Gratitude is a concept that has been thrown around a lot lately, but I don’t think it has been very well defined or that there has been a clear way in which people are saying you should, “be grateful.” I believe that it is helpful to actively feel gratitude for the very specific things that we might be taking for granted on a daily basis. If you are reading this, for example, you have a lot to be grateful for. The fact that you have managed to access an internet connection means that for sure, you are not lacking some of life’s necessities like, I don’t know, clean drinking water. Let’s face it, we live like royalty compared to most people on this planet.
I love the phrase, “First world problems.” It points out how fortunate I really am. Just the other day I was complaining to a coworker about my new schedule. I chose to work weekends and closing shifts at the restaurant so that I could take care of my four month old daughter during the day. It works out great because my wife works a nine-to-five and we can pass off the baby without having to put her into day care. I was complaining that I don’t get a day off with my wife and that I don’t get as much sleep as I’d like when I realized that, of course, this is exactly what we wanted. I love my life and I’m so grateful that I have a job that is flexible and that my six year old son is starting little league baseball, and we have air conditioning, and can afford to buy organic foods. The list goes on. There is so much to be grateful for!
My gratitude practice includes reflecting on what I am grateful for throughout the day and especially as I lie in bed before falling asleep each night. I run down the list of everything I’m grateful for from my family to my home and my job, and yes, I remember to be grateful for clean drinking water! How is that still a thing?! My gratitude meditation is very similar to a prayer. Some people keep gratitude journals where they write down one thing every day that they are grateful for. You might reflect on gratitude first thing in the morning. Whatever works!
The act of intentionally feeling gratitude is important to our physical and mental well-being. Research on gratitude has revealed some amazing benefits. Feeling grateful reduces stress and can help lessen depression. A daily reflection on gratitude has been shown to increase attributes such as alertness, enthusiasm, and determination. People engaged in the practice tend to get better and more sleep. They are also more likely to help someone else with a personal problem or offer them emotional support. There are also indications that a gratitude practice has benefits related to heart health.
Gratitude can be experienced as an object of meditation, just like the breath. When you feel grateful for something, hold the feeling, observe it like an object. Let’s say you’ve just had a wonderful meal at a nice restaurant and you realize that you are grateful. Hold that thought. Observe it. How does it feel emotionally and physically? Are you feeling happy? Do you feel energized? Explore the depth of the thing you are grateful for. Are you feeling gratitude toward the cooks that prepared the meal? Are you grateful that you have the money to eat at such a nice restaurant? Consider the server who gave you excellent service, the owner of the restaurant who had the vision to bring together the food and ambiance. Go even deeper. Think about the farmer who cared for the ingredients that were prepared and brought to the table. There’s a lot going on that we take for granted every day.
As we improve and strengthen our mindfulness, it is important to direct it at useful mindsets like gratitude and compassion. (I was originally going to write this post on both gratitude and compassion, but quickly discovered that they both merit their own posts.) These attributes further our own well-being in addition to that of our immediate communities, (families, coworkers, and people we encounter every day), and inevitably, they improve the world. As more and more people begin to experience meditation and begin to feel gratitude and compassion, we all become more whole, suffering decreases across the board while happiness increases. The effects are real. I somehow don’t think the skeptics will have read this far, so please, try this for yourself and see if you agree. Don’t take my word for it. And if you see a benefit here, please share what you have found with those people in your life who might need it the most. And be grateful.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I am grateful.