Last week I wrote about the art of finding the space between effort and surrender.
I also promised you my step-by-step guide to finding the perfect balance point in your daily gratitude practice – and if you don’t have one yet…don’t worry, got you covered. This will help guide you whether you are well practiced or haven’t thought about this for a moment beyond the Thanksgiving table.
It’s very, very simple and takes nearly no time at all. Like most aspects of meditation and mindfulness, the value lies in the frequency and consistency, not the duration.
If you’re wondering, why practice at all?, research has shown a multitude of likely benefits from a daily gratitude practice. Some of these astounding effects are:
– Improved sleep
– Boosted energy levels
– Heightened likelihood of engaging in physical activity / exercise
– Increased subjective happiness and life satisfaction
– Reduced negative affect and depression
– Better physiological health (less visits to the doctor, lower blood pressure, etc.)
– Improved coping and management where health is compromised
– Increased longevity
Research also suggests that a gratitude practice doesn’t only benefit people who are in a good mental-emotional place. It has positive effects on those dealing with mental health concerns as well. Literally everyone wins.
The first few times we ask ourselves what we’re grateful for, we tend to shoot for the heavy hitters. Family, friends, health, our homes, our jobs. Of course we should have massive appreciation for these. But when we list these every 24 hours or so, and when we’re used to repeating the same items over and over, our brains get lazy. More often than not, it becomes a recitation of a long-memorized song lyric instead of the intentional creation of a grateful thought. I’m no neuroscientist, but I’ll say one thing: the majority of the benefits revealed in gratitude studies aren’t coming from rote recitation.
We also don’t want the practice to feel arduous, or like a chore, right?
So… brass tacks: getting into your just-right zone goes like this:
2. Find a physical position that reminds you to become attentive. – ex. Sitting upright, Lying on your back, Resting in Child’s pose
3. Take a moment to focus on your breath – awaken attention and intenti
4. Reflect on your day (for a morning practice, think of the day prior). The key is to focus largely on the ‘little moments’ versus the huge life things. What happened that brought you a smile, a laugh, brought awe, joy, love, or any other positive feeling – whether recognized in the moment or not?
– ex. a kind smile or nod from a stranger, a moment of feeling heard / seen, a thing of beauty expressed in your presence, a GIF that made you laugh! In the beginning, this may take a bit more thought. As you practice, the moments will jump out at you rather easily. Think of 3 things.
5. Say these aloud, speak them within yourself or write these down in a daily journal.
* * * * *
Of course, there is always room for taking stock of the bigger-ticket items…so long as you approach them anew each time (no jingle-like repetition!) and recognize how they have come from outside of yourself – either via another human, an animal, nature, faith etc.
That’s it. That simple.
Pretty cool the studies also found that the length of time practiced made all the difference. That is, the benefits seen in the participants were slow to show in the first few weeks, but increased greatly when practiced daily over months. Instead of the tolerance effect we might see with a drug (where our body or brain gets ‘used to’ something and this dampens its effect), we see the reverse with continuing to practice gratitude over time. It gets better, we feel better.
How’s that for ‘just right’?