Gratitude: 10 Practical Steps
Do you get up in the morning determined to have a good day and before you know it, you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, and that you can’t wait for the day to be over so you can rest? Do you feel like you are existing from day to day rather than living a life of joy? Do you ever ask yourself, “Is this all there is, and if it is, do I want it?” If so, you are not alone.
Thousands of people just like you are asking these same questions. These are the people who thought that if they just did it right everything would be okay. Right meant – getting married, having children, buying the starter house, moving to the larger house and two car garage, and so on including getting a good education so you could make lots of bucks. You keep running to keep up with this picture of success and yet you feel so empty. The emptiness feels like isolation, loneliness, and exhaustion. I call this emptiness ‘existential despair.’
Existentialism is a philosophy centred upon the analysis of existence and stressing the freedom, responsibility, and usually the isolation of the individual. Despair means utter loss of hope or a cause of hopelessness. ‘Existential despair’ then means the painful discrepancy between what is, and what should be, between one’s perceptions, and one’s suppositions.
This sense of loss or the absence of meaning in one’s life is the common denominator of all forms of emotional distress and has been identified as the ‘modern day illness.’ Pain, disease, disappointment, loss, failure, alienation, or merely boredom – all lead to this feeling that life is meaningless. ‘Existential despair’ exists when we buy the myth that having the external goodies creates success and happiness. We do and buy everything we can to fill the ‘hole in our soul’ except the one thing that really matters – going within and making peace with ourselves.
Making Peace with Ourselves
Making peace with ourselves involves changing the way we habitually focus our energy. What this means is that WHAT YOU FOCUS YOUR ATTENTION ON EXPANDS. Scientists are discovering that energy never dies; rather, it changes form as attention is focused on it. Thoughts are energy. A belief is a thought with expectations attached. Everything starts with a thought and reality is created by expectant thoughts.
One of the universal laws is the Law of Increase. This law ensures that whatever you concentrate on will increase in your life. In other words, whatever you think about expands and therefore you will receive even more. In an empowering (positive) way, expressing gratitude for all the many blessings you have received accelerates this process. In a limiting (negative) way, the same principle applies.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is the state of being grateful: thankfulness. What does this mean in terms of our lives? Essentially this means that when we look at life as an opportunity to grow in love, and learn about opening our hearts with love, we see the world from a place of healing and peace. When we look at the world as a place of pain and suffering that is also what we see. Pain and suffering actually constricts our hearts and affects our physical health.
Gratitude as a Way of Life
How many of us live our lives being grateful for the many blessings we have? How many times a day do we say ‘thank you’? When was the last time you said ‘thank you’ to yourself for creating this wondrous being that you are?
What would your day look like if you lived your life as if everything was a gift to you? How would you start the day if the first thing you did was to be thankful for the gift of life? One of the quotes I especially like is by Jim Evans. It is, “If you don’t think everyday is a great day, try going without one.” Black Elk (Native American visionary) spoke of his habit of greeting each morning by stepping outside, letting his bare feet touch the wet grass literally reconnecting with the earth, and singing a prayer of gratitude for the day’s arrival.
Practical Steps to Practicing Gratitude
1. Start a gratitude journal. Depending on which author you read, suggestions range from 5 – 80 things a day. What works for me is saying ‘thank you’ to everything I encounter each day, for example a sunrise/sunset, hoar frost on the trees (especially when the sun is shining), food, shelter, warm homes and offices, clothing, colleagues, work/jobs, lessons about living peace, etc.
2. Remember: Meister Eckhart’s saying, “The most important prayer in the world is just two words: THANK YOU.”
3. Do a gratitude alphabet exercise. In your notebook, write the letters from A – Z. As fast as you can, write down I am grateful for ___________ starting with the letter A and going through the alphabet. For example: I am grateful for apples, I am grateful for bananas, I am grateful for carrots, and so until you finish all the letters.
4. Start your day by being thankful for all the blessings you have.
5. Practice an ‘Act of Kindness’ everyday.
6. Look for ways you can genuinely praise your partner, your child, your colleague, your employees, the person who serves you – such as a waitress, mail carrier, paper delivery person, police officers, etc.
7. Thank the earth for sustaining your life by providing food, air, and water.
8. Write a letter to the Universe expressing gratitude for all your blessings.
9. Thank your parents for giving you life.
10. Thank the Universe for all the lessons you have received.