Think about the last time you experienced gratitude. How did your body feel? What did you do with that feeling? And, most importantly, why did you feel grateful in the first place?
If you are like most people, you probably associate that memory of gratitude with an external situation or person. Typically, gratitude is a thankful appreciation for something valuable/meaningful we have received. Perhaps someone surprised you with a thoughtful gift or gesture. Perhaps someone stepped up and helped you when you most needed it. Perhaps you were picked for the job promotion you were after. Regardless of your example, you can probably conclude that it’s easy to feel grateful when life gives us stuff we so obviously want. This is because we are conditioned to believe we need a significant reason to feel grateful. Now…I don’t want to make any assumptions about your life…but my educated guess is that life doesn’t always give you what you want.
So then what?
Two options: Plan A) We either go about our business and wait to see if life gives us stuff to feel grateful for OR Plan B) We re-learn (no, not a typo) to intentionally experience gratitude as a consistent state of being. Personally, I am working on adopting Plan B as my new Plan A. Let me tell you why:
When we rely on external conditions to dictate our emotional state we become victims to our circumstances and we lose our power.
No. Fucking. Thank. You.
Okay so why ‘re-learn’? Because when we make the effort to strip away all of our bullshit conditioning and egoic programming…what we begin to notice is that gratitude is actually the natural truth of who we really are. It’s our spiritual baseline. Love. Compassion. Peace. Gratitude. This is the vocabulary of our soul. What pulls us out of this natural state of being? Our ego. Distorted thinking. Lack of trust. Disconnection. Unnecessary suffering. Resistance to what is. The illusion that we do not have value. Over-identifying with our stories, our limited beliefs, our perceived victimization, and our fear. And, often enough, general laziness.
Let’s be honest. We take TONS of shit for granted. This is actually what inspired me to write this blog as I was driving home today. Per usual, I was having a nice chat with my dog (what he lacks in general social skills he makes up for with a suspiciously impressive understanding of the English language). As he listened curiously to my monologue, we drove past a young couple pushing a stroller (pram, Brits) and walking their dog. “You see that couple, Roger? They probably don’t realize how grateful they could be for this moment. For this simple walk. But one day, their kid will be too old to want to go for walks with them and that beautiful doggie will be up in doggie heaven. And they will remember how beautiful this time truly was. And that’s what gratitude means to me, Roger. Fully acknowledging the blessing of the present moment and what we would otherwise miss.”
But wait, counsellor…I thought you said gratitude is not about external conditions? Good…you’re paying attention. There is a massive difference between our external circumstances dictating our emotional state and our external circumstances serving as an opportunity for us to practice emotional regulation.
Dog walk in the pissing rain: irritated by the weather or grateful you are giving and receiving love?
Messy kitchen: overwhelmed by the dishes or grateful you have a home and food to cook?
Dismal looking bank balance: envious of your friend’s new car or grateful you actually have everything you need.
Yes, external circumstances will always be there (oh hey, LIFE!). We just can’t allow them to cause our emotions. And until we can fully align with gratitude as our natural state of being…gratitude is a choice. This is why gratitude, initially, is a practice. It is an intentional and constant effort to recognize the beauty and magic that surrounds you and moves through you each and every day.
My clients know that I preach gratitude harddddddd. And I can always tell when they aren’t doing their gratitude homework or not doing it completely. Why? Because they are feeling shitty. And it is 100% impossible to feel grateful and shitty at the same time. The problem with ‘homework’ is that we are so programmed to focus on the cognitive aspects of learning it can be easy to tap out at the thought level, recognize our attempt at positive thinking feels inconsistent to the emotions in our body, conclude “I don’t feel better what’s the point in this?”, and continue the addictive pattern of feeling shitty. Therapeutic homework starts with the mind…but it doesn’t end there!
And this is why Descartes probably didn’t know shit about gratitude.
“Je pense, donc je suis”.
“I think therefore I am”.
Now, I am not going to dumb down his logic and presume he meant thought and being are fundamentally the same thing (although much of his initial justification for radical doubt was based upon the potential that an evil demon might be controlling his thoughts soooooo I do have questions)…but this is a common reason why many people struggle to be grateful. The trouble is, thinking grateful thoughts is not the same as feeling grateful feelings and even that is not the same as being grateful. Thinking. Feeling. Being. This is the evolution.
So how can we effectively practice gratitude?
♥ Gratitude journals. But it totally depends how you use them. Remember: thinking…feeling…being. So yes, go ahead and write down reasons you feel grateful. But don’t stop there! The next step is to then use the power of your imagination to elicit an emotional response to this thought. We do this in self-destructive ways all the time! Ever created a very unlikely worry story and then entertained it long enough to induce heart palpitating, stomach churning, sweat inducing anxiety? Only to eventually recognize it was just a thought? Same process…just aiming for a different physical sensation. So pick one reason to feel grateful. Start there. Let’s say you were grateful for a friend who made you laugh today. Use your imagination to replay that joke or that moment. Use your memory to revive all of the times you laughed with this person. Use your heart to feel into the depths of what that friendship has given you. Attend to that same point of gratitude until you feel the gratitude. That is so energetically different to writing out a casual gratitude journal entry as if it were a shopping list.
♥ Bedtime rituals. This is especially beautiful to do with your children. As you climb into bed, take stock of all of the ordinary miracles you experienced that day. This positive mental programming will help you feel the magnitude of your gratitude and set you up for a positive mindset tomorrow. AND…if you are the type of person who typically has a washing machine for a brain as you try to fall asleep…this will help big time!
♥ Give thanks. Make an effort each day to say THANK YOU in a meaningful and heartfelt way. As much as possible. Gratitude is not a fart…don’t hold it in.
♥ Acts of kindness. Help someone without any expectation of return (this includes not even expecting a thank you). If you are having one of ‘those’ days and gratitude feels like Mission Impossible VII…do something nice for someone. If basic altruism isn’t enough of a motivator…keep in mind that bad moods are nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain and kindness has been scientifically proven to boost feel-good chemicals such as oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin (can we sayyyyy natural anti-depressants!?).
♥ Spiritual self-care. The more you make feeling good a priority, the easier it is to stay in alignment and the easier it is to appreciate what’s around you AND co-create more of what you want to see. Don’t forget, like attracts like. It is precisely as Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”