Cultivating gratitude is a powerful way to work with mindfulness to improve our health and wellbeing, our relationships, our happiness, and our impact on the natural environment. Cultivating gratitude is simultaneously an act of self-empowerment and an act of service, for it helps to reintegrate us with the whole and to realise—with an attitude of gratitude—that life is a blessing that can support us. Cultivating gratitude involves unwrapping the gift of life in its many guises, and being present to this gift. This in turn reconnects us with the sacredness of life, and helps us to stay centred in our authentic self. Gratitude is not only a practice, but an elemental or sacred force that reminds us that we are supported by the greater whole, that we are a valuable aspect of that greater whole, and that the greater whole is of sacred value.
Definition of Gratitude
Cultivating gratitude requires that we are clear about what our definition of gratitude is. It is not simply being thankful or saying Thank you for receiving a gift, although these are important factors of gratitude. My definition of gratitude is as follows:
Gratitude is a force and a state of being, awakened by appreciation, and strengthened through mindfulness, that connects us with the gift of life.
You will see that I have not mentioned in this definition anything about receiving. Why? I will explain. Gratitude is appreciation that can be applied to the three states of energy flow: giving, receiving, and holding.
We are typically conditioned to think that cultivating gratitude is about appreciating a gift that we receive. But we can also give with gratitude and own what is already “ours” with gratitude: it is not just about receiving from others. This is because gratitude is the appreciation of the gift of life itself.
Saying Thank you for a gift that we have received is really, from a full perspective, about saying Thank you for the gift of life itself—a gift that is realised as much in the act of the other person’s giving, or in the inherent value of the gift itself, as in the act of our receiving. Which is more important? The fact that there is a gift; the fact that the gift was given; or the fact that the gift was received? They are inseparable.
Gratitude Through Giving
Giving with an attitude of gratitude might mean that we are:
- grateful for the opportunity to open our heart and to share
- grateful to help someone else, or to help the natural environment
- grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the wellbeing of the greater whole
Whatever the case, when we give with gratitude, I would suggest that, deep down, what we are really grateful for is the opportunity to embody and express the truth of our authentic self, which is defined as much by its connectedness with all life as by its centre that we are anchoring through our personality when we go through personal growth and healing. To live the life of the narrow ego self, without experiencing the greater wholeness and interconnectivity with all life stunts our self-development and self-realisation. When we give to the greater whole with compassion and kindness, or a desire to be of service to others, we are completing ourselves by embracing our wider identity. Giving to the greater whole is to honour the greater whole, which is also to express our gratitude for the gift of life that we are all part of.
The Benefits of Cultivating Gratitude
Cultivating gratitude is essential for our self-development and self-realisation. It connects our mind, heart, and spirit together. The positive effect on our health, wellbeing, and happiness of cultivating gratitude has been shown by countless studies and personal testimonies.
Gratitude typically lowers stress and depression and improves our self-worth and our outlook on life. When we have a pessimistic outlook on life, lack appreciation, or have low self-worth, we will lack gratitude. We will also:
- become demotivated and lack confidence
- become depressed by the lack of a positive outlook
- become stressed by a negative outlook that is in conflict with our desire for success
- devalue ourselves and life
The benefits of cultivating gratitude can therefore be easily seen, as they reverse these unresourceful states, lift us into a positive spiral, and take us towards health, success, and happiness.
Cultivating gratitude strengthens our relationships. Taking somebody for granted and devaluing them with neglect, abuse, and criticism will only erode or destroy a relationship. Gratitude awakens us to the value of our relationships and to the gift of life presented to us through those relationships. Cultivating gratitude opens our heart and ensures that our relationships are not blocked, but are a healthy expression of giving and receiving. Cultivating gratitude in a relationship ensures that both people feel appreciated, valued, and honoured.
Cultivating gratitude for our natural environment strengthens our connections with it and makes us less likely to harm or destroy it. It is therefore a powerful practice for sustainable or ecological living. We can be grateful for there being other forms of life, regardless of their benefit to us as a potential resource, and we can be grateful for there being other forms of life because they support us directly or indirectly through the web of ecology. The fact is, our natural environment contributes to the beauty, the potential for self-realisation, and the sustainability of the world as a whole.
