Gratitude is more than just saying please and thank you! Gratitude is the proceeds thankfulness. Gratitude is more of an awareness where thankfulness is more thoughtful and action that flows from gratitude. The thank-yous are a social response flowing from gratitude.
Gratitude is something we cultivate within ourselves as we begin to shift our thinking from what we think we lack and become aware of what we do have. Gratitude is becoming aware not producing something. Gratitude is the awareness of the many wonderful things around us that are in a sense, unearned, but that connects us in a deeper way to life and our place in it. As we do this, we begin to see our heart and mind begin to shift. We discover beauty, resources and capacities that we may have taken for granted or overlooked. For example, when we begin to notice other people in our lives who make a difference - who support and encourage us, this can awaken graitude. We might begin to recognize the beauty around us; in the trees, flowers, sky or in the faces of others. We also begin to be grateful for many of the simple, even mundane things. These might include the food we eat or the clean water we drink.
Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation. - John Ortberg
As we begin to shift our attention, we will begin to discover gratitude expanding in our hearts. Gratitude helps us avoid bouts with the blues inspired by our own self-centeredness and this is really effective in reducing the pity parties. Why? Because it is really difficult to feel sorry for yourself when you are aware of the many good things in your life.
Expressing Gratitude is qualitatively different than expressing a polite thanks. Expressing gratitude is more deliberate and specific than social rhetoric. When we express gratitude, we are thinking of a specific, concrete situation / circumstance that moved us. Not simply because it was polite but often has more to do with something bigger than the action itself. For example: John bought me a cup of coffee is a nice idea. John bought me a cup of coffee because he recognized how hard I'm working and the long hours. John recognized that I was under a lot of pressure, and his gesture of coffee demonstrated his genuine empathy. This is worthy of gratitude!
Practicing gratitude will also support us through the stressful times. These times of stress can me mitigated with gratitude. We acknowledge the stressors in our life as well as all the life-giving things in our life, and provides a powerful balance which helps us from slipping into despair. This can also provide a healthier perspective, a big picture and helps us put our stressors in their proper perspective.
In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. – David Steindl-Rast
So how can we cultivate gratitude in our lives?
As I have explained above, it is more of an exercise of becoming aware. We are awakening to the many beautiful, meaningful and inspiring things around us. The best exercises, to help us with gratitude, are those that encourage us to wake up! This may seem like a funny concept, but very few of us live our lives awake. Many live life in the past or the future, while few of us stop long enough to consider that which is right in front of us. For example: Have you ever been outside at night, look towards the sky only to be startled by a sky packed with brilliant stars? Gratefulness is that moment we are arrested, startled into the present moment - this is the moment of gratitude. So any exercise that will help us learn to live more often in the present. Remember: as you practice to be as specific as you can. Generalities are okay but concrete specifics are more effective at awaken gratitude in us.
- Prayerful Reflection - Once a day, prayerfully reflect back over the day and ask the Lord to show you specific moments in your day that were gratitude moments. It is not unusual that when we take a moment to stop, look and consider we often discover many things throughout our day that we are grateful for. Interestingly, we will soon find ourselves recognizing these moments when they occur!
- Gratitude Journal - Take a few moments each day and prayerfully invite God's spirit to guide you through a reflection of your day and point out those situations and experiences, and then simply write about them in your gratitude book. Remember be sppecific about each thing. Write about your feeling and thoughts about each instance. It is often helpful to review your journal on a weekly or monthly basis. It is here that you can begin to recognize larger themes and may be able to discern a little more clearly what God may be doing in your life.
- Write a letter expressing sincere gratitude to someone. Pen and paper or an email, send a note to someone and express gratitude for them and something they did which really encouraged / helped you. Remember to be specific and concrete about the situation, their actions and be specific as to what it meant to you.
- GO SLOW - This may be the most difficult exercise of them all. Going slow is a deliberate change in our lifestyle where we actively learn to live awake. This may mean turning off our mobile devices for periods of time, so we are not distracted by the pings, dings, and rings. It means living life at a slower pace so we can begin to notice those things and situations around us. To notice the brilliance of a flowering garden that we pass by every day. To notice the laugh of a child or the clouds moving through the sky.
- It might mean with each meal as we give thanks for our food, we prayerfully consider everything that contributed to our meal. These may include the person who served it, those who cooked it. Those who transported it and those who raised/grew it, all the way back to the soil, the sun, the rain! All these things have conspired to provide us with our meal.
Cultivating Gratitude is an exercise in awareness, the process of waking up to all the things around you that support, encourage and inspire you. It is awakening to the quality of life in the small, everyday things that makes a life truly rich and can bring about lasting transformation. And don't be afraid to let your gratitude flow into sincere thanks and expressions of joy! Nothing wrong with enjoying being grateful!
This is part of a series on Practices for Inner Transformation. Other Practices with include:
Gratitude Seeing God in all things Silence Relational Generosity
Looking Up Present Moment Living Loved