Gratitude: Focusing On What We Have
What happens when we choose to focus on what we do have?
We spend so much of our energy focusing on what we want—the things we don’t have.
Finding gratitude shifts our perception towards the abundance of gifts and blessings present for us at any given moment. Especially during hard times, a moment of gratitude can remind us of how much we’ve been given: love, support, simple pleasures, material resources, our health and safety, this breath, this moment, and this life.
To take it a step further, we can give thanks not only for the good things in our lives but for the challenges and difficulties that push us to grow and allow us to put our spiritual work into practice
“We should be especially grateful for having to deal with annoying people and difficult situations because, without them, we would have nothing to work with,” writes Acharya Judy Lief. “Without them, how could we practice patience, exertion, mindfulness, loving-kindness or compassion?”
Gratitude is one of my favourite practices, which I use daily. I find that when I am able to see all the ways in which I have been blessed, I feel more grounded and less anxious. This expression of gratitude helps me stay connected to myself and others; it reminds me that everything I need is already inside and around me. And as a result, I can move forward with greater clarity and confidence.
Some days are harder than others to find something we could express gratitude for. But even if you start with the small things by giving thanks for your morning cup of coffee, you will notice that this shift in perspective changes your outlook on life. You become aware of the beauty in the world around you, and you begin to recognize that there is always something to be grateful for.
Practising gratitude might also benefit us through improved mood, better sleep, increased optimism, decreased stress, reduced depression, stronger relationships, and lower blood pressure, while some also argue that the practice of gratitude has the potential to reduce inflammation, strengthen the immune system, improve digestion and increase energy levels (Cregg & Cheavens, 2021; Davis et al., 2006; Dickens, 2017; Ma, Tunney, & Ferguson, 2017).
And yet, although practising gratitude might benefit us, many people still struggle to cultivate gratitude as we might believe that this would not make any difference. Suppose this sounds like you. Consider the following phrase from an African Proverb once quoted by the Dalai Lama. He says, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito.”
Gratitude is not about changing who you are; it’s about seeing yourself differently. Gratitude opens our eyes to the light within ourselves and those around us. This awareness gives us the power to change our lives while simultaneously helping to create a kinder, more compassionate world.
There are three steps to cultivating gratitude: 1) Become aware of the good things in your life; 2) See the goodness in others; 3) Take action.
Getting caught up in the daily hustle and bustle can be easy. Our minds tend to race, and we lose sight of the little things that bring us joy. So, it’s essential to take time each day to remember what matters most to us.
Here are some questions to help you identify the good things in your life which we might express gratitude for:
What brings you happiness?
Who makes you smile?
What makes you laugh?
What inspires you?
What fills your heart with peace?
What gives you hope?
What excites you?
What gives you purpose?
When you look at your answers, ask yourself why they matter. Why are they so special? How do they impact your life?
Seeing the Good In Others
In order to truly appreciate the good things in our lives, we must also learn to see the good in others. To do this, we need to slow down and pay attention.
As a young child, I used to play hide and seek with my friends. One day, I hid under a tree and waited patiently for someone to come and find me. After a long wait, I heard footsteps approaching. A few moments later, one of my friends emerged from behind the trunk, his face lit up with excitement.
“I found you!” he said.
“You did?” I replied.
He nodded. “Yes! Look, I’m right here.”
Then, he pointed to the ground next to him. There was no sign of me.
“Where am I?” I asked.
He looked puzzled. “Oh, you’re not there,” he said. “I saw where you were hiding, but you weren’t actually there. You were somewhere else entirely.”
That’s how we often view other people. We see the outside, but we miss the real person underneath. We assume we know what another person is thinking or feeling. Or worse, we judge them based on our assumptions.
But what if we stopped making snap judgments and started asking questions instead? What if we took the time to understand the perspectives of others before we made a judgment?
Instead of assuming that everyone thinks or feels the same way we do, we can open our hearts and minds to new possibilities. We can listen and empathize. And we can discover that the people around us are more complex than we thought.
Once we’ve become aware of the good in our lives and others, we can take action.
One of the easiest ways to show gratitude is to say thank you. It doesn’t take much effort, and it goes a long way.
Another option is to express your gratitude through acts of service. For example, volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter if you are grateful for your family. If you’re grateful for nature, plant trees and clean up litter along the shoreline.
Finally, we can share our gratitude for others by acknowledging their presence in our lives and telling someone what they mean to us.
Gratitude is a powerful tool. It has the ability to transform our lives, as well as the lives of those around us.
Let’s all commit to being more grateful, starting today.
Cregg, D. R., & Cheavens, J. S. (2021). Gratitude interventions: Effective self-help? A meta-analysis of the impact on symptomsx of depression and anxiety. Journal of Happiness Studies, 22, 413-445. doi:10.1007/s10902-020-00236-6
Davis, D. E., Choe, E., Meyers, J., Wade, N., Varjas, K., Gifford, A., . . . Worthington, E. L. (2006). Thankful for the little things: A meta-analysis of gratitude interventions. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63(1), 20-31. doi:10.1037/cou0000107
Dickens, L. R. (2017). Using gratitude to promote positive change: A series of meta-analyses investigatiing the effectivnes of gratitude interventions. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 39(4), 193-208. doi:10.1080/01973533.2017.1323638
Ma, L., Tunney, R., & Ferguson, E. (2017). Does gratitude enhance prosociality: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 143(6), 601-635. doi:10.1037/bul0000103
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