Updated: Oct 2, 2019
Gratitude is powerful. It links us with the best of the past, grounds us in the richness of the present and gives hope for a bright future. It accesses the best parts of us, expanding our horizons and opens us to abundance.
I remember the night, some years ago now, staring into my gaunt reflection in the bathroom mirror, when a voice within said, gently, “This is as low as you go.” In an instant I saw in my mind’s eye all the people who provided daily support, who were kind to and cared about me; all the resources available to me, all the ways in which I was provided for.
As I started naming, and then thanking, each person and thing, a new feeling blossomed inside. I felt less empty, more hopeful and stronger than I had for a long time. It felt so good I kept practicing this simple exercise daily.
I began to reflect on and question this experience: what was IT? It was Gratitude.
My act of giving thanks, being grateful, shifted my narrow self-centered focus. I realised that I needed the people, resources and experiences I had thanked in order to do what was required of me. Unknowingly, by looking beyond myself, I had engaged self-transcendence. Done once, my focus expanded a little. Done many times, my meaning-horizon enlarged and possibilities opened up for me.
Being grateful starts an amazing journey.
First, we choose our attitude: this (being grateful) is a worthwhile thing to do. Then we do. A simple act of saying ‘thank you’, done sincerely, reminds us that we are not alone. Having acted on a meaningful value (gratitude), we also experience the joyful emotions and feelings, the meaning, of that act.
I believe that gratitude activates so many parts of us: the best parts. When we show how deeply we appreciate, we access compassion and selflessness. When we feel grateful we are connected to something, or someone, beyond ourselves, activating our ability to self-transcend. And when we consciously choose an attitude of appreciation, an attitude of gratitude, we accept responsibility for that choice and tap into our highest-held values.
Gratitude keeps us grounded in the wonder of the present moment, allowing reality to dispel the stories that fear would like us to believe.
It is a way we can revisit the past, harvesting rich and beautiful memories of how we were loved, and how we loved: a person, a thing, a place.
And because we have evidence that abundance and kindness are real, for us, we know that we can face the future with hope that there are more bountiful things to come.
There is growing evidence that a regular gratitude practice has benefits for the body, mind and emotions, and enriches our spiritual experiences, too. Those with a regular practice have a greater sense of wellbeing. And we don’t necessarily have to be healthy to feel well:
gratitude can be experienced and practiced no matter what our circumstances might be.
But, as with every kind of training, practice is required. It is no good understanding that gratitude is beneficial. It does not help just thinking that gratitude sounds like a fine idea. It has to be lived. And like training for a marathon, starting small is all that is needed. Daily gratitude - for something you accomplished, something wonderful that came your way, a choice you made that was aligned to your values – is how the practice starts.
Gratitude is a meaningful experience. And, like meaning, it is a spiraling (rather than a circular) movement. We can start anywhere on the gratitude cycle: by acting (giving thanks), feeling (experiencing deep appreciation), or choosing our perspective (attitude of gratitude). Every time we complete a circuit of gratitude-discovery, we also strengthen our ability to find meaning. Our meaning-and-gratitude muscle is toned. It becomes available for increasingly subtle and demanding activities. We are now capable of finding meaning and gratitude even in the most difficult situations.
So, when we rage and despair, gratitude is the antidote. When our meaning-horizon narrows, gratitude lifts and widens our gaze. When we feel weak and small, gratitude is the exercise programme that will get us back on track, out in front, leading our great, full and meaningful lives.
– All it takes is thanks.