Life is a gift to be realised, and realising the gift of life is the start of living magically. It also heals the distorted belief that there is something wrong with our life—that life is somehow a curse. When we recognise that life is a gift that we can start appreciating, our gratitude focuses our positive attention on this gift, which results in us attracting more of the gift of life to us. What we feed with our attention and energy grows in its meaning for us and in its attraction to us. Gratitude increases the meaning, value, and power that the gift of life holds for us. Even when we experience challenges in life, there is gratitude to be found for the gift of life.
Cultivating gratitude can be assisted with the following nine practices.
- Expand your perspective of your life experience and reframe it so that you can realise something to be grateful for. Experiencing gratitude always depends on where we place our attention, and when we are not living mindfully, our attention is often misdirected so that we are not aware of the things to be grateful for. Even challenging experiences are a means for us to learn and grow, and for that we can be grateful.
- Be more present with the practice of mindfulness. Direct your attention on your present moment experience to help with cultivating gratitude. Forget about worrying or dreaming about the future or dwelling on the past. Notice the gift of the present and that each moment is a given moment. Feel the gratitude for being alive, for being supported by the Earth and all life, for the food you eat and the clothes you have, and for the things that make your life possible. Notice the beauty and magic of life that was previously overlooked or taken for granted because you were trapped in the endless thoughts and emotions that were cycling around your mind.
- Meditate on gratitude. Sit with your eyes closed and focus on all the blessings of your life and the blessings of life that go on around you. Intensify the feeling of gratitude by experiencing it more deeply and being fully present to the wonder of life, and the wonder of you. This is a powerful way of cultivating gratitude.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Cultivating gratitude can be done by creating a record of your daily gratitude. Each day, write down in a journal a list of the things that you are grateful for and why. Try and find new things to be grateful for each day.
- Affirm what you are grateful for. Take the time to notice the things that you are grateful for, and then express your gratitude for them with affirmations—statements that affirm your gratitude. Make these affirmations specific, concise, and in the present tense. This makes gratitude an active process, rather than a passive one. For example, if you are grateful for the way that a friend or loved one has treated you, simply say out loud or internally: I am grateful for the way that Joe helps me to see my career prospects more positively.
- Express your gratitude through words, feelings, and actions. Saying Thank you and meaning it is a good example of expressing gratitude. Other examples include writing a letter or email to say Thank you, or cooking a meal to show your gratitude for somebody.
- Understand that as the creator of your own reality, you attract circumstances that are a match to your internal state. When we feel that we are a victim of bad luck or that we have nothing to be grateful for, we are not only limiting our perception of our blessings, but also failing to see how well we are creating the life circumstances that are the perfect match to our internal state. If a negative internal state—for example, a negative belief—causes us to create or attract circumstances that mirror our internal state, we are creating the feedback that we need to teach us how well we are creating our life—even if we are doing so unconsciously and are not liking the result. By realising this, we can consciously learn to create our reality as we would like it, by transforming our internal landscape. Realising that we are blessed by our capacity to always create our own reality is a good way of cultivating gratitude.
- Shift from the ego’s perspective of separation to a fuller perspective of wholeness. When we live from the viewpoint of the narrow ego-self, perceiving ourselves as separate from all life, we close ourselves down and do not see how we are blessed through our connectivity with all life. Becoming aware of how we fit into a web of social and ecological connections helps us with cultivating gratitude as we realise the blessings of being part of a greater whole.
- Start a gift circle. A gift circle is a gathering of people in a circle of community for the purpose of giving gifts to each other, without any involvement of money or bartering. The act of genuine giving in this way, as an expression of generosity and kindness, is a good way of cultivating gratitude, both as the one who gives the gift and as the one who receives the gift. The gratitude cultivated is not limited to the physical gift itself, but to the wider gift of supportive community. For more on gift circles, read my post How to Start a Gift Circle.
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