Cultivating a heart of gratitude means having an appreciation for life in the present moment. It’s counting our blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging the abundance already here. When we are truly thankful for what we already have and content with what is – this is enough. We tend to take for granted all the good that is already in our lives.
All too often, we hold out for the big achievements, before allowing ourselves to be truly happy. The mind is never quite satisfied, always demanding and wanting more. It is as if we make up that life owes us something, other than the greatest gift of the present. This mindset of lack and never enough is a maddening way to live, and is a surefire way to keep oneself miserable, or just short of real contentment. This limited mindset is not in service to you, and is a superficial form of gratitude.
The more we shift out of complaining and adopt an attitude of thanksgiving, the “more” we receive. While gratitude is often a mental acknowledgement of everything that is going well in our lives and all that we receive, true thankfulness runs much deeper. This type of gratitude is a deep sense of your very presence and “being-ness.” What is our being-ness? This is the natural feeling ‘I am’ or ‘I exist.’ We can access our natural being-ness anytime, because it’s always here, underneath the noise of the mind. When we are able to find the space between thoughts, we are naturally at rest within ourselves.
When we become attuned to this sense of aliveness, true gratitude emerges. Through being fully present with life as it is unfolding now and recognizing our very presence, there is a felt sense of appreciation for all that is.
“Almost two thousand years ago, the philosopher Plutarch wrote: ‘Most people bypass what is good and refreshing in their lives, and habitually focus on the unpleasant, bad elements.’ How easily all our attention can get absorbed by our “problems.” Thinking and talking about them strengthens a false sense of self. And so we miss the good in our lives. Where is the good? It’s where Life is: in the present moment. It’s in the clouds and vast spaciousness of the sky, the air you breathe, the life-giving light and warmth of the sun, the silence of the night. It’s in a small act of kindness given or received. It’s in the sound of the rain, the intense aliveness of a flower….the same aliveness that you can also feel inside your body. Another word for acknowledging the good in your life is – gratitude. And: what you focus your attention on, grows.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
It is good to be reminded that apart from the present moment, there is no “your life.” Most of us have a story about how our lives “should” be unfolding, and when this story clashes with what is actually unfolding, this creates discontentment. This discontentment is the outcome of placing our own mental projections onto how we believe life should be. The reality is that life is simply unfolding and when we resist what IS by placing our own demands on life, we literally create our own unhappiness. This is the root of all suffering – a denial of life as it’s happening in the now.
True gratitude is not possible when we are arguing with the present. Being present with life and having a deep acceptance, allows us to find peace even in the midst of difficult situations. In fact, when we have the maturity to accept the present moment with a heart of gratitude, peace naturally arises.
True gratitude is powerful and transformative. Each day it is important to appreciate this gift of being alive. There are many ways to practice gratitude and acceptance. You might start with keeping a daily gratitude journal that your write in before bed or throughout the day. As you move through the day, you can become more aware and focused on all of the gifts, joyful moments and love in your life. You might even notice the good that has come out of painful events.
One of my teachers once offered a very simple ‘thank you’ exercise that has become one of my favorite ways to practice gratitude. To practice this, simply get into the habit of saying ‘thank you.’
For example, you might say, “Thank you for my senses, that I can appreciate life so fully. Thank you to the beautiful things and even the ugly things. Thank you for my breath. Thank you for the joy of family, friendship, good food, and exercise. Thank you for the ability to even say thank you and have this gratitude in my heart. Thank you to existence and to the creative power of the universe.”
You can give praise and thanks to nature and/or God (Higher Power). You can even give thanks to your deeper sense of being. This type of gratitude is a simple way to add so much beauty, strength, and joy to your life. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
By Stacy Hall, LPC