Gratitude Is A Choice We Make Everyday
September 21st was the International Day of Gratitude and it really prompted me to explore once again my gratitude list and all the things in my life I have to be grateful for.
Why do we need a day or any reminder that we have things to be grateful for? Well, I am sure there are many great psychological and sociological studies as to why this is so but my explanation is that we were born. We are so alike in how we see the world.
As human beings our survival instincts can be a challenge to overcome. We focus on what has to be done next, we worry about what is around the next corner. And, if that doesn’t completely consume us, we ruminate about what we have lost and done wrong in the past.
These survival thought patterns simply do not work in the 21st century when we hunt at the local A&P and we gather at the Bulk Barn. These survival patterns quite simply are crazy making. This is where the latest brain research can help us understand the science of gratitude. Yes, that’s right the science of gratitude. When we hold thoughts in our brain about things that leave us feeling gratitude and joy, it is impossible to hold a fearful or anxious thought. So we can see why gratitude is an essential part of life.
I had an intense experience of what gratitude looks like when I visited Bali in 2004. The Balinese are a beautiful, humble and deeply spiritual people. There are more temples in Bali than people. They have gratitude ceremonies for EVERTHING. They have a ceremony when the pool is cleaned in gratitude of clean water. When you walk into the stores in Ubud you step over offerings of incense and flowers placed by the store owners in gratitude for the customers that will come in that day. When you purchase something they take your money and touch the items in the store and give gratitude for the sale.
I was on a spiritual retreat at the time and had intentionally bypassed most of the commercial tourist attractions. However, I did spend one day shopping in Ubud. I wandered into a store determined to get my shopping done in one stop. As I stepped over the offerings inside the store, I saw a beautiful woman standing next to a gentleman sitting at a table, and an infant sitting happily on the floor. The shop, like many others, had a variety of sarongs, pashminas, bags and other textiles.
It had a beautiful selection of items at very good prices for a North American shopper and I was able to very quickly choose beautiful things for everyone on my list. I probably spent about $150 that day. When I paid the shopkeeper she began to weep and told me that she had no customers in her shop for days. She had prayed and gave gratitude that morning for the customers that were coming and she was so filled with gratitude at that moment that she couldn’t contain it.
I was very moved and promptly found my fellow travellers and sent them to her store. One of the ladies on my trip owned a clothing store and made a very large order. The next day I went back to buy a handmade bag I had admired the day before and when I went to pay for it she told me there was no charge. We both began to tear up at this point as her gratitude was palpable. To this day I get very moved when I see that bag. She did not pray begging in fear that morning; she prayed in gratitude. I so admired her ability to be grateful even when she wasn’t sure how she was going to feed her child that day.
This is not a new concept for any of us. If we were raised as Christians we learned to say Grace before meals. Many of us celebrate Thanksgiving where we choose to get together with family and celebrate the abundance of the harvest. We know that it is appropriate to give thanks and yet we need continuous prompts to remind us.
There are several strategies which I feel can be helpful in developing a gratitude practice. Oprah’s method of keeping a gratitude journal is a wonderful way to capture this and the actual writing is also a very powerful strategy to move us out of our heads and into our hearts.
The book “Simple Abundance” (see Laura’s Journey) is a wonderful guide with a daily message to help us reflect on what we value and what we are grateful for. One of my favourite exercises though comes from Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope. In his book he outlines how we can become sacred activists.
Here are a few of his suggestions on things we can do right now:
- Write down one thing that has made you feel grateful to be alive today.
- Write down 10 things that you say are sacred to you. Some of mine today include silence and my relationship with my partner.
- Think of someone who has hurt you or betrayed you and make a commitment to work on forgiving him or her.
As I think about his suggestions and my experience with the Balinese store owner, the word that comes to mind is Acceptance. What if we were able to accept and love what is. What if just for today I was grateful for everything I have today and I accepted my family, my home, my job, my life and was grateful for it.
So, as we head into this season of Thanksgiving in a world that has so many unknowns we can choose to be grateful. Yes our soldiers are at war, we are in a recession and there are many uncertainties for our children. However, we also live in a beautiful part of the world; we live in a country that values free speech, children and women. We breathe clean air and we have an abundance of clean water. I could go on but I think you get the picture.
|Follow Laura as she lives the Simple Abundance Path