The sages define suffering as wanting things to be different than they are.
The experience of gratitude, however, renders the complete opposite effect. When we cultivate a feeling of appreciation, we feel happy, maybe even blessed. Gratitude requires a mindful attention to what is good in your life. When we’re not mindful, we are likely to give all of our attention to the squeaky wheel while losing perspective for the well-oiled ones.
Research on gratitude suggests that we can even transform our suffering into joy through the act of feeling and expressing thanks. People who report more gratitude in their life also report better emotional, mental and physical health. A number of studies have found evidence for the logical idea that couples who express gratitude towards each other are happier together and have a stronger relationship. Other studies have linked improved sleep and more frequent exercise and other self-care practices as positive outcomes of gratitude.
Having a mindful and robust gratitude practice can involve keeping a gratitude journal, making sure you say thanks at every possible moment (when strangers hold doors for you, when a friend does you a small favor…), creating gratitude rituals around meals, bedtime, waking up, or other typical moments of the day, or taking complaint sabbaths (days without a single complaint).
This week, replace suffering with joy. The moment you find yourself wishing life could be different, find something which makes you feel grateful (no matter how small). Even more powerful, take the very thing you wish were different, and find something about it that you can appreciate.
In addition, spend a few moments in your meditation practice this week finding something for which you can be grateful for in that moment (while you are meditating).
- Spend a minute finding and cultivating a sense of gratitude for something in your present-moment experience — your health, employment, family, loved-ones, and material comforts such as heat in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer.
- Then spend a minute seeking gratitude for something in your past which was tough to live through or manage but which you can now see provided you with inner strength, confidence, appreciation, a sense of purpose, or some other gift.
This post is a short excerpt from Edie Raphael's The Art of Being Present: Mindfulness Meditation for Work and Life. The full book (including 52 weeks of guided meditations) can be purchased here.
Credit: Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash