With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to talk about gratitude. Many of us will be spending time with family and tucking into a feast. Before you fall into that food coma in your Barcalounger, you might take stock of the role gratitude plays in your life.
Free your mind with thanks
Life throws us curve balls now and then. Thinking about what is going well can reduces stress and helps us relax.
The areas where we focus our breath and energy (in asana practice and off the mat) tend to be the places that grow. The things we feed become stronger. Instead of perpetuating negative samskaras, put your energy into what is going well. You’ll naturally attract more positivity. Your positivity will ripple out into the world around you.
Your meditation practice is the perfect place to focus on gratitude. You can always start with the small things. “I am thankful for the air in my lungs. I am thankful that I am well enough to engage in this practice.” You can then expand your meditation to include gratitude for others.
It may be a challenge, but you can even find ways to be thankful for things that are a bit harder to be thankful for. That high-strung coworker who asks you a million questions is trying to make sure they do the job correctly. When we can turn to wonder instead of frustration, it’s easier to have compassion for others. Suddenly, the things that seemed frustrating to us are not so stressful.
The health benefits of gratitude
Gratitude is an important aspect of mindfulness, but it’s also great for your physical and mental health. The link between the immune system and stress has been well-researched since the late 80s and early 90s. Gratitude reduces stress and increases our overall happiness. What’s not to love?
How to incorporate gratitude into your day
Keeping a gratitude journal is a simple practice that can have a profound impact. You don’t need a special type of journal to engage in this practice. Any old notebook will do. Just be sure to dedicate some time and space to capturing your thoughts. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Start with an intention
You’ll be able to reap more of the benefits if you approach your gratitude journal with an intention. Make up your mind to notice the good things that happen to you and around you.
2. Set some conditions.
This practice is most effective when it is done consistently. That doesn’t mean you need to take 30 minutes out of every day to do this. Just make a commitment to yourself. Perhaps you decide that you want to check in three times a week to make note of the great things happening in your life. Maybe you decide you need to write down one item every day. It’s up to you to define the parameters.
3. Sometimes you’ll have to dig deep.
Some weeks are filled with big, exciting, life-changing twists of good fortune. Other weeks may feel like the Universe is conspiring against you. In tough times, you may have to look below the surface to find things to be grateful for. In a very difficult week, for example, you might be thankful for your support system or your willingness to show up for yourself or others.
4. Be sure to say the what and the why
Most of us can rattle off a few things to be thankful for, but you’ll reap more benefits from your gratitude practice if you can also articulate why you’re thankful. Asking why gives you a chance to reflect on positive aspects of your life with more depth and clarity. It will also make it easier to understand your gratitude journal when you look back on it. That brings me to my next point…
4. Look at the big picture.
Plan to revisit your gratitude journal to reflect. Doing this on a monthly or quarterly basis will enable you to see patterns. What are some areas where it is easy for you to practice gratitude? Where is it harder for you to be grateful? Are there common themes in your journal?
5. Give thanks to others.
Gratitude does not exist in a vacuum. Often, when we have things to be grateful for, there are also people who helped make those things happen. Take the time to thank the people who support you.
Appreciation is a wonderful gift that you can give freely. Many of our friends, colleagues, and partners go above and beyond for us with no expectation of anything in return. Thank them in person or write them a note. It’ll make their day.
Find the beauty to find your bliss
With 24-hour news cycles filled with stressful and sometimes disturbing stories, it is more important than ever to be able to look for the good. While we can’t control the actions of others, we can do our best to become the most fully realized versions of ourselves. We can strengthen our ability to feel compassion for and show support to others. Gratitude is an instrumental building block for a better world.
If you need a quiet place to build your gratitude practice, Panama might be calling your name! It’s not too late to join us!