A Season For Gratitude

The Zen quote “chop wood, carry water” speaks to keeping life simple. Consistently do what needs doing and if and when you arrive at your desired outcome, continue to chop and carry. Yet doing is only half of the equation of a fulfilling life and likely requires the other half, the right attitude, to be sustained. I am reminded of the sageness of my yoga teacher who encouraged  less striving and more mindful awareness in yoga by reminding us that “how you are is more important than what you do”. Those few words had the power to stop me in my overdoing tracks and help me to soften, and appreciate my actual pose. There are certain qualities, or “ways of being” that a holistic lifestyle asks us to develop. One of these is being grateful.

The great Roman philosopher Cicero once said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”

Thanksgiving is a day to reflect upon and celebrate what we are grateful for. What if we extended the teaching of that day to being more appreciative every day? How would your life change? Science suggests quite a bit. A decade ago studies confirmed links between an attitude of gratitude and greater health. Since this research and the birth of positive psychology gratitude lists and journals are commonly recommended to help people become more consciously thankful. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one that ‘feeling grateful’ doesn’t come naturally to, and, that it’s possible to alter one’s gratitude meter.

Just like a muscle is changed and strengthened with steady training so too can the brain be rewired to be more grateful with the consistent input of appreciative thoughts, feelings, and actions.

According to Alex Kolb, PhD, author of the Upward Spiral “…there’s a gratitude circuit in your brain, badly in need of a workout. Strengthening that circuit brings the power to elevate your physical and mental health, boost happiness, improve sleep, and help you feel more connected to other people.”

In the spirit of a brain workout ponder for a few minutes what makes the top three of your grateful list? If you’re more of a glass half empty person like myself you might find it hard to go beyond the obvious perks that come with living in this privileged nation. Or maybe you aren’t  feeling especially appreciative this year. For me the recognition that I’m not the halfway grateful person that I thought I was is humbling. Yet I know that without experiencing that chagrin, and without the self reflection it induces, I wouldn’t have a chance at discovering what’s in my way of simply becoming more genuinely grateful.

As with any practice the learning involves noticing the opposite of what you intend. In this case, becoming more aware of when you’re not feeling grateful. Next time that you catch yourself feeling short changed or forming a not good enough complaint, push pause and take the time to really feel the lack, the anger, or the disappointment.

As the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron advises: “Lean into the sharp points and fully experience them. The essence of bravery is being without self-deception. Wisdom is inherent in (understanding) emotions. We can learn to rejoice in even the smallest blessings our life holds”.

True gratitude is not about only being thankful when you get what you want but rather is a practice of opening your heart to receive what life is actually offering. This requires lowering your expectations, being receptive, and most importantly, choosing to be aware of and thankful for the little gifts that show up no matter how small they might seem.

As one learns when being equally present to both strengths and limitations in a yoga pose, gratitude begins with self appreciation and extends outward from there. This Thanksgiving choose to appreciate yourself- your uniqueness, your special talents, and even your challenges.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Shannon

To learn about gratitude journaling check out this website.

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