Cultivating Mindfulness with Gratitude
Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. ~Robert Brault In last week’s Experimenting with Mindfulness post, Mini-Habits for Showing Up Mindfully, a suggested practice was a ‘gratitude pause’, which encouraged pausing at any point in the day to consider something for which you are grateful. Grateful appreciation is cleansing. It’s like removing a film that has been covering the lens through which we see life. Being thankful is, in fact, much more than that – it is good for you. Thank You Power by Debra Norville, for example, indicates that being thankful for what you have in your life can lead to greater optimism, acceptance, resilience, alertness, adventurousness, creativity, fitness, health, and longer life. Here we’ll focus on ways you can practice mindfulness to cultivate gratitude and appreciation. What if a lasting sense of completion, an enduring feeling of contentment, was possible – simply by changing the lens through which we viewed daily life? Nothing dramatic, nothing painful – no calories expended: just a conscious alteration of the way we look at our own little corner of the world. ~Debra Norville Awaken your appreciation If you’ve been following the Experimenting with Mindfulness series this May, you’ll recall we started with a practice called STOP!, where you create small pauses to observe what you are thinking and feeling, physically and emotionally. The STOP and the below recommended practices are about noticing. Attention is foundational to mindfulness, so that it is maintained on the present moment experience. The activities below can help awaken your appreciation by inviting you to focus intently on your experience of the moment. Everyday Routines: Choose a routine activity that you complete every day (such as brushing your teeth, walking the dog, making the bed) and be awake for it; that is, pay attention to what you are doing and how you feel physically and emotionally while doing it. Notice your thoughts, feelings and sensations. Really observe yourself in the moment. You may not experience gratitude when doing this, and that is ok. The aim is to establish a solid base for appreciative attention. Simple Objects: Hold an object in your hand, such as a rock, shell, egg, flower, piece of grass, or a leaf. Pick up anything that happens to be around. Notice its color, shape, texture. Notice how it feels in your hands, the thoughts it generates, and the feelings it invites. Is there anything about the object or your relationship to it that you appreciate? It’s ok if the answer is no. Accept whatever comes without expectation or judgment. Smiley Heart: Start by focusing on your breath. Then, gently bring a smile to your face. Then, perhaps you put one of your hands over your heart (then maybe both). Notice any shifts in your sensations, feelings, and thoughts with each action. Sit quietly this way for as long as you wish, from a few seconds to an extended meditation practice. Notice any differences in your experience from before to after the practice. Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. ~William Arthur Ward Grow Your Gratitude This second set of suggested practices focuses on your orientation toward your experience in the present moment, specifically nurturing the attitude of gratitude. The practices are most impactful when done consistently, so if one of them seems like something you want to try, consider making a commitment and establishing a system of support (a post-it with ‘PAUSE IN GRATITUDE’, do it with a partner and help each other remember, for example). You can combine these practices with breathing techniques (such as those we recommended in the previous post, Building Awareness Through the Breath). Grateful Beginnings & Endings: When you go to bed each night, name something from the day that you are grateful for. If you find this difficult, go beyond your experience of the day and include things you are generally appreciative of. You might identify people, places, things, feelings, activities, qualities such as friendship, home, flowers, joy, relaxing, or creativity, for example. Anything can be the object of your appreciation, even pain and mistakes that you grow from. You could also identify something you are grateful for when you awake each morning. Count Your Blessings: Once a day, name 3 things that you are grateful for. Feel free to identify more than 3 things or to do it more than once a day! Gratitude Journaling: Find a time each day (e.g., first thing in the morning, during lunch or another break during the day, right before bed) and write about something for which you are thankful. Notice your feelings and sensations; then just start writing. Don’t worry about making it neat or getting the words right, just let the appreciation flow onto the page. You get the joy not only of the memory of the focus of your gratitude but also the experience of joy in the moment as you recall it. This mindfulness technique can help us shift how we perceive situations by shaping what we focus on. You might also consider responding to prompts such as those provided below. Gratitude Writing Prompts What am I grateful for right now? In this moment, what do I love? What is precious to me? I feel good when… I appreciate… Today I enjoyed… Deepen your understanding As you practice gratitude, over time you may notice that your appreciation of things for which you are grateful grows deeper and richer, that you are more in tune with how gratitude influences your thoughts, your feelings, and physically how you feel. My wish is that you experience some benefit from whatever practices you might try or already engage in (if the latter, please feel invited to share in the comments).