Can you think back to a time where you felt very grateful for receiving something? Perhaps you were treated to lunch, or given an unexpected gift. Perhaps your bestie took care of you when you were sick. Or your house mate washed up the dishes when it should have been your turn. You may recall that the gift – the item or act of service – was given to you whole heartedly – full of good intention with no expectation of having it returned. The other person simply cared for you and wanted to do something kind. No matter what form that gift came in, it most likely lead you to feel a sense of well being and happiness. That you were supported and taken care of in some way.
Conversely, you may also recall a time when you were the one gifting another person. Can you recall how that made you feel, to give something unconditionally to someone you cared about? How that selfless act made the receiver feel? To know that your act of giving was an act of loving kindness? It’s but one way we can show another person that we care. Gratitude can be felt both by the giver and the receiver in equal parts, and it can bring people closer together.
One of the most powerful examples of gratitude I can recall involved meeting an older gentleman at a three day 5 Rhythms dance event. We had been asked to bring an item that represented gratitude to us. Well I had a heart shaped unakite gem stone with the word “gratitude” engraved on one side of it. So I knew I had to take that. On the last day of the retreat our instructor asked us all to bring our items to the dance floor and pair up with someone.
After retrieving my gemstone and returning to the dance floor I found myself standing face to face with a kind gentleman. We were instructed to spend some time describing our items to each other and explaining why it meant so much to us. My gemstone symbolized the unconditional love my brother showed me when he saved my life a few years prior. As it turned out, the gentleman had also brought a gemstone, a pink watermelon quartz, that too symbolized unconditional love to him. After we exchanged the importance of our items to each other our instructor challenged us to do something unthinkable: do a little ceremony together and exchange our precious item with our partner in return for theirs. The ultimate act of giving and receiving gratefully – with a stranger.
Some people in the room gasped at this concept. At first I felt a quick pang about giving away my gem but then I thought, yes it’s okay to let this go. Let me tell you, I am so glad I did. For in the act of receiving his gift in exchange for mine something amazing happened: a deep down to the core raw connection of human spirit. To have a stranger gift me with something that meant so much to him, and for me to return that selfless act whole heartedly. To look deeply into each others eyes in that moment of recognition and see pure, unconditional love and gratitude beaming back at me. In the end, it made our precious items seem so trivial. The real gift – of what I was most grateful for – was the authentic, open and intimate connection with another human being.
We can all think back to moments of gratitude in our lives. They are fleeting moments here and there in our memory. It feels good to recall them. So that makes me wonder…. why does this feeling of well being have to be reserved to just “fleeting moments”? What if we could incorporate gratitude on a day to day basis? Why even consider doing that at all?
As it turns out, the practice of gratitude is very beneficial. According to Amy Morin, a contributor for Forbes.com, there are 7 benefits to practicing gratitude on a regular basis:
1. gratitude fosters new relationships – people love to be appreciated, and it’s a no brainer to be respectful and polite. Treat others as we would like to be treated. It makes us more open and approachable in the eyes of others.
2. improves physical health – gratitude creates a greater sense of well being, which includes healthier choices for our physical health. This in turn leads to less aches and pains, and better overall health.
3. improves psychological health – gratitude increases happiness, thereby reducing depression, anxiety, stress and toxic emotions. It also can lower symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
4. enhances empathy and reduces aggression – in the face of aggression from others, gratitude practice teaches us to be calmer, kind and grounded. We are less likely to retaliate even when given negative feedback.
5. promotes better sleep – writing in a gratitude journal each night before bed helps us focus on the good things in our lives, even the tiny details. This promotes peace of mind before going to sleep.
6. improves self esteem – not only does gratitude make us feel better about ourselves, it also reduces social comparisons. Comparison just perpetuates a sense of being flawed and always having to find ways to “one up the competition”. There is no need to compare anything with others when we are grateful for what we have.
7. increases mental strength – gratitude practice helps us to overcome trauma and creates resilience in the face of new challenges. We learn to prioritize focus on our strengths instead of weaknesses.
Great reasons to start practicing gratitude every day, hey? So what are some ways we can do this and how much of our precious time is this going to take? The good news is, it only takes a few minutes each day. The easiest way is to start a gratitude journal. Before bed each night write down the top 3 things you were grateful for that day. It doesn’t matter what it is. It also doesn’t matter if you had a really crappy day. There is always – ALWAYS – something to be grateful for. Be humble and look for the small things. The sound of a cat’s purr, or birds chirping in nature. The beauty of an art piece, the sip of hot tea, the hilarious joke that made you laugh so hard you snorted out loud.
After a short while you will notice something magical start to happen inside you. You will rewire your brain to see the positivity and beauty in life. You will notice these things become the default things your brain notices immediately – rather than the negative thoughts you used to think. Positive resilience becomes your new normal. Your sense of well being will increase and you will feel better. “Make peace of mind your only goal in life”, as a good friend used to say to me.
When we take a few moments each day to recall the things we were grateful for that day. We begin to see how life has a way of taking care of and supporting us. Some days we will have “big” things to be grateful for (” I got that job I was hoping for!”). Other days we can be grateful for the “little” things, such as a warm comfy bed or a roof over our heads. Never take the little things for granted. They are your foundation that keep you strong and free to branch out and explore your brave new world.