I’ll introduce these ideas by saying that gratitude was not a concept that came easily to me. I never felt like I was doing it authentically. But as I’ve grown older and practiced more, I’ve found some ways to gratitude that have really strengthened and reshaped my relationship to this powerful spiritual practice and tool. These are my three short lessons on gratitude I taught myself based on my practice, contemplation, and the lessons I’ve learned from my teachers. I practice all three every day. Sometimes they can be done in the morning, sometimes at night, sometimes throughout the day. I hope you find them helpful.
Gratitude for the Basics
Gratitude for the basics is a great exercise to do when you are having a hard time finding something for which to be grateful. I use it a lot when my mind has gone into overdrive, I’m stressed, feeling self-critical, or feeling a lot of self-pity. It reminds me how, in most moments, many more important things are going right than wrong.
When I do gratitude for the basics, I think about all the basic stuff that I so easily take for granted. I feel gratitude for my heart, lungs, and brain. I feel gratitude for the sun rising, for the rain if it’s raining, for the Earth moving in perfect orbit around the sun. I feel gratitude for the air I breathe and that my body and cells are functioning and know how to fulfill their respective roles.
These are all things that we cannot survive without. We can’t have our sour mood or pity party without them. How often do we go through our day completely out of touch with the magnificence of our bodies? How often do we stop to consider our own hearts that must beat constantly for our entire lives in order for us to survive? How often do we take a deep breath and appreciate the oxygen that we breathe? Gratitude for the basics cuts through our mental noise, it gets us present, and can help give us perspective when things start to go off the rails.
Gratitude for Interdependence
In many ways, gratitude is recognition of a fundamental truth. All of life is interrelated. We cannot exist in isolation. When we feel gratitude for the ocean, we feel gratitude for where we came from. When we feel gratitude for the stars, we remember that we are composed of atoms forged in the heart of those stars. When we feel gratitude for the trees, we acknowledge that we cannot breathe without them.
We often avoid gratitude because at some fundamental level, it reminds us that we are vulnerable. We have to swallow our isolating pride and open to trust. We have to care for others, for our world, for our universe, because if they don’t exist we don’t exist. Gratitude is seeing the truth, and when we see the truth, it can change us forever.
Gratitude for Each Other
This may sound weird coming from a self-proclaimed introvert whose career goal at one point was to be a lighthouse keeper, but I always remind myself to be grateful for the people I share the world with (even the ones I don’t like very much.) Human beings are wired to connect, we have created our civilizations based on our ability to work together and connect with one another. There’s a reason that isolation is a form of torture; we must attune to other human beings to be healthy, sane, and stable. Gratitude for each other reminds us to just offer a stranger a kind thought, or feel grateful for the person walking by our house, or to really look at our children when they talk to us, or to listen to the person we are talking in a way they feel seen and understood. We realize we need each other. We are a species that is based in connection. Connection is fundamental to what it means to be human.