Gratitude is a word which is normally used to describe a feeling of being grateful for something, but it can also be a powerful spiritual practice in its own right. In the former case, gratitude is a feeling that arises quite naturally when we find ourselves in a situation which we particularly appreciate. However, in the latter case, it is a feeling that is deliberately cultivated by taking time to focus on situations and conditions which are worthy of mindful appreciation.
Why Practice Gratitude?
There are several reasons why you may want to consider making gratitude a part of your daily spiritual practice, and the three main ones are as follows:
Gratitude Feels Good
The first reason to practice gratitude is because it is something that makes you feel good. It is incredibly difficult to feel anxious or stressed when you are deliberately feeling gratitude for the good things in your life, so cultivating gratitude on a daily basis can serve as a very useful spiritual tonic.
Gratitude Balances Perspective
It can be quite easy for us to lose our perspective in life, and if we aren’t careful we may find ourselves focusing on all of the things that are not going quite as well as we would like them to be. Practicing gratitude on a daily basis can help us to maintain a more balanced perspective which pays due attention to all the things that we have to appreciate.
Gratitude Promotes Growth
There are many spiritual traditions which say that our thoughts create our experience, and that whatever we focus on expands. In this case, spending time each day being grateful for the good things in your life can be an excellent way to enjoy even more of those good things in the future. Based on my own experience, I personally believe this observation to be accurate, but you should of course test the principle for yourself.
How to Practice Gratitude
Practicing gratitude is not a complicated matter, and so it is something which you can incorporate into your life very easily. Three approaches that you may want to consider as starting points involve daily reflection, keeping a gratitude journal, and making gratitude a habit.
To practice daily reflection, all you need to do is set aside a few minutes – perhaps at the end of your daily spiritual practice – to reflect on the events of the day and on your life in general. Your aim here is to recall and give thanks for everything that you appreciate in your life. It can be useful to run through the day from morning to evening, recalling in your imagination everything good and positive that happened, as well as the people and situations that you appreciate.
Keeping a Gratitude Journal
This is a variation of the daily reflection approach, and involves writing down a specified number of things each day that you are thankful for, such as your job, your home, your family, the weather, the unexpected tax refund, and so on. Some people like to keep their gratitude journal separate from their main spiritual journal, whilst others include their gratitude list at the end of their spiritual journal entries, so feel free to adopt the method that appeals to you.
I recommend starting a gratitude journal practice by writing down at least five things that you are grateful for each day, but adding to the list whenever possible. In other words, if you have a dozen things to be thankful for, don’t stop writing at five, but note them all down. As I said earlier, gratitude has a habit of giving you even more to be grateful for, so limiting your list would effectively be limiting your future experience.
Making Gratitude a Habit
The third approach to practicing gratitude is to make it a habit throughout the day, pausing for a moment to be thankful for the positive things in your life as and when you experience them.
You could be thankful for having a good night’s sleep when you wake up, for example, for the car or public transport that you take to work each morning, for the person who serves you groceries in the store, and so on. You could even get into the habit of being thankful for the product or service that you have enjoyed whenever you pay for it.
This method of practicing gratitude may take a little time to become a habit, but when it does it will be very helpful in making you more aware of just how much there is to be thankful for in your daily life, for there is always much more than we might first believe.
The benefits of practicing gratitude are difficult to appreciate fully until you have done so for a while, especially if you currently find it difficult to see things to be grateful for in your life. My advice would be to adopt the practice of gratitude anyway, right where you are, and to let the results speak for themselves.