I did not always have the easiest time practicing gratitude. I was not really taught as a child how to be grateful. Growing up in poverty, it seemed I was always thinking about the things I didn’t have and wishing I had more. Which is understandable, given the circumstances. I have a lot of compassion for my younger self, however the problem with this way of thinking is that I was conditioning my mind to do more, work harder, compare myself, judge myself, and in turn feel ‘less-than’ a lot of the time.
When I was taught to practice gratitude through my mindfulness training it felt uncomfortable- fake even. I did not understand how being grateful for the ‘little things’ in life was going to do anything for me. Sometimes I even felt angry, as if I deserved more in life and by being grateful for what I had somehow meant I did not need or deserve more. I practiced and practiced, I felt jealous of other people practicing gratitude because it seemed to be so genuine while I was faking it. Which of course then brought on shame for my jealousy, my anger, and not being good enough, even at gratitude.
To my surprise, over time, not only did I begin to really feel the sensation of gratefulness in my body, I also noticed my jealously and anger went away. I was not worried about what others had. I lost the urge to compare! I even noticed that when other people were successful I was happy for them, I wasn’t faking it. I actually felt it.
What I realized was that I had more than enough and I am more than enough. Gratitude reduced my anxiety because I was no longer comparing myself or working myself beyond humanly possible to try and get more. Gratitude reduced my sadness because I was present with the true joy in life; seasons changing, wildlife, a perfect cup of tea, my health, the scent of a flower- the things money can’t buy. My heart began to open, my defenses began to lesson, my mind began to see clearly.
Here are five ways to actively add gratitude to your life.
- Start a gratitude jar or journal. I keep a large mason jar in my kitchen with a small note pad and paper next to it. Every day I write down something I am grateful for and put it in the jar. On New Year’s Day, my family and I sit down together and read the papers in jar. I love this ritual.
- Practice acts of kindness daily: give compliments, let people in front of you in traffic, buy someone a meal, text or call a friend just to say I love you.
- Don’t gossip or get involved in conversations where the topic is someone else.
- Get out in nature, even a city park or your yard. Just get outside and breathe, listen, observe.
- Thank everyone, and accept compliments you are given.