I remember when I first heard of a gratitude practice—where you bring conscious appreciation to the things in your life that you already have, most often conceived through writing a list in a ‘gratitude journal’ or something similar—the practice sounded… well, nice. It seemed liked one of the hundreds of other practices that I knew would be beneficial, but would likely fall into the category of ‘shit other people make time for’. Nevertheless, the practice made intuitive sense to me enough to try it. Bringing awareness to the things in my life that already exist would surely result in at least a good ol’ perspective shift.
I started my practice simply. Each day, I would jot down three things I was grateful for. Some days, most notably on those that it was just a crap day at work, I would strain for these three things…. my morning cup of coffee likely made a cameo so many times you’d think it was the nectar of the gods (it was). Slowly, this practice grew on me. And to my surprise, it was one I was able to keep.
Before I knew it, my gratitude practice turned into an entire page that I was taking the time to reflect on and write down almost daily. In fact, this practice became non-negotiable once I got sick. I began to really rely on that perspective shift as I felt my health slip out of my control. How quickly my list went from gratitude for my cup of coffee to being grateful for the things that I once thought to be the cause of my suffering. That toxic friendship I let go of showed me where I was making myself small and I grew my confidence as a direct result. Choosing to leave my second job in a years time, that once left me feeling like a failure, created space in my life that led me to spend 5 months of 2018 traveling the world. One of the most profound moments was when I wrote two pages dedicated to why I was grateful for being sick.
As my practice deepened, my relationship to gratitude transformed. At times, gratitude had felt like a reflective feeling. A way to reframe my life with the eyes of appreciation. And a list of gratitudes is just that. Unless you are including the moment of writing the gratitude list on your list, then everything on the list is past tense. In this new formation of practice, rather than just write down my gratitudes, I began to find the wherewithal to consciously pause within a moment of gratitude and be present with the experience of gratitude. Those moments that I would once write down after the fact, like my morning cup of coffee, became the conduit to actually experiencing gratitude in the present.
Here are the real fruits of my labor. Experiencing gratitude in the everyday moments of my life. That fruitful pause for appreciation of a blue sky, the warmth of the coffee cup, or the end of a momentous chapter in our life. It’s always there, available to us in the most portentous moments and the seemingly mundane. It’s not that we are not grateful. Gratitude and appreciation is our natural state. It’s that we forget to be present with it. If I asked you whether you are grateful to have two able hands, without a doubt, you’d say yes. But how often are you actually having that experience? (Go ahead, pause. Experience gratitude now.)
This is the power of cultivating a gratitude practice.
Gratitude is such a rich practice that has so much to teach. It can be uplifting, smoothing out our edges. It can be deeply connecting, leading us to profound realizations. Ultimately, gratitude is a pathway that leads us directly to our heart. There we find acceptance of who we are. We find acceptance for the circumstances of our lives that shape who we’ve become. We see the intricacies of life, the divine plan (or lack thereof).
Acceptance is our gateway to trust. You are exactly where you need to be — always have been, always will be. In the knowing, we drop our resistance, our conditioned urge to fix — fix ourselves into that perfected image, fix those around us so they fit more neatly into the stories of our mind, fix our lives so it lives up to standards of happiness as its sold to us by society. We see through the bullshit. We see clearly for perhaps the first time. Without all the resistance, what is left of us?
A softer, freer version no longer weighed down by the pains of the past or the worries of our futures. We open, like a budding flower in the freshness of spring, to the abundance of our life. We realize it was there all along. And the only thing that was limiting us — the only thing that is ever limiting us — is us. There is no cap to the abundance we can feel in a lifetime. And the more willing we are to experience gratitude, not just put the pen to paper but really pause and experience it, even when — no, especially when — everything sucks, the more open we become to the many gifts of life.
My journey with gratitude continues to evolve. I haven’t kept a formal gratitude journal in many moons now. When I feel inspired, I will write a list — they are fragmented across journals, notes in my phone, even some make it to my instagram. No longer beautifully collected in a single home, gratitude is now intertwined with my life.