Wednesday, August 3, 2022

What does it mean to practice gratitude?

River Birch

    In the early days of gratitude studies and gratitude journals, the standard practice suggestion was to say or write two or three things you’re grateful for every morning and/or night. That’s a great start, however, it’s somewhat like admiring three lemon-yellow leaves on a fall river birch without noticing the fascinating patterns in its peeling bark, or it’s pleasing oval shape and size. Or the fact that it breathes out what we breathe in.

There’s so much more to notice and be grateful for. Brother David Steindl-Rast challenges us to notice the vastness of gratitude when he states, “Everything is a gift.” 


My building is being painted and there’s a painter in a lift spraying the walls. Every time he backs the lift up, it shrieks a back-up warning. Where’s the gift in that startling 100+ decibel noise?


Turns out, that back-up warning systems were invented in the US by Ed Peterson when he noticed that workers were being injured and killed by heavy equipment backing up on them. There aren’t a lot of workers being protected by the back-up signal in my courtyard, but, now when I hear that irritating sound, I think about the lives that have been saved and am grateful for it.

It’s easy to be grateful for the obviously good things in our lives: family and friends, health and success, summer days at the beach and a fuzzy puppy. The practice comes in continually noticing new things to be grateful for, scanning further and further away from our known gratitudes. 

Expressing gratitude deeper and wider is also what turns on the feel good chemicals in our bodies and makes practicing gratitude one of the most effective mindfulness practices.

Short exercise: wherever you are, turn your head and scan the room or the world around you and find one thing you’ve never said you were grateful for. 

Example: I just immediately noticed a wall outlet with two lamps plugged into it. I’ve never expressed gratitude for that outlet (or any outlet, actually) but it brings me light at night, so I am grateful for it … and for the company that made the outlet, the carpenter who installed it, the hardware store that carries it … and we could go on.

Gratitude ripples. The goodness in our life expands, slowly including everything around us, gently revealing our connection to every person, place, and thing in our world. This doesn’t happen overnight; that’s why we call it a practice.

What is something challenging in your life right now? How could you find a way to be grateful for it? Is it making you stronger, more compassionate, more insightful? Is it making you more creative about finding a way to cope with it?

If you're ready to practice gratitude, we invite you to check out Gratitude Mojo.

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- a simple progression toward your authentic self through exercises, daily gratitudes, weekly reflections, recognition of emotions, and habit creation.


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