Practicing Gratitude


“For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, for love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Three Gratitudes”
Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I’m grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It’s a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day.
Sunlight, and blueberries,
Good dogs and wool socks,
A fine rain,
A good friend,
Fresh basil and wild phlox,
My father’s good health,
My daughter’s new job,
The song that always makes me cry,
Always at the same part,
No matter how many times I hear it.
Decent coffee at the airport,
And your quiet breathing,
The stories you told me,
The frost patterns on the windows,
English horns and banjos,
Wood Thrush and June bugs,
The smooth glassy calm of the morning pond,
An old coat,
A new poem,
My library card,
And that my car keeps running
Despite all the miles.      And after three things,
More often than not,
I get on a roll and I just keep on going,
I keep naming and listing,

Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder
At the sweetness of it all.      by Carrie Newcomer

One simple way to feel happier (and healthier) is to begin a gratitude practice.  I like to practice gratitude before I go to bed at night.  Turning over the events of the day in my mind, I acknowledge three people, events, or things that I am grateful for.  Sometimes it takes a little while.  Other times something comes right up.  This always brings a smile to my face and a contented sensation to my heart. And it helps me go to sleep feeling happy!

In his recent essay, Arthur Brooks covers some of the evidence for gratitude.

In this blog by Maria Popova,  a gratitude letter and a “What went well?” exercise are described; both originate from Martin Seligman the father of positive psychology.

Another way to feel more grateful is to savor your positive experiences.  This is the essence of mindfulness.  Enjoy the rich taste of a hot chocolate, stop to look at the beautiful view you are walking by, appreciate the  warmth of your soft wool scarf as you wrap it around your neck.  Six more mindfulness habits are described by Jeremy Adam Smith in this article.

Developing a gratitude practice is relatively easy. The 8 steps below are adapted from Helen Russell a New Zealand teacher.

1. Make a Commitment:

Gratitude is a spiritual practice that becomes more powerful over time and with practice. While you may have days where you can find every possible reason not to do it – push past your resistance if you can – and do it anyway.

2. Begin:

Sit down with pen and paper or at your computer and begin with, “I am grateful for …”    Ideas may flow easily or you may have to wait because you can’t think of a thing.  Surrender to the moment and trust that the words will come.  You are tapping into a force that is larger than you.

3. Write it down:

There is an energy to the written word that is powerful – and it gives you something to go back to over time and remember.

4. Feel it:

Some days you will write without feeling a shred of gratitude – others the feelings will flow through every cell in your body. Regardless of which way you feel, keep your commitment, and write.  When you do experience the feeling of gratitude let it percolate through you. Embody it. Place your hands on your heart and move fully into the feeling.

5. Choose a set time of day:

You may want to do this when you first wake in the morning or late at night before you go to sleep.

6. Practice gratitude in the moment:

As you move through your day look for moments in which you feel grateful.  Pause, and acknowledge the feeling.   I like to do this when I first step outside and feel the fresh air and see the mountains beyond my home. Moving through your day with awareness will make it easier to create your gratitude list at the end of the day.

7. Share the gratitude:

Partner with someone. You will keep each other going and your sense of obligation to your partner can get you past your reluctance to write on those days when it just seems too much.  Reading what your partner has written helps you to access your own gratitude more easily.

8. Don’t stop once you start to see results!

When you first begin to see results there is a temptation to take a break from gratitude for a while. This is human nature. But persevere and continue the practice for its life changing effects.

Research suggests that practicing gratitude for 21 days can have a profound effect increasing optimism and happiness.

Here is another gratitude practice:

Write a “gratitude letter” to an important person in your life.  This could be to someone whom you’ve never properly thanked. The research suggests that gratitude letters provide long-lasting happiness!!  The boost to your well-being is even greater when letters are delivered in person.

“Gratitude is wine for the soul.  Go on. Get Drunk.”  Jalāl ad-Dīn Rumi (1207 – 17 December 1273)