“Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. If you do not practice gratefulness, its benefaction will go unnoticed, and your capacity to draw on its gifts will be diminished. To be grateful is to find blessings in everything. This is the most powerful attitude to adopt, for there are blessings in everything.” ~ Alan Cohen
This quote speaks to the training of our gratitude muscle, or in other words, the practice of gratitude.
There are a variety of ways that we can experience and understand gratitude to understand it more thoroughly. The two that we will focus on today are depth and scope.
By depth, I mean the power of this feeling of thankfulness. On a spectrum of 1 to 10, 1 would be a slight amount of warmth, the barest flicker of a smile on our lips. 10 is more like an overwhelming energy shattering us open from the inside, forcing us to our knees with love and devotion, tears bursting from our your eyes and/or laughter erupting from our lips uncontrollably.
The more we open to the power of gratitude, the more we feel its power.
By scope, I mean that the wider our gratitude becomes, the easier it becomes to be grateful for something wonderful—a first kiss, by a surprise birthday party, or maybe a compliment from someone we really admire. But the more we experience gratitude, the more we become grateful for. Sometimes the smallest things can bring a powerful sense of gratitude—the smile of your local barista, the toilet seat being put down, flatmates leaving leftovers in the fridge.
As we continue to practice, we will find that it becomes possible to find gratitude for unpleasant and even painful things. We learn to find gratitude in life’s obstacles, for our feelings of anger, for climate change—even for death.
When we look at gratitude on these two axes, it’s easy to see that, for most of us, we have such plenty of space to grow in this practice. Most of us probably experience only a little bit of each spectrum, and we can see just how much more gratitude we can invite into our lives.
Why should we do this? First there is the subjective experiential goodness of it: it just feels good to be grateful. Beyond that, gratitude has been scientifically proven to bring all sorts of benefits into our lives, including reducing stress, improving the immune system, and improving overall health.
But for me, as a Yogi, the most important reason to practice gratitude is that I know of no better way to be present.
This is one of the ways that I define Yoga: Living in the present, to meet each moment anew, to not take things/people/emotions for granted, but to experience them freshly each and every time.
By now, the terms “being present” and “living in the present” are almost cliché in the world of spirituality. Most of us have read such classics as The Power of Now by Eckharte Tolle, so we understand how important this practice is. Furthermore, we know when it happens, and we are sometimes aware when we are not present. What many of us need to work on is how to stay more consistently in this state of awareness.
Besides having a daily meditation practice, I believe that practicing gratitude consistently is the best possible tool for being present.
This concept is summed up beautifully in the quote by John Milton:
“Gratitude bestows reverence,
Allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies,
Those transcendent moments of awe that
Change forever how we experience life and the world.”
This is especially true when we are building our gratitude muscle and enhancing the depth and scope of this practice.
For instance, let’s say that you have kissed your partner a thousand times. How easy would it be to take this next kiss for granted, to even be distracted, thinking about something else as you kiss? Practicing gratitude during such a moment—working on both the depth and the scope—can propel us powerfully into the moment. Actively being thankful for for that next kiss—perhaps imagining that it’s your first, or last, ever kiss—that is already developing the scope spectrum. And then during that kiss, however brief, to really dig deep into your being and to pull forth as much gratitude as possible.
This is what I mean by developing the depth aspect.
When we practice on the scope spectrum, it helps us to be present to the world around us—perhaps noticing and being thankful for new colors or scents, for touch, even bringing a new level of awareness to uncomfortable or painful experiences, rather than seeking to just avoid them. And when we practice on the depth spectrum, it helps us to be more present within, connecting with that core of ourselves that is full of gratitude.
As we practice this, we build the power of gratitude in our lives. We do that by making it our sadhana —our spiritual practice. Daily practice is important, and there are a variety of ways to do this. Try each of the examples below in turn, or all of them together. A good way to start it to choose to practice one of these techniques every day for one to three weeks, and then to try the next each day for one to three weeks.
And for each, make sure you are aware of both the depth and the scope of the practice.
Gratitude Sadhana #1
Perform a Gratitude Meditation as your daily meditation practice. Here is a guided gratitude meditation from yours truly, and there are many more out there you can easily find. Or you can do you one, just sitting silently for 15 or 20 minutes, coming into touch with this feeling of gratitude, letting it overtake you and become you.
Gratitude Sadhana #2
Keep a gratitude journal. Each night before bed fill at least one page with things that you are grateful for. Do your best to not repeat, but each day to find new and different things that you are grateful for. This will force you to expand and to realize how many wonderful things you have in your life.
One can start simply with phrases like:
I’m grateful I have body that works.
I’m grateful I have loving people in my life.
I’m grateful for the sun rising each day.
An alternate way to keep a gratitude journal is to keep a notebook with you, and throughout the day, every time you experience gratitude write it down and keep track of it in your book. At night look over your list, and reconnect with those feelings, and perhaps add anything you might have overlooked.
Gratitude Sadhana #3
Take gratitude breaks. Set an alarm on your watch or phone, and five times throughout the day practice gratitude for one minute. Continue doing whatever you were doing when the alarm went off—whether at your job, alone or in company, wherever and whatever you are doing. Just be grateful as you do it. Overlay and attitude of appreciation on top of your actions.
There are many more: gratitude circles, gratitude chain mails, daily gratitude groups, authentically telling a different person each day you are grateful for them and why, thank you notes, just to name a few.
Try out one of these practices and witness the change in your life, then share the results in a comment below.
Remember, things happen most effectively when you start immediately. So first commit to one of these practices for the next seven to 21 days.
Seriously, stop right now and do this.
Done? Okay, great.
And now invoke at least one minute of gratitude into your life. Read this quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama as inspiration, and for at least the next 60 seconds allow this feeling to spread through your being.
“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” ~ Dalai Lama
Author: Amitayus Haga
Editor: Renée Picard