The winter of 2020/21 was among the most difficult seasons for many of us as we waited for the restrictions of the pandemic to loosen so we could see family members again, connect freely with friends, and resume activities that once felt normal. During the holidays in particular, many of us felt the weight of these challenges.
Yet our gratitude practice is needed more urgently than ever. Gratitude is a gracious acknowledgement of all that supports us and sustains our everyday lives. It is an appreciative nod to our blessings, both large and small – a moment of sunshine, our loving family, food on the table. Leaving the gifts of our lives unacknowledged are lost opportunities for joy and connection. As Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, “The quality of your life depends on the seeds you water.”
If you water seeds of gratitude, gratefulness will grow. When gratitude grows, joy follows.
Joy is not what makes us grateful, but gratitude is what makes us joyful, as Brother David Steindl-Rast points out. Hi suggests that we cannot be joyful unless we are present:
“We cannot be grateful unless we are grounded in the present moment, and we cannot be grounded in the present moment unless we are grounded in the body. Much of the time we live like disembodied minds, not even noticing what’s around us, but preoccupied with past and future. But when this mug of tea warms first our hands and then our stomach on a cold day, or the cat purrs contentedly in our lap, we are suddenly present and grateful.”
How can we become more present and grateful, despite the difficulties we face?
Start by asking yourself: Do I need to slow down, take more deep breaths, step into nature, notice my child playing, my dog snoring, the birds singing? Gratitude is a practice, something that when done regularly, can rewire the neurocircuitry in our brains. Like watering seeds in our garden, when we are attentive to what is good in our lives, positivity and joy can flourish.
We can build gratitude into our days in simple ways. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Begin the day with a prayer of gratitude. This might include appreciation for your warm bed, another day, a soft dog, a chance to do things better.
- Stop and notice throughout the day – the mug of warm tea in your hands, the cat purring on your lap, the sunshine on your face. Set a timer to remind you to make moments of gratitude throughout the day.
- Keep a journal of three good things that you record at the end of every day. Let those things soak into your heart and your body as you drift off to sleep.
- Share gratitude outwardly. Write a “gratitude letter” to someone who you have not previously thanked. Keep a “gratitude jar” for notes that can be written spontaneously to people you appreciate.
- Experiment with gratitude meditations that resonate with you, like these from Insight Timer or UC San Diego School of Medicine Center for Mindfulness.
Even though we may be physically separated from our loved ones, we can water the seeds of care, compassion, and connection through our gratitude practice. We can look at this time as an opportunity to attend to what is most important in our lives, and to count our blessings, both large and small.
For additional resources on gratitude and mindfulness, consider exploring CSU’s online Living Mindfully program.
You can also visit Larimer County Extension’s Health and Wellbeing page.