Gratitude is a buzz word at the moment.
I’m big on gratitude, I believe it has the power to change the world. But we need to be mindful about the way we use it. Gratitude is not a Band-Aid.
I read a blog article the other day titled, “I’m grateful, now fuck off.”
I must say, this article resonated with me.
It was written by a mother who was on the well-worn maternal roller coaster of sleep deprivation, overwhelm and round-the-clock breastfeeding. She found that when she posted about the real challenges of having young kids, she received a flood of comments from people instructing her to be grateful and to appreciate her children before they grow up and leave home.
As you can imagine, this advice went down like a ton of bricks.
Wielding the g-word in this way is really not helpful. It’s like saying to someone who is depressed, “You shouldn’t be depressed, look at everything you have, you should be grateful.”
The tyranny of the shoulds.
Any time I hear the word “should” before the word “gratitude’”(before any word really), a big alarm bell goes off in my head.
Gratitude is not a chore. It cannot be mandated. It is not a way to make us feel guilty about yet another thing we’re not doing right. Using gratitude in this way is giving it a bad rap.
Gratitude and devotion.
Gratitude is a way to deepen our connection with ourselves and with the flow of the universe. It comes from within us and is a practice of devotion to the present moment. To life just as it is.
When we stop for moment, amidst the busyness of our everyday life, and feel grateful for some small thing we’ve chanced upon, what we’re really saying is, “In this moment, I am being with life just as it is.” In my mind, this is one of the secrets to happiness.
How to be grateful.
The beauty of a gratitude practice is in its simplicity.
During your day, if something catches your eye or enters your thoughts that you have a positive response to:
1. Stop for a moment.
2. Connect with the positive feeling in your body (let it settle in).
3. Say to yourself “I’m grateful for…”
4. Return to your day
It really is that simple.
Get out of your mind and into your body.
The essential ingredient in a gratitude practice is feeling into it with the body. Experience how it feels in the body to be grateful.
For me, I often feel a warmth in the center of my chest, an expansion in my body and a lightness in my entire being. But everyone is different.
Next time you’re feeling grateful, close your eyes, turn your focus inward and be curious about what is going in your body.
If you don’t feel into the body, then gratitude just becomes another “self help” strategy that sounds good in theory, but doesn’t work in practice. If we only think about gratitude, it’s an academic exercise, and seriously, we have enough of those already.
During my day, I stop regularly to acknowledge and feel the gratitude that is arising within me. And I find the perfume of these moments, carries over into my day-to-day life. So, even when I’m not consciously cultivating gratitude, the psychological and physiological effects are still with me. And I feel a lightness, joy and connection with myself and the universe.
My introduction to a formal gratitude practice was through photography—I continue to take gratitude photographs to this day.
When we take photographs of things we’re grateful for, we automatically stop and take a brief, mindful pause in our day.
To compose the photograph, we draw on our creativity, which (if we allow it) helps us to step out of the thinking mind.
There are two additional bonuses in taking gratitude photographs.
1. We have a record of things we’re grateful for, so we can return to them at any time, for a reminder of the good things in life.
2. We can share our gratitude with those around us, to connect to each other in a positive way and inspire others to join us in the gratitude revolution.
I’ve created a photographic happiness project called Capturing Gratitude to do just that. We’re kicking off on the International Day of Happiness (March 20), taking and sharing photographs of things we’re grateful for.
Sign up to download a copy of the Gratitude Interviews book and on March 20 start the gratitude eCourse. It’s all free, and I’m joined by an impressive line up of inspiring people, including Susannah Conway, Louie Schwartzberg, Sarah Wilson, Sarah Napthali, Elise Bialylew and more.
I do hope you can join me.
Author: Lauren Tober
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of the author