Our friends in the US are celebrating thanksgiving this week, coming together with family and friends, and celebrating what they are grateful for.
Inspired by this beautiful tradition, I would also like to take time to reflect on what I am grateful about: waking up in a warm and safe house, having breakfast with my loved ones, the beautiful colours of autumn, just to name a few.
When we start paying attention, there is so much for which to be grateful. We can be grateful for coffee or tea; we can be grateful for other people’s actions or kind words. We can be grateful for our bodies, for life, for the knowledge and the care we received, for nature, for art.
Different cultures have different traditions in expressing and celebrating thankfulness. Gratitude is often expressed at mealtimes, when we are enjoying and sharing food and connecting to family or friends. This is a time par excellence to feel satisfied and connected. Our nervous systems receive signals that everything is ok, and our bodies can rest and digest.
Undoing the negativity bias of your brain
When we feel grateful, we feel satisfied, we have enough. And we naturally want to share.
Gratitude increases joy; it orients us to the goodness that is a part of life. It connects us to something outside of ourselves, to what is available right here, right now. Maybe other people made this happen, maybe someone you know, or maybe people you don’t know, who contributed to the food you have on your plate, or who invented electricity, the wheel, laws, etc.
When we share our joy, we are also increasing it; when we connect to each other’s joy, our reward pathways are activated as well.
From this place of fulfilment, compassion and generosity are born. We have a natural urge to serve others and we feel warm when we do something for others.
Gratitude makes us happy, but we need to nourish gratitude. We should not wait until there is no more suffering to look at what is already present. Just allowing ourselves a moment now and then to stop running, to take a breath and to open our eyes and our hearts.
Gratitude is not turning away from suffering
We don’t need to pretend that ‘everything is awesome’ and look through rose-coloured glasses. We don’t need to force ourselves to feel grateful, “I should feel grateful for…” rarely makes us feel happy and fulfilled, but rather guilty. Joy and sorrow exist together. Sometimes life is hard, and we suffer. In moments like that we take care of our feelings; maybe we can bring some perspective by acknowledging that everything is impermanent and find some relief in that truth. We can connect to our values and take action to attend to the things that are not ok (yet). In times of difficulty, we can also connect to others, giving them a chance to help us.
Nourish yourself with gratitude
And, in addition, we can look for what is already good and lovely in our lives and let ourselves be nourished by it. Here’s how:
Notice something good, a good experience
Help yourself to install this experience, to hardwire it:
- Make it last longer
- Let it grow, open to it, feel it
- Try to find many different elements of the experience
- Use your beginners mind, make the experience new and fresh (for example: look at your parent, sibling, spouse, child, friend or co-worker with new eyes)
- Reflect on why this matters to you
As a final step, help yourself to absorb the experience:
- Feel yourself sinking into it, as it sinks into you, give yourself over to it, visualise how you become more grateful, joyful, …
- Feel the reward of the experience
By regularly having and installing (enriching & absorbing) gratitude, we become more grateful.
Expressing your gratitude towards others
How would you like to express your gratitude this week? Tell your friends and family what you appreciate about them? Text someone? Put up a gratitude post-it wall with your co-workers? Do a gratitude meditation (you might enjoy this beautiful meditation about gratitude for the 5 senses with Lorinda)? Start a gratitude journal?
Gratitude helps us to appreciate the lovely moments in life, whilst at the same time enabling us to create more of those for others. Maybe you could also offer a random act of kindness towards someone else?
To my friends at Brussels Mindfulness, thank you for being you, wonderful wise and caring human beings! And for bringing goodness into this world every day!
"Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good." ~ Buddha, Dhammapada 9.122
In gratitude, Kirsten