November 21, 2012

Six Essential Actions to Cultivate Gratitude in Your Life.

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It was devastating to watch the news, and to see what was happening to the city and its inhabitants.

Luckily, my family suffered only minor damages, a few ruined cars and had to deal with having no hot water or electricity. I was so happy to talk to my mom and grateful to hear that she still had her house, was able to buy food, and also to hear “what-a-big-deal” a week or so with no hot water and heat had been. “We just wear some extra clothing and go to sleep early,” she had said.

My sister told me that she walked for miles so she could charge her phone and call me on my birthday. My mom insisted on sending me gifts, no matter how much I resisted. I reflected on how grateful I am and how much I have, and at the same time, how little control we all have over the forces of nature, our families or our own bodies for that matter.

But what we do have is full control over our actions and reactions.

It also made me think of how all the people I know, who were affected by the storm, only suffered minor inconveniences—perhaps a loss of a few possessions—but there are people out there who live like that all the time.

It’s a very humbling revelation, realizing that we have to be realistic of what we can do to help. We can’t save the world or dive into the misery, but we can certainly make a difference by contributing our time and resources to those who are in need. We can learn to be more grateful in our daily lives and to be conservative with resources like heat, water, food and overall consumption in general. Last but not least, we can learn to cultivate the attitude of gratitude.

 Six Essential Actions to Cultivate More Gratitude in Your Life.

“I am too fat; I can’t fit into my jeans. My chest hurts every time I sneeze. I injured myself. I am not worthy.”

Does this sound familiar? A lot of time we tend to focus on the negative aspects of our life situations. When expectations in our lives are unfulfilled, it’s too easy to become disillusioned and lose focus of the many blessings in our lives. We suffer when our expectations in life aren’t met, we complain and get stuck in our daily existence.

Gratitude can relieve us from endless wants and worries of our own life’s drama. Cultivating thankfulness develops into a feeling of being “lucky” and having a more refined appreciation for the nature of life. Gratitude can soften our hearts and build our capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that is necessary for the evolution of humanity. Gratitude is like a muscle—it can be developed. We often think that we should automatically experience gratitude, but this is not a healthy viewpoint. Instead, work on the ‘gratitude muscle’ in your daily life by slowly introducing the following tips. It will be challenging at times, but it’s worth the effort!

 Here are the top six actions which helped me to cultivate gratitude:

1) Start small:

  • >> Action: before your next meal, pause for a few seconds and internally say “thank you” and feel the gratitude; this will allow you to fully enjoy you meal.
  • >> Action: Next time you wash your hands say, “thank you” for clean water. Pause and feel the gratitude for the privilege of clean water. Do this several times throughout the day and notice the difference in your enjoyment and appreciation of the simpler things in your life.

2) Gratitude journal:

  • >> Action: Take a piece of paper and write down five things you’re grateful for right now. Don’t fuss around too much; write whatever comes to mind. It might be clean water, a good night’s sleep or the sun shining. Just start your list. I keep a log using a Microsoft Spreadsheet to write five things I am grateful for right after my morning yoga practice. I am amazed how it instantly puts things in perspective and boosts my mood.  You can use a simple notepad, share your comments here or use Google documents.
  • >> If nothing comes to mind here is the list of questions to ponder:
  • >> For which book you’ve read are you the most grateful?
  • >> For which character trait you possess are you the most grateful?
  • >> For which physical attribute you possess are you the most grateful?
  • >> For which aspect of your health are you the most grateful?

3) Seize an opportunity in every situation:

My major role at work is to solve problems or find someone who can do it. Instead of focusing on how many issues I need to fix, I think of it as how many opportunities I have to learn, which also made me grateful for my job.

Action: think of a challenging situation and write one thing you are grateful for.

3) Express gratitude to people who really matter:

Action: call your patents, your children, your loved ones and anyone who comes to your mind while you’re reading this. Share a specific example of something they did for you and how it made a difference in your life. Almost every day I make a point of telling my husband a story of how he has changed my life. But you have to be honest: flattery is not gratitude!

4) Do your yoga:

It is hard to count your blessings when you’re constantly stressed. The appropriate yoga practice will not only eliminate the stress but also align you with your core values and improve your relationships. I am speaking purely of experience and this is how my yoga practice helped me.

Yoga Practice

If you don’t have a daily yoga practice, you can try this simple exercise:

  • >> Either sit or stand with your spine straight.
  • >> Observer your breaths for a few seconds.
  • >> If you familiar with ujjai, take 10 inhales and exhales counting to four.
  • >> Inhale and take your arms up and down a few times.
  • >> Close your eyes and bring to mind the image of a place you really like (top of the mountain for me. It could be a shore, a beautiful sunrise, etc.).
  • Don’t get too caught up in creating images—keep it simple.
  • Sit or stand for a few seconds and keep your mind on this image.
  • This practice doesn’t have to be long; you can do the whole thing within five minutes.

5) Contentment:

One of the eight components of the eight-limbed astanga yoga path is contentment. In YS II.42, Patanjalli explains contentment as an invitation to cultivate positive thinking, acceptance, a humble and serene satisfaction. From contentment arises unparalleled happiness. It is a positive and dynamic asset. Some see the glass as half full and other see it as half empty. The ordinary mind is extremely prone to frustration. The sincere yogin patiently cultivates contentment in all areas. This is the key to supreme well-being (sukha), complete incomparable joy. This satisfaction is not linked to an unsteady, changing, fleeting world; it comes from deep within the heart.

Being content doesn’t mean being passive.

For example, I decided to move to Colorado while still living in New York. I was content and grateful for the experiences the city of New York had provided in my life. Even while waiting to make the move I found joy in my current situation, making the most of every day as I prepared for the change I was about to experience. This allowed me to move on to new experiences with a happy heart and mind.

Share your experiences! What are you grateful for? How do you cultivate gratitude in your daily life?


Ed: Brianna B.


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