“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” – A.A. Milne
American Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and this is the perfect time to think about what you’re grateful for in your life. You’ve probably read an article or heard some personal development guru talking about the importance of gratitude in the past. You might have even had your own practice before but let it drop off over time … or maybe you have a gratitude practice right now, but you want to make it a bit better. Well, this post is for you.
There have been a variety of studies done on gratitude over the years, and they have shown that people who regularly move through the world with a grateful attitude exhibited a myriad of physical and psychological benefits, including:
- uplifted mood
- decreased anxiety
- less chronic pain
- improved sleep
- greater sense of well-being
- higher self-esteem
- decreased feelings of envy and resentment
It’s surprising that such a simple practice can do so much for you. If you don’t already have a gratitude practice, you can start one today by taking a few moments to either write down or even just think about some things that have happened to you today or some things that you have in your life that you are grateful for. The act of acknowledging the good you already have in your life will bring those things into focus for you. What your mind focuses on multiplies in your life because of something in our minds called the reticular activating system.
This complex network of nerves in your brain helps filter information for you. In reality, there is so much going on in the world around us that we could never take it all in and still function. So our brain filters through all of the input we’re constantly getting to make sure we pay attention to the important information. When you make an effort to focus on a particular thing, your brain recognizes that thing is important and will help you find more of it in the world around you.
Often people use the example of a car when they talk about this. Let’s say that you buy a red Jeep Wrangler. Before you bought your Jeep, you didn’t even notice any others around you. Now that you own one, you keep seeing red Jeeps everywhere you go. That’s because red Jeeps have become important to you, and your brain is seeing them everywhere. That is how gratitude works also.
When you focus your mind on something that you’re grateful for, you will notice more things around you to be grateful for. It’s the same system at work. Because you’re making a point to recognize the good around you, your brain looks for more of it.
The same can happen in the opposite way. If you’re in the habit of complaining or feeling jealousy or envy, you will be able to easily pick out more and more things to feel jealous about in your life. Your brain will focus on what you don’t have. You’ll end up in an unconscious cycle of constantly looking for things to be jealous of.
Let me give you an example from my personal life. I’ve never had a lot of money. In fact, you could most definitely say that it’s been quite the opposite in my life. I don’t have a fancy house or fancy car. I don’t eat in restaurants very often. Most months, we’re barely scraping by.
There was a time in my life when this really bothered me. I might even say that I felt ashamed of this fact. I thought my lack of financial abundance, as they say, meant that I was worth less. I thought it meant there was something wrong with me. I looked at other people around me who went on vacations and had fancy things and I was jealous of them. I thought they were better than me. These feelings made my life sad. I struggled a lot to figure out what I could do to have that kind of financial success. That made me depressed and ashamed. It’s no fun to walk through your life feeling those emotions.
Then I realized something very important that changed everything. I realized that I had many things in my life to be grateful for. And acknowledging this isn’t about saying to yourself, “I have this and that person doesn’t have it so that makes me better.” The practice of gratitude has nothing to do with a comparison between you and someone else. The practice of gratitude is only about you.
I realized that when I stripped away all of the financial desires and just looked at my day-to-day life, I had built the life I’d always wanted. I have a family who loves me. I have a beautiful permaculture backyard where I grow a lot of my own food. I get to spend my days doing what I love. I have my health and, in many ways, am blessed.
When I began to recognize that, my life got progressively better. My financial woes didn’t magically disappear but I worried about them less.
Practicing gratitude is not magic. It will not solve all your problems, but it will greatly improve your quality of life and state of mind so you can tackle your problems from a good place.
How do you practice gratitude?
It’s not complicated really. Some people like to write down a few things they’re thankful for every day. It’s a good way to end your day.
You can take some time to write them down if you like, but you don’t really have to. You only have to acknowledge them. As you get into the habit of doing this regularly, try to make a game of it and feel gratitude for different things every day. That puts you in the mindset throughout the day of noticing more of the good around you.
There is one very important thing you can do to make your gratitude practice more effective. When you think about what you’re grateful for, try your best to go back into the moment. I like to close my eyes, take a deep breath and focus on that one event or person or moment. If you take yourself back there and let yourself truly feel love and gratitude welling up inside of you, you’ll make your practice much more impactful. Doing so turns what can because a rote exercise of writing down a few good things in your life into a deeply emotional practice.
You see, we are emotional beings. Even those of us who claim not to be are emotional. If you tap into your deepest feelings, you’ll affect your life on a much more profound level than you would if you only practiced gratitude superficially. Allowing yourself to feel deep gratitude will make you more aware of the beauty, love, and joy this world has to offer.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I asked the Omstars team what they’re thankful for this year. Here are some of the responses they gave.
Kino: Gratitude is a daily practice of mine. When I wake up in the morning and when I fall asleep at night I think of all the things I’m thankful for. Here are a few that frequently make the list—community, family, living on the beach, fresh coconuts, spiritual learning, yoga, meditation, mangos, sunshine, laughter, forgiveness, kindness, and love.
Tatiana: This year I’m thankful for the ability and wisdom to be thankful. Full stop. And to have the space in my mind and heart to appreciate and feel deep gratitude for things I may have otherwise taken for granted in my younger years.
Karyn: I’m grateful for my family, friends, my yoga teachers, and my yoga practice. I’m also grateful to be part of the Omstars team.
Gabi: There are so many things I am grateful for this year: friends, family, the OmStars community, my personal yoga practice, and so much more. But most of all, I have found myself feeling gratitude for life and the present moment. I am grateful to be able to live the life I am living, right here and right now, as the human I am today.
Laina: I’ve learned the real meaning of community lately. Not just where I live where we look out for each other and help those who need it, but at my children’s school, my friends, even online. My communities have delivered love and compassion and for that, I’m grateful.
Gabba: I’m grateful for my sister who shows me that no matter where we are living or what obstacles we face as individuals, we will always find support from each other.
Monica: This year I’m grateful for this practice showing me a way back to myself, back to what’s real. And I’m grateful for all the people in my life who have been supporting my growth along this path.
And, I’ll finish off this list of things we’re grateful for by saying that my relationship with my family has deepened considerably this year. I’m grateful for the time I’ve spent with them and the love and support they’ve given me.
Even after Thanksgiving is over, do yourself a favor and make practicing gratitude part of your daily life. If you already do, good on you! Make sure you practice with emotion to make your practice more impactful. As you do you’ll notice your quality of life getting better.
Below you’ll find a gratitude meditation with Kino that you can try out. We also have some gratitude-themed classes on Omstars you can explore.
Lovelyn Bettison has been everything from a massage therapist to a life coach, but her life didn’t start falling into place until she decided to put all other pursuits aside and follow her childhood dream of being a writer. When she’s not doing copywriting for companies like Omstars, she writes scary stories about things that go bump in the dark. She also runs a pretty popular newsletter about all things spooky and supernatural. If you like that sort of thing, you really should click the link to download a free copy of her novella “A Haunting at Cabin Lake.”