice, that I hope emotional contagion takes hold with the reader.

One thousand and five hundred days – without break – fills me with awe.  I was proud of the first year milestone, but this milestone is the first time I’ve been filled with awe at the power of one day at a time.    I’m not disciplined in all areas of my life.  A quick look at my filing basket at work or my treat cupboard in my kitchen will tell you that.  And, at the same time, I have done many things in my life that have required discipline, but those efforts played to my strengths of study and solo sports.  Gratitude – well – that is not something that I remember seeing around me much, as I was growing up.  It isn’t that we were particularly entitled.  Each achievement was simply the stepping stone for the next, in an effort to keep one’s head above water.   My parent’s generation sacrificed so that I could have a better life.  And not to be grateful, now, seems stingy, to say the least.

Today, I am awed and humbled by the spiritual discipline it took to get to this marker.  I’ve tried for 30 years to meditate and I’m still rubbish at it.  I remember learning from the yoga sutras that one only becomes ‘firmly grounded’ in spiritual practice if it is done “for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness.”  My meditation and yoga practice has been sporadic and I didn’t have much hope of becoming firmly grounded, in this lifetime.  Having achieved 1,500 days of gratitude, I am beginning to believe that a steady meditation practice is possible for me.

Don’t get me wrong, my basic personality hasn’t changed in the last 4 years or so.   I was raised in a culture of pessimism.  I still see the risk, first, when I look at a situation.  But with 1,500 days of gratitude practice, I have built new neuropathways that allow me also to see the opportunity, at a second glance.  We may not be able to undo all the conditioning of our lives, (and maybe we can), but, I certainly know that we can develop new options.

Today, I’m grateful.  I’m grateful for all my readers and friends, without whose support I, personally, might not have made it. On those days when I was stuck in a loop of want or self pity, I’m grateful for their compassionate understanding, first, and then a gentle reminder of my gratitude practice.  I’m grateful to those who gave of their time to be interviewed for the website and whose story provides inspiration to us all.   This morning I wrote to a photographer whose images I often use – or want to use – on this website (Annie Spratt) to thank her.  It is a small gesture and she is just one of the many photographers and artists who create the visual landscape of this space.  To them all, I say:  Thank you.   Finally, I’m deeply indebted and grateful to C. Michael Frey and L.H. for their design and web development assistance to create this platform.

Thank you for being a part of this community and continuing journey.  As always, I invite you to share your own Odyssey with us.

Photo: Annie Spratt

For what are you most grateful, today?

Gratitude, Gratitude Practice, The Daily Practice, The Practices

Establishing A Gratitude Practice

November 27, 2015
photo-1428279148693-1cf2163ed67d

Photo by Sebastien Gabriel

Setting out to establish a habit of being grateful may seem a daunting task, when one sees the words “Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.”  Unlike Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hours for mastery, gratitude does not require ten thousand days of practice in order to become habitual or to feel the benefits in one’s life.

In a few days, the mood is increased and the attention begins to focus more on the positive.  Over the course of time, one moves from a daily or weekly practice of reflective appreciation into  “grateful living.”

Just as in winning the London marathon, one doesn’t suddenly decide to accomplish the goal, buy a pair of trainers and run 26 miles in record time.  One builds up with gradual practice and training.  The gratitude journal is the basic building block of training for grateful living.

 

 

The Gratitude Journal 

The Basic Process:

The practice is simple.

Taking some time to reflect on what is good in one’s life and writing this in a journal is what is known as keeping a gratitude journal.  One can keep the journal daily or weekly or at some frequency in between.  One’s journal should be kept at least weekly and should contain at least 3 items for which one is grateful in each entry.

In order to reap the maximum benefits, keep the journal in a deeply reflective way: take the time and space required to deeply feel a sense of appreciation for those things, people and moments that fill the journal.

 

Relaxed Presence and Attention:

To help make the gratitude journal a deeply reflective practice, begin each session by becoming present, attentive and relaxed.  It can be helpful to spend a few minutes to let go of the stresses, worries and strains of the day. By taking this time, one becomes more emotionally and intellectually present and focus and attention is improved.

Begin by getting quiet. Sit with the back straight (but not straining), with feet on the floor or on a pillow, if the feet do not comfortably touch the floor.

With the eyes closed, bring the focus to the breath. Without interrupting or changing the normal breathing pattern, simply witness the pattern.  Observe the air flowing in and out of the nose, chest, and belly. If thoughts or emotions arise, notice that they have arisen, and without judgement, simply return the attention to the breath.

Do this for at least 2 minutes before commencing the journaling session.  Feel free to do those for as long as it takes to become alert and present.

 

 

Building the Habit 

Goals are easier to achieve if our goals are specific, measurable, realistic, achievable and time bound.

 

  • Specific:  Be as specific as possible about why the people or things or moments are meaningful and be as specific as possible on what it is that is appreciated.  Being grateful for the way one’s partner listens, without interrupting or problem solving is more meaningful than being grateful for one’s partner or even the fact that one’s partner is good at listening.
  • Measurement: Efforts can be measured in terms of days of practice against the targeted number of days, or, perhaps more meaningfully, theough a weekly or fortnightly mood check-in at the start of the session.
  • Achievable: There will be good days and bad days.  Some days it will be very difficult to think of three things for which to be grateful. Do the practice, anyway.  Use the aid of some prompts to help activate the gratitude response. An example can be found in our article  “20 Things for Which to be Grateful”
  • Realistic: Be realistic about the time the journal will take and about the other demands on one’s time.  If days are chaotic, perhaps it is wise to begin the day with the journal.  If one morning gets missed, there is the entire day and evening in which to carve out time and catch up that day’s entry.  And, if all else has failed that day, it is possible to complete the journal as a last task before sleeping.  If time is very scarce, consider journaling weekly rather than daily.
  • Time Bound: Set aside a time each day during which to journal.  Try to make this a regular time every day or each week.  At the start of the journey, set a goal of 21 days if journaling on a daily basis and 10 weeks if doing it weekly.  Extend this time as you wish, but begin with a short, time bound period to help maintain motivation.

 

Why Gratitude?

Positive psychologists argue that each of person has an emotional set point which makes it easier for some individuals to be grateful.  Fortunately, practicing gratitude or giving thanks need not be predicated on feeling grateful, although studies indicate that gratitude practice does lead to positive emotions.

In a series of studies, Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami found that the keeping of a weekly gratitude journal led to a decrease in symptoms of physical illness, an increase in life satisfaction and an increase in optimism.   Those who kept a gratitude journal on a daily basis were more likely to help someone else.  Those who regularly practice gratitude report better sleep patterns, suffer less stress related diseases and are more interconnected in their communities.  School children who practiced gratitude for several weeks had noticeable learning improvement, long after the experiment ended.

 

 

 

Achieving the Goal

As in much of life, the point of this practice is not to achieve the goal, but to alter the manner in which one sees the world.  Along the way, one also gains the benefits of the process.   Moving from a goal orientation to making gratitude a habit will take considerably longer than 21 days.  However, considering the benefits experienced, it seems strange to even consider returning to an attitude of entitlement, of taking life for granted and of disconnection from community.

There is no need to make a Ten Thousand Day commitment.

Simply continue to take time to notice the wonder of life and to be grateful.