Every day, I practice some form of gratitude meditation. It’s simple! First, I start by saying to myself, I am grateful for… and then as part of a stream of consciousness, I let it flow without editing.
I used to over-think this process. I would rank some things as less or more meaningful than others. But through the years, I have realized that gratitude is a constant state of being. It is a way of seeing the world and ranking is not necessary. All things matter equally when practicing gratitude. This knowledge is something all happy people share in common.
In fact, Rick Foster and Greg Hicks set out on a three-year journey to study extremely happy people. In their book How we Choose to be Happy, they found that there are 9 choices happy people make. One of those nine is to practice appreciation.
Happy people actively exercise gratitude. The happiest people, according to behaviorists, can move beyond what has come to be known as a “happiness set-point” through practices such as Gratitude Meditation.
By learning to practice active gratitude, we can actually raise our happiness set-point, regardless of the situation. Interesting enough, according to Wikipedia,
"The systematic study of gratitude within psychology only began around the year 2000, possibly because psychology has traditionally been focused more on understanding distress rather than understanding positive emotions. However, with the advent of the positive psychology movement, gratitude has become a mainstream focus of psychological research."
What Yogis have known about for thousands of years is only beginning to be studied now in a larger format. It is exciting to think what more we will discover! Here are 3 reasons why you should make gratitude part of your daily practice.
1. Gratitude Increases Our Appreciation For Life
"Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can." -Dalai Lama
So many days, it starts by being grateful for breath. Foster this awareness that just by breathing, we have won the lottery today! It may seem like a really simple thing, but remember that in that same moment that you wake up and breathe, there are men, women, and children, who have not been given this blessing of breath.
When I was at the Chicago Field Museum, I stopped by the Man’s Evolution section and read, “In the last 24 hours, 33 species have become extinct.” This reminder can be all it takes to make you pause and appreciate that we have another 24 hours to experience life.
Practice This Easy-To-Remember Meditation To Appreciate Your Breath:
Inhale: I welcome happiness Exhale: I am so grateful
Inhale: I welcome inspiration Exhale: I am so grateful
Inhale: I welcome love Exhale: I am so grateful
2. Gratitude Is A Return To Balance
Gratitude brings balance to those parts of us that are attached to suffering. Gratitude changes our attitude and helps us to stop feeling victimized by life. This is outlined in the Yoga Sutras Chapter 2.33: “When presented with negative thoughts or feelings, cultivate an opposite, elevated attitude. This is Pratipaksha Bhavana.”
If you are feeling down, hopeless, worried, or doubtful, you can bring the seesaw of your life back into balance by practicing gratitude. Research shows you can’t be stressed and thankful at the same time. And when you combine gratitude with physical exercise like yoga, you give yourself a double boost of positive energy.
3. Gratitude Expresses Love
Just like our breath loves us unconditionally, unconditional gratitude inspires love. It softens us when we’ve been hurt or lost to trust and to let love in again. Love expressed as gratitude demonstrates itself in small acts of kindness and connects us to each other.
Gratitude and love work together to promote positive healthy relationships because they attract more of each other. Gratitude is an expression of love.
The more gratitude we experience for others' happiness, the more our gratitude grows. Stephen Levine writes, “As gratitude is cultivated, we experience an increase in our sympathetic joy, our happiness at another’s happiness (this growing sense of gratitude for whatever happiness, great or small, that comes to those around us).”
Through gratitude, we appreciate the good in all things big and small…and we are happier because of it! Tomorrow and beyond, begin your day with, “I am grateful for…”