Saying you’re grateful for things is easy. We say we’re grateful every day in many ways, from a simple “Thank you” to an “of course I’m grateful for this.” But really feeling gratitude is much harder. It is something which does not come naturally to those of us who are so fortunate as to live here in the industrialized Western world, sheltered from poverty, war, famine or natural catastrophes.
It is something we need to learn again. Fortunately, it is very easy. It just requires a little bit of practice and remembering. Some people find it easy to leap right in, think about everything they have to feel grateful for and then really, deeply feel it. Others have no trouble noticing fleeting moments of gratefulness and hanging on to them in their memories to prompt more and more often in the future. Others need to sit down and think about it a bit before it starts to come naturally again.
About a year ago I decided to cultivate the feeling of gratitude. As usual, I did a lot of research and felt totally overwhelmed by so many of the suggestions presented in books and articles. It was too much for me to contemplate every move of mine and feel gratitude for it: the clothes I was wearing; the toilet I owned which flushed properly; the taps which gave me water on demand; the food I ate and how and where it came from; the comfortable life I lead and how and where it came from … Let alone including the grateful thoughts for my family, my relatives, my friends and everything else I was being encouraged to feel grateful for each day.
But then I hit on the right answer for me. I read one sentence with changed it all and put it all into perspective for me. It was easy, it was natural, it was real, it wasn’t something I had to artificially construe in my head and work on phrasing or anything else complicated. And I got started straight away.
Each night as I sank into my bed, tired, sometimes aching, longing for sleep I just let a very heartfelt “Thank you!” flow through my mind as my body sank into the mattress. Before I knew it, that “Thank you” seemed to be flowing through every nerve and fiber of my body. I was truly grateful for bed at the end of the day.
From there everything just flowed along naturally and easily. I was grateful I could go to bed at night. I was grateful that I had such a comfortable bed in such a lovely home. I was grateful for my home and for my family. I was grateful for the easy life I could lead. If my muscles ached, I was grateful for my health and strength to be able to do sport and exercise. If I was mentally tired, I was grateful for the challenges to my brain that day. I was grateful for the friends and situations which allowed me to use my body and mind.
It all snowballed. Often I fall asleep still thinking of all the things I am grateful for, and some mornings I even wake up still smiling and carrying on my feelings of gratitude. That one small, heartfelt “Thank you” as I sank into bed opened my heart and mind to everything I have and am so grateful for.
This year I added a gratitude practice to the end of my five minute morning yoga and stretch routine. During this routine I focus on a small selection of things in my life which are very important to me, where I’ve already made progress and where I want to make more progress. It takes me about two minutes to go through my list. I just visualize the items mentally, playing a little film in my head and say a sincere thank you as they reel in front of me.
And, with the recent events in Japan, coupled with Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and all the other troubled areas in the world, I have added a specific thank you at night time. I take a couple of minutes to contemplate it and the deep feelings of gratitude flow unbidden through me.
From one small, seemingly insignificant event in the day my life is turning into one where a “Thank you” is not just an automatic response, but one which comes from the heart and soul. It may still take time for those two words uttered at the salt, bread or salad being passed also come from so deep within, but many steps have been taken along the journey to see the wonders and joys of each day and each situation and to feel true gratitude for them.
Try it, you might end up being surprised.