The attitude of gratitude

With gratitude in the forefront of your awareness, it is difficult to see the world as something to be dealt with; rather, it becomes your friend, your ally and your supporter.

by Sarah McLean — 

This is it, the season for gratitude. Wise men and women throughout the ages have encouraged us to feel grateful for what we have. Why? To put it simply, gratitude makes us feel good. When you are feeling grateful, your mind is clear, you have a dearer relationship to the universe and its creator, and you become more aware of the big picture. With gratitude in the forefront of your awareness, it is difficult to see the world as something to be dealt with; rather, it becomes your friend, your ally and your supporter.

According to the latest research, grateful people really are different. Are you a grateful person? You can be, with a little practice. Gratitude practices are truly transformative.

Qualities of grateful people

  • They have higher levels of positive emotions.
  • They are more satisfied with life.
  • They have greater vitality and optimism.
  • They are more likely to share what they have with others.
  • They have lower levels of stress and depression.
  • They have a greater capacity for empathy.
  • People see them as more generous and more helpful.
  • They are more apt to see the interconnectedness of life.
  • They have a responsibility and commitment to others.
  • They place less importance on material goods.
  • They are less likely to judge others based on materialism.

“Practicing gratitude helps people extract the most out of life. People can also experience an overall shift to a more benevolent view of the world. I think it is kind of a spiritual shift for some people because it makes them more aware of life as a gift,” says psychologist Dr. Robert Emmons of U.C. Davis.

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow,” says Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More. Now who wouldn’t want that?

The following are simple ways to foster a sense of gratitude:

1. Keep a gratitude journal — Every evening before meditation or before bed, spend a few minutes writing the answers to the following questions: What have I received today? What have I given today? Ask, then listen for the answers and write them down. You cannot do it wrong.

The answers don’t have to be poetic, but the act of writing them down will bring your attention to how you are being supported in life. We might even become aware that we have received much more than we have given, and not only does that cultivate gratitude, it also often cultivates a sense of wanting to give something back to the world.

2. Remember all things — In his book, The Wisdom of Wallace Wattles, which inspired the movie, The Secret, Dr. Wattles says, “It is necessary to cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you; and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

3. Make “thank you” your mantra — Many ways exist to communicate thank you. Gratitude can be felt inside with quiet feelings from your heart, or your thanks can be expressed externally through acts of kindness toward others, or a simple gift or thank you note. Sharing gratitude replenishes your shared spirit. A heartfelt thank you creates a momentary bond, and the accumulation of these fleeting moments builds permanent links, until one day you have an abundance of loving, helpful and supportive people in your life. You are no longer lonely in your outer world. Giving can be as rewarding as receiving.

4. Keep coming back to present-moment awareness — Every moment offers an opportunity for thanks. And every “thank you” can return you to the present moment. “On the first day of spring, I was raking the gravel off the grass. It was hard, and I was starting to complain to myself,” said Nancy Hathaway, a Buddhist teacher. “When I caught myself thinking and complaining, I switched over to ‘thank you.’ I remembered I really wanted to rake, and I wanted springtime. Gratitude practice for me is about letting go of thinking and welcoming in the present moment.”

5. Create a thanksgiving ritual — Every moment, every meal is an opportunity to say thank you. A formal prayer is not required — easily bring your attention to what you are grateful for in the moment. This practice can become a touchstone to the miracles of life that might have gone unnoticed.

6. Maintain your gratitude practice even when you do not feel particularly grateful — When life is difficult, when you feel sad, anxious or alienated, or if you are dealing with a difficult relationship, choosing to be grateful can transform your perspective. Even for a few moments, your awareness can shift to one of appreciation and contentment for all that is: both the wonderful and the frustrating experiences. Scientists have found that feeling grateful produces endorphins in your brain, the same chemicals that reduce stress, lessen pain and improve your immune functions.

Being grateful puts you in a totally different mindset, changes your energy level and enables you to reestablish your connection to your source, your spirit. It is impossible to be grateful and unhappy or in fear at the same time. The negativity and anger will begin to dissipate. The struggle stops and your inner world calms. An attitude of gratitude trumps all negative emotions every time.

This is the power of gratitude. Each time you say “thank you,” you replenish your trust in the loving power of the universe, acknowledge the infinite abundance available to you, and express your right and willingness to share in all good things. My hope is that each one of us can embrace every experience of our lives as a magnificent gift. And thank you.

 

Sarah McLean teaches meditation throughout Arizona and is the director of the Sedona Meditation Training Co. 928-204-0067 or www.SedonaMeditation.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 26, Number 6, December 2007/January 2008.

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