It’s that time of the year again. January is coming to an end and we’re being confronted with how many resolutions we were not able to keep, which results often in pessimistic thoughts and feelings. However, although it’s very good to set intentions and work towards this, by constantly wanting to change and be the best version of ourselves we risk neglecting what’s already there right now and that there is a lot to be grateful for. In fact, if we really want long lasting happiness to be our focus, we should repeatedly stand still and take a moment to appreciate the things we usually take for granted.
There are great benefits in cultivating gratitude and it’s a relatively simple thing to do, that doesn’t take a lot of time. More and more scientific research is showing that practicing gratitude is the best instant therapy for body, mind and soul, and it’s free. On a physical level, grateful people are more likely to take care of their health and experience fewer aches and pains and they feel healthier than other people. Gratitude also reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from frustration and resentment to aggression and envy. Being grateful opens the heart and soul, enhancing feelings of compassion, empathy and love.
Existing relationships are deepened through the practice of gratitude and it opens the door to new relationships. It makes it easier to forgive and reduces social comparisons, which also improves self-esteem. Also our inner strength is increased by the attitude of gratitude. It not only reduces stress, but can help in overcoming trauma as well. If we recognize all the things we can be thankful for, even during the worst times of our life, our resilience and inner power will be fostered. Because we are more aware of what’s there by practicing gratitude, we are more connected with the here and now and are able to really enjoy the present moment. It brings us in touch with our inner joy and the things that really make our heart tick and brings us closer to what’s essential in our lives and hence defines our sense of happiness.
Gratitude is a practice. It is an approach to life that goes further than just saying “thank you.” It requires constant awareness, deep appreciation for all there is and humbleness for all that is bigger than us. This also includes experiences that left a bad taste in your mouth. Like every practice, you just have to do it. It doesn’t come by itself and it requires some time and effort, but it’s not difficult to learn.
How do you adapt an attitude of gratitude? I believe there are four stages in the practice of gratitude that you will go through when integrating this approach to life.
The first step in a change process or in learning a new skill is awareness. You can cultivate awareness through repeated contemplation. Set fixed times every day, preferably a moment in the early morning when the mind is still and before you go to bed, to contemplate on the concept of gratitude. Feel how this is resonating within. Become aware of all the things that you are grateful for in your life, the things that make you smile within, the people who are dear to you, all the experiences that have brought you to the place where you are right now, even the painful ones. See if you can focus on a gratitude for life as it is. For being alive and being here right now. Taking these fixed moments will help you to integrate it as something natural in your daily life. You will notice that also outside of contemplation you will recognize and see more and more things for which you can be grateful in your life.
Why would you keep all these beautiful insights all to yourself? Express your gratitude in your own way. You can say it with words, gestures, actions and much more. The beauty of love and compassion is when it can flow, in between human beings, in the world around you, including animals and our planet. Through real communication, hearts are opened and this way you can really see someone or something for what it truly is. It brings you to the essence of what is. You’ll start to observe better and by taking the time it helps you to really be present. You know the feeling of being in love. This is being in love with the world, without losing your grasp on reality. It also requires honesty and truthfulness in looking towards experiences that might have been painful but that also formed you into the beautiful person that you are right now.
The more thankful you are for everything, the more you will live in abundance and the less things you will “need” in order to be contented. True happiness doesn’t come from having a lot of wishes or desires being fulfilled but from being truly able to appreciate this and not always wanting more. You will probably know many examples of people who seem to have it all, but are actually very unhappy. Because in the end it will be never enough and that will always make you live in search for something. Deep contentment doesn’t lie somewhere in the future. It is here and now.
Naturally, with an attitude towards life focused on gratitude an urge to give back is stimulated. This is called unconditional giving and beautifully enough it gives back so much more in return in the same time and doesn’t come with a lot of effort. The giving in itself, an act of gratitude, multiplies even more when it is being received on the other side, leaving another grateful heart.
So, take a moment now to reflect upon your resolutions you didn’t keep and be thankful for what there is right now. All is perfectly fine already. And if there is one resolution to make, let gratitude be your new attitude.