With Thanksgiving around the corner and the winter holidays looming, gratitude is in the air. And so is fear, anxiety, resentment, judgment...there is just so much fodder for intense emotions this time of year. It's a particularly great time to work with gratitude as a tool for healing. The more familiar I get with gratitude's energetic qualities, the more integral it becomes to my practice.
Before I began studying the human energy field, the word gratitude mostly triggered a sense of guilt, like a 1950s television mother scolding her bratty children: look at all you have, you should be grateful! One more should for the self-recriminating inner voice to wield. Perhaps that's also how you hear it.
Now, however, I understand gratitude to be an energetic state, something that can be generated for our well-being at will, no matter the circumstances. As more and more studies confirm, gratitude is a powerful antidote to suffering, both physical and emotional. It triggers hormonal and chemical shifts in our brain that bring all sorts of healing benefits.
Fortunately gratitude does not require any particular external setting or trigger. You don't need to be able to compare yourself favorably to anything or anyone else to feel grateful. Like grace, compassion, generosity, mindfulness, and forgiveness, you can simply conjure up gratitude whenever you want. The more you do it, the easier and more automatic it becomes, and the more profoundly it impacts your life and all the lives you touch.
Ready to practice? Here are a few simple and profound exercises that can help you shift your energy like flipping on a light switch.
Wake up with a Smile
I've been doing this since my family moved into our new house in May. The move was incredibly stressful, and it was easy to get overwhelmed and anxious about finances and the endless related tasks and demands. Yet I love the house and appreciate so many things about it, and I wanted that to be my first thought in the morning. I began looking out the window first thing in the morning and making a point to appreciate it. Look at that view! Trees, sky, clouds, nature, beauty. What good fortune! Then, when I feel uplifted and there's a smile on my face, I say "I'm so grateful." I don't go into specifics, I just connect in to the feeling, a sense of lightness and expansion.
It doesn't sound like much, but creating this association with waking up has made a huge difference in my state of mind every morning.
So this practice starts with finding something in your bedroom that makes you smile when you look at it. Could be a favorite photograph, book, memento, painting, altar, or the view out your window. Make it a practice to look at it every morning when you first wake up, before you get out of bed, to establish a visual trigger for the state of gratitude. Take a deep breath, smile, and express gratitude for this moment of joy/delight/peace.
Four-Part Buddhist Gratitude Meditation
This simple practice that I love and frequently recommend can be done any time throughout the day. The next time you find yourself feeling anxious, low, grouchy, irritable, angry, fearful, or judgmental, try taking a few minutes (or even just a few seconds) to do this practice. Notice how your body and mind feel afterwards.
Start sitting in a relaxed posture (or standing if you're stable and supported) and take a few deep, calming breaths.
1. Let your awareness move to your immediate environment: all the things you can smell, taste, touch, see, hear. Say to yourself: “For this, I am grateful.”
2. Next, bring to mind the people in your life: your friends, family, partners. Say to yourself, “For this, I am grateful.”
3. Next, turn your attention to yourself: you are unique, blessed with imagination, the ability to communicate, to learn from the past and plan for the future, to overcome any pain you may be experiencing. Say to yourself: “For this, I am grateful.”
4. Finally, rest into the realization that life is a precious gift. That you have been born into a period of immense prosperity, that you have the gift of health, culture, and access to spiritual teachings. Say to yourself: “For this, I am grateful.”
People who do this regularly have been shown to enjoy improvements in their health and well-being. Take a few minutes each day, morning, evening, whenever works, and jot down a few things you're grateful for. These can be small and incidental or profound and life-changing. The goal is to practice noticing and appreciating what's positive--it doesn't really matter what you choose to note down as long as you can feel genuine gratitude about it. If you feel stuck here are a few suggested prompts to get you started:
What has gone smoothly for you this lately?
How is where you are in life today different than a year ago–and what positive changes are you thankful for?
What stranger or acquaintance has made a positive impact on your day or week?
What activities and hobbies would you miss if you were unable to do them?
What body parts are you grateful for today?
What about the place you live in are you grateful for?
Write about the music you’re thankful to be able to listen to and why.
Write about an object of beauty that you're thankful to witness.
What foods are you most thankful for?
What aspects of nature are you grateful for and why?
What opportunities were created for you by a relative or ancestor, and how might you thank them?
Heaven Rushing In
Donna Eden, an energy healing pioneer, teacher, and overall inspiration, demonstrates this simple exercise to quickly lift your energy if you're feeling low. Try putting skepticism and self-consciousness aside and embrace her exuberance!
Gracias a la vida
This beautiful song by the late beloved Chilean singer Violeta Parra has been performed by musicians all over the world in tribute and is a great reminder to appreciate the sublime in every small detail. (Translated lyrics here.)
Making any kind of gratitude practice a regular part of your day will help you create a foundation for health and wellness. Give it a try!