I love this time of year. One of my favorite elements is when we gather with our loved ones. It wasn’t always this way for me. A few years ago my heart was broken and I felt that I would never enjoy the holidays again. It took me a long time to feel like my new life would ever be good.
During that period I had a hard time feeling grateful. I couldn’t see the good things in my life because I was focused on what wasn’t there. I dreaded the holidays because I couldn’t imagine having a good time.
At one point, I realized that my experience was in my own hands, and I could change it if I wanted to. But in order to do that I would have to stop thinking about the past and move forward with appreciation for the things I have in my life now. I began a daily practice of gratitude – meditating on all the good things in my life and being thankful.
It’s easy to say that gratitude is important, but more difficult to actually find your way there. For myself I found that I was conditioned to focus on the negative things so deeply that I didn’t even hear the voices in my head that couldn’t appreciate. It was through diligence and consistent effort that my attitude began to change.
We all get preoccupied with work and with a lot of things in pursuit of our idea of happiness. Our minds are focused on what we choose to believe in. Maybe it’s fame, power, success, or that our children achieve great things. We get so busy living in the future or the past that we might not notice the good stuff right in front of us.
Research shows that an attitude of gratitude (I couldn’t help myself) has health benefits too. Grateful people tend to take better care of their bodies including eating well and exercising. Stress is a well-known cause of health problems. Gratitude helps lower the stress response. Grateful people also have better immune systems than those who aren’t. Studies have shown an increase in healthy immune cells in grateful people.
Here are some suggestions for how to get started with a practice of gratitude.
1. Be Consistent –In order to change anything that you want to change, you have to put your energy into it consistently for long enough that it becomes a habit.
In Chinese medicine – a healing ritual is called a practice of Gong –you need to practice it for 100 days for the change to take hold of your life.
When I embarked on my gratitude/prayer/meditation practice, I committed to do it every day for 100 days. It’s better to commit every day for a few minutes than once a week for a half hour. I found seven minutes to be a good number that I could get myself to stick to every day. After a while I enjoyed it so much that I naturally increased to 13 minutes, and now sometimes I even do it for 21 minutes. Don’t overcommit your time, you won’t stick to it if you make it too difficult.
2. Find your best expression – I found it best for me to speak my gratitude – writing in a journal got repetitious for me. It made me feel more connected to it. I’d love to hear what expression you found works best for you.
3. Schedule a time that you can have quiet every day. I found that I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t put it in my schedule.
I always found it confusing to think about just living in the here and now. I thought to myself “How do I do that? I have so much I want to do – in the future?” But as I’ve been practicing, I’ve found that living in gratitude makes it easier to be present here and now. Being present makes me get more done, feel better doing it, and enjoy my life more.