Arriving Home :: Ways We Can Practice Gratitude Every Day
Our meditation and mindfulness practices have a way of helping us discern and meet what’s occurring in our lives with more ease and compassion. Over time, we are able to open up to what we encounter and stay with the experience, as our minds and hearts find stability and more capacity to understand through a stronger focus and steadiness.
Part of what we are able to steady our hearts and attention in is what is working well in our lives and what we have the opportunity to appreciate. So much so, that the intentional cultivation of appreciation and savoring is a formal mindfulness practice through the practice of being grateful.
Clinical research tells us that the practice of gratitude, intentionally being thankful, rewires the brain in a way where it “gladdens” it. Meaning, our brains become trained in being happier, noticing the good around us and savoring it. This sets off a cascade of effects in our bodies, minds and hearts, including better sleep, while reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Everyday Ways To Practice Gratitude
While there is often a lot of focus on gratitude around the holidays, I have found that just by being a little serious and consistent with our meditation practice, we can’t help but become more appreciative and grateful. As our attention gets used to staying and living in the present moment, even in the midst of a “bad” day, we realize there are still a lot of things going right. Even the simple fact that we are breathing, being resilient and learning lessons of growth that add to who we are as human beings.
With this ability to still notice the good, there are some small and simple gratitude practices I have layered over my daily meditation and mindfulness practices that have dramatically increased my intentional engagement with gratitude in my day-to-day life.
The most direct way to happiness is through gratitude, as it reminds us of everything that is supporting us and where love naturally lives.
My first everyday way to practice gratitude is to engage with what neuroscientist Rick Hanson calls ‘Taking In The Good’. When we take in the good, we rest our attention and savor positive experiences and moments for at least 5 - 10 seconds. The great news is that this is also applied mindfulness - allowing your attention to rest in the present moment yet with an emphasis on what is good and what is positive.
For me, this can be very simple. Noticing the natural beauty in the present moment. The way the light looks on the table next to you. The way the breeze feels in that exact moment. Finding satisfaction and contentment in that one sip of tea. And noticing where and how there is an inherent occurrence of beauty, good and positivity.
Taking in the good can also be a deeper acknowledgement of where in your life you are experiencing kindness and support. Taking extra time to savor someone helping you, or a friend spending time on the phone with you. In all of these moments of kindness, we can fully rest our attention in the positive feelings and sensations and the gratitude felt.
My second everyday way to practice gratitude is through mindful speech and being conscious of what you give your energy and attention to. Research has also shown that when people exclude negative words when writing, they report better overall mental health. As we’ve explored in a previous ‘Arriving Home’, words carry energy and frequency. So when we spend too much time focusing on the negative while speaking or writing, that is where our attention and energy will reside. I like to make small mindful speech adjustments by choosing to not say negatively rooted words and practice affirmative language such as saying, “Thank you, yet I will go without cream and sugar” instead of saying “No cream and sugar.” Scientific finding point us to the fact that when we engage with positive language this will keep the mind in a more resilient and positive state.
My third way to practice everyday gratitude is through an ‘in the moment gratitude’ intervention. When I notice my mind focusing too much in a downward spiral of negativity such as being self-critical or judgmental of others, I think of 3 reasons I feel content and happy. This is a little different than noticing the good, as with this practice you can dig deep within your own emotional landscape and find reasons you are feeling happy. A memory of something good that happened recently, the last thing you did that made you feel love and happiness, or just a basic feeling of contentment and wellbeing that is naturally accessible in each present moment.
Lastly, one of my favorite ways to effortlessly incorporate gratitude everyday is by knowing that gratitude is a way to return to kindness. The moment we are in an experience of kindness, the doors of gratitude naturally open. As the heart takes in sensations of kindness, these are the times when we can savor our social connections, friendships and relationships. Or simply, that warm smile and hello we give or receive when walking down the street.