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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.

 

 

 

Articles, Gratitude, Gratitude Practice, The Daily Practice, The Practices

20 Things for Which to be Grateful

November 25, 2015
Photo by Matt Jones

Photo by Matt Jones

Sometimes when we look at the world or at our lives, we see so much that is negative, it is hard to think of anything for which to be grateful. Those who talk about gratitude can sound like saccharin coated nuts.  But, once we start the process of looking for things, people and moments to appreciate, it really does get easier.

When I lived in New York, every year at Thanksgiving, my friends would take turns expressing something for which they were grateful.  I think it is a practice common in many American households. It was never something we had adopted in my home for Canadian Thanksgiving but it was a tradition I loved, immediately.  I know the standard things we all say: family, friends, health, etc.

But if we want to go deeper, or to find different things for which to be grateful, a little reflection may be needed.  There are an infinity of possibilities in our day to day lives but perhaps they get taken for granted in our rush through the day.  When we really look into our lives and take the time to think about everything for which we are deeply thankful, we find so much that brings meaning to our lives.

To prepare for Thanksgiving or to inspire you to start that gratitude journal, I have made a short list of prompts to help you uncover all those things and people and moments you really do appreciate.

Let’s not keep appreciation limited to an annual event! Let us build those muscles for gratitude on a regular basis.  I hope you have fun trying this!

  1. Your favourite place in the city or town you live:  Think about this place.   What does it smell like? What do you see and hear when you are there? How does it make you feel when you are there? Why is that important to you?
  2. Helpful tools and inventions: It might sound banal, but how often do we take for granted the tools that make our lives easier? Our car that gets us from place to place, the coffee maker that creates the elixir of life whilst we shower, the spell check that removes rude misspellings in our memos and emails, and the computer that lets us write our gratitude journal are all worthy of appreciation.  What tools and inventions make your life a little easier?
  3. Your best childhood friend: Whether you are still in touch or not, there was a time when this person was your best friend.  What did you like about them? What sort of things did you do together? How did you feel, being around them? What did you learn from them? Is there something you appreciate about them or about the time you shared that you never told them? Appreciate it now.
  4. Laughter:  This is one of my favourites. What and who makes it possible for you to have a giggle, a chuckle, a belly laugh or to lose control and laugh hysterically?
  5.  Favourite smell or taste experienced recently: Be as specific as possible.  If chocolate is your favourite taste, is it Kit Kat or is it the special dark chocolate Kit Kat you find only at certain retailers? What smells or tastes pleased you, today?
  6. A little luxury: For everyone, the idea of luxury is different, but we can find luxury in the everyday.  Maybe it is a once a week coffee drink at a local café, or the occasional haircut where someone else washes your hair and you relax.  Maybe it is an extra 15 minutes in your warm bed on a cold morning before getting ready for the day.  Where is your little bit of luxury, in life? What makes it possible?
  7. Favourite sound: What is your favourite sound? Maybe it is a band, birdsong at sunrise, or children laughing.  Listen to something you love and see how it makes you feel.
  8. Adventure:  Where do you find adventures, great and small? We don’t have to take a holiday to travel.  Books from the library, films in the cinema, television and the Internet tourist blogs can all take us on adventures.  And, we can take small adventures everyday by speaking to the cute person at the coffee shop who makes us blush and fumble our words.  We can take the bus to a new area of town or go hear a band we have never heard.  We might try cuisine that is foreign, or a wear a colour we think is too bold.  How do you find your adventures? What makes it possible for you to have a little adventure now and then?
  9. Compliments: Think of someone who has paid you a compliment in your life.  How did it feel?
  10. Kindness: We are all recipients of kindness but the key is in noticing when it happens.  Think of the last time someone bought you lunch or a coffee or the last time someone held the door for you.  Has a stranger struck up a conversation with you or offered you directions? Perhaps another register opened at the grocery store and the clerk called you over to be served next.  If you can’t think of a time you received kindness then be kind to another person and appreciate the response that you receive.  Maybe it will take 5 acts of kindness to strangers before someone smiles. Do it anyway. The world needs it.
  11. Romantic Love: This should be self explanatory. But, sometimes, when love ends, it hurts.  No matter how it ended, love always has given us good feelings at some point.  The challenge is to appreciate those moments even in our grief.  I like to call this a beautiful hell. Where was the beauty in that relationship. There you will find something to appreciate.
  12. Other Love: The Greeks had names for various types of love: Eros (see above), Philia (friendship), Ludus (playful love), Agape (a kind of spiritual love for all), Pragma (longstanding mature love), Philautia (self love).  Where in your life do you experience these forms of love as either the lover or the beloved? What and who makes it possible, in your life?
  13. Coziness:  What makes you feel cozy? Who or what allows you to indulge in that coziness in your life?
  14. Vitality:  Most of us lose our youthful energy as time goes on.  What makes you feel alive? Is it the cold wind on your face? Is it hiking to a mountain top? Is it singing loudly to music in the shower or in the car? Is it jumping out of a plane or cresting a loop on a roller coaster or maybe diving to the bottom of the ocean? Is it making it through the Pilates class on Wednesday night and feeling your abdominal muscles ache the next day? What is it that reminds you that you are alive?  Where do you get some of this in your life? What makes that possible?
  15. Timelessness:  Where do you lose track of time? Is it when you draw, or paint or swim? Perhaps you lose track of time photographing wildlife or singing or simply sitting and noticing the breath.  How does it feel to lose track of time?  What makes it possible for you to engage in activities in which you go into flow and lose track of time?
  16. Seasons: What is your favourite part of the season? Why do you like it? What makes it possible for you to have a place and a time to enjoy it?
  17. A cherished memory:  Think of your most cherished memory. Relive it in as much sensory detail as possible.  Who or what made this memory possible, for you?
  18. Sources of strength:  From whom or what do you draw strength when life is difficult?
  19. Absence: We can be grateful for those people and things present in our lives but we can also be grateful for those now absent.  We may be grateful for their absence because they were causing us pain by their presence.  Or, as I tend to practice this one, we may simply be grateful for lost loved ones despite their absence.  One of my favourite toasts is: “To absent friends and family” because it brings them into the here and now, to be with us in our moment of deep thanks, even as we are missing them.
  20. Teachers:  Who has been your greatest teacher and what lessons did you take from them? How has that helped you in your life? Teachers can be either benevolent or difficult people and circumstances in our lives. Sometimes, difficulty is our greatest teacher and finding meaning in our adversity gives us something to appreciate, even from our most difficult and darkest hours.

 

The list is not exhaustive.  I hope you give it a go, and will keep adding to it.  The more we appreciate the small moments, the more we recognise how much we have for which to be grateful.

 

Please help us build on the list! For what are you grateful?