Gratitude is well known to make us a little happier. But I wonder if we underestimate this ancient and profound practice, and just how much it can do for us.
In modern life, it’s easy to disconnect from appreciation of the so-called ‘simple’ things in life. We live in very uncertain times, and each day is a gift. Do we live each day as if that was true?
Gratitude is a way of acknowledging the gifts we constantly receive, even (and perhaps especially) when they are not material objects.
Here are a few ways that I invite gratitude to be an integral part of my day.
1. A Reframing Tool
We all have those days – when there’s something on the To Do list that we really don’t want to. But from a perspective of radical gratitude, ‘I have to…’ becomes ‘I get to...’ When I’m facing something I feel less-than-enthused about, this view can help to reframe it from being an unpleasant drag into something I’m lucky that I get to do.
In the western world, we tend to view things through a lens of privilege and familiarity, but in some parts of the world, it would be considered a huge blessing to get to wash dishes in hot water, or use washing machines and hoovers, or send an email, or have paid work.
You don’t have to wait to the end of the day to reflect on gratitude. You can check in with yourself at the start of the day by noticing: ‘today, I get to…’ (and fill in the blank). You might uncover something you take for granted, or re-frame a difficulty into an opportunity.
2. Meditating, without ‘meditating’
In some traditions, the ultimate point of meditation is to realise the truth of interconnection. Living with radical gratitude can be an ongoing meditation on this truth: a constant appreciation of everyone and everything that makes our own life possible.
Take food (a classic example of this), and consider the soil, sun, rain, farmers, shop workers etc that all play a part in putting sustenance in our mouths. We can make this a conscious practice, whenever we remember. A useful reminder is any time we’re enjoying something.
Another way I practice this is to bring appreciative awareness to how the four elements support everyday experiences. For example:
– Fire element when I’m cooking
– Water element when I’m washing dishes
– Earth element when I’m doing lying-down meditation
– Air element whenever I bring awareness to my breath
3. Finding Magic In The Mundane
You may have heard of the literary technique of defamiliarisation – it’s when an author writes about familiar experiences as if we’d never encountered them before. In mindfulness, this freshness is called ‘beginners mind’. It’s a setting-aside of what you think you know, and experiencing something more directly, without preconceptions or the dulling of familiarity.
I like to imagine what ancient people would make of my own daily life. Think how magical it would seem to have your own personal source of water (taps) and instant fire (kettle, cooker, heating).
From the position of radical gratitude, I sometimes find myself feeling ridiculously appreciative of an item in my house – a rug, a sofa or curtains – for what that object does for me, completely thanklessly. This is expressed better in Pat Schneider’s poem The Patience Of Ordinary Things
For more on interconnection, books about mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn may be of interest.
If you’re interested in learning more about working with the elements, check out my series of reflections.
A guided meditation related to this theme is ‘Finding The Positive’, which can be found in my Short Meditations