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Let me know if any of these scenes sound familiar: blaring alarm clock, dragging your body out of bed, shuffling to the shower with slumped shoulders, casting a forlorn glance back to your bed, begrudgingly working to your kitchen for breakfast. For many of us, this is the beginning of many (if not every) day of our lives. But why? Every day is another to experience a life filled with the most beautiful and wondrous things we’ve ever known. We get to experience everything from the wondrous power of the natural world to the small simple pleasures of our daily lives, to the smile of a stranger and the songs of birds. Oddly enough, we human beings find it very easy to take these things for granted. That’s why this week we’re continuing our With a Purpose series to talk about developing a gratitude practice.
First of all, a gratitude practice is so much more than simply saying "thank you" more often. People with a strong sense of gratitude have been shown to have a stronger sense of self-discipline and achieve goals more often than people who do not. Gratitude practices have also been shown to increase an individuals locus of control – the feeling that we are in control of our lives. Strong baseline levels of gratitude can help you react with positivity and optimism to challenges. A strong sense of gratitude is what makes a person say “I can deal with this” rather than saying “This shouldn’t be happening to me.” It improves your mood, your mental health, and can be the critical difference between a life filled with happiness and satisfaction or a life of regret, hopelessness, and frustration. So what’s the Helper’s Mentoring Society take on gratitude, and how can we “practice” it?
Just like our other Purpose articles, we’re going to explore simple techniques anyone can use to add gratitude to our lives and reap great benefits. The first way to do this is keeping a gratitude journal. If you’ve already adopted the practice of writing for your health, you’ll find this is the simplest way to feed two birds with one piece of bread. At the end of your day, devote time to journaling about three things that you are grateful for today. The trick here is to write about them at length. If you went to work today, was the heat in your car working? Man, it’s crazy to think that people used to wake up in the cold, hunt their food in the cold, cook it in the cold, and go back to sleep in the cold. Why was I born in a time when I could wake up in a warm home, drive to a job in a warm vehicle, and work all day in a warm space before returning to my warm home? I surely do not know, but I am very grateful for it. Try to get creative with your choices! The farther you can reach to find things to be grateful for, the better effect this practice will have. Feel the joy of the best things about your life and then look far outward to find this joy in other places. The person you bought your coffee from had a wonderful smile, didn’t that lift you up a little bit? As you get in the habit of looking farther and farther from yourself for these subjects, you’ll appreciate the world around you that much more every day.
Another practice you might consider adding is a morning gratitude reflection. This will work especially well for those of us who can relate to that grueling morning routine we described earlier. If you’ve been keeping a gratitude journal, bust it out first thing in the morning to read over your great day again, and then write one thing you know you’ll be able to look forward to today. Remind yourself to be on the lookout for good things, and let the negative or difficult things fade into the background. So much of our feelings about our lives can be radically altered with a little perspective shift and realignment of our focus.
As we get better at seeing the good in our lives and appreciating it, you may even start to see the good in things you used to consider "bad" and see your empathy grow. Did you get cut off in traffic today? “That guy might be late for work, here’s hoping he makes it on time! I sure am glad I’m on time today-”
Oh no! I’m late for work too! “Well, here’s an opportunity to practice my breathing exercises for controlling my anxiety. I’m getting good at this, I’m glad I’m in control of myself!” These examples are maybe a little embellished, I’ll admit, but you really will notice some major shifts in your internal monologue when you give gratitude a little bit of effort every day.
Gratitude can be much, much more than just a simple daily practice. Gratitude is one of the Core Connective Practices. It’s the basis of all of the traditional ceremonies we study in the Helper’s Mentoring Society courses. Every cultural practice we explore opens with a gratitude statement, something to thank the spirit or creator for the opportunity to share in the experience. If you’re interested in taking your Gratitude practice to the next level, we have some good news for you! The first Chapter of our Introductory course - The Foundation – is available for free. You’ll learn more about the traditional beliefs of gratitude, and some formal ceremonial activities you can do to become more connected through gratitude and the other Core Components.
We’ve only covered a few of the ways gratitude can benefit our lives and a small number of ways to practice it. How do you practice gratitude? What have you seen it do for your wellbeing? Let us and your fellow Helper’s Mentoring Society know in the comments below. Sharing our knowledge is an easy way to give a wonderful gift to the world.