Gratitude: A How-To (or Making Gratitude a Habit)

<written January 2007>

My # 1 cat just barfed on the floor. This might not seem like much to be thankful for – especially as my fridge appears to have just gone “on the fritz” & I am losing a bunch of food as I sit & write these words – but I am grateful the cat did his nasty little number on a bare floor, as opposed to on carpet.

Omigoodness! Cat # 2 has just barfed too! Sheesh!!

It isn’t just the fridge (or the cats) whose internal workings are messed up, either – my own internal thermostat is running a little amok just now (it’s called menopause) & it isn’t a lot of fun sometimes, lately, being inside this body.

But really, life is rich & abundant & challenging &…well... sure, sometimes cantankerous…but the earth – Earth – is awesome & beautiful, & I love food & people & being out in a canoe & a thousand other things – I mustn’t forget walking & singing & reading – among them…

And focusing on gratitude helps me begin each day with a joyful & optimistic attitude & a fresh step and…

I really believe gratitude is actually magical & transformative! I know it has transformed my own life – & since I appear to be about the happiest person I know, there’s got to be something to this!

So, if you haven’t taken it up already, please start today.

You can start (if you like) with being thankful for your life & whatever good health you enjoy – & for the amazing Universe we inhabit,(1) and this big, beautiful, abundant Earth that provides us with all that we need – & for living in this wonderful country. We middle-class Canadians lead lives of considerable privilege (2) – so we might certainly get in the habit of expressing our thanks for that.

Then you can think about the good people in your life – family, friends, acquaintances; the gifts your parents gave you (yes, sometimes one has to clear away a lot of sand to find the pearls; perhaps what you can be thankful for is that you’ve managed to survive their parenting!); whatever possessions give you joy & whatever job or occupation you have that provides you with a living; and…well… you can see that the possibilities here are pretty much endless.

We have all been given many gifts & boundless opportunity to use these gifts to make our own & others’ lives rich & abundant.

Please try this out for at least a month. Take 10 minutes when you wake up in the morning & give your gratitude muscles a really thorough flexing. Set your alarm for a few minutes earlier than usual if you have to; trust me, it’s well worth the time! Morning has an edge over evening, in my books, in that morning is when we set the tone for our day. If you think hard, you’ll find many things you can express thanks for. With more time & regular practice, your list will grow & grow (if you’re really faithful about this).

Even if your life is in the toilet (been there!), you can be thankful for the Earth’s seasons…the sun! (remind yourself from time to time that every single thing that happens on this planet of ours is a solar event; it's true!) …the absolutely mind-boggling Earth/Universe we inhabit…the stars…birds…trees…beaches…oceans…that wonderful rich, earthy smell in the air after a rainfall, or the smell of a nearby body of water…rivers…fish…chocolate…the fact that you don’t have an ingrown toenail (or, as in my case, currently, that I have only one ingrown toenail, not five)…

As you can see, my statement that the possibilities are infinite is not just fanciful. It’s an infinite Universe we live in, so the bounty is also infinite!

What we focus on, expands. Why not have it be gratitude that expands inside you?


P.S. As well as developing gratitude for general kinds of things, I think it can change your life even more if you make it a point to be thankful to the individuals in your life who do nice things for you. You can thank your friend for inviting you to such-and-such an event, or just for being your friend!…or your sister/brother/partner/child for being such a great sister/brother/partner/child to you, or your children, when they behave really nicely. We all want and need to be appreciated. Gratitude really is like a magic wand. It transforms whatever it touches…

P.P.S. I tend to be an excessively honest person, so I’ll confess that I don’t do my gratitude “thing” every single day (but I also know my life works better when I do!). I also want to add that I am not a complete moron. When I step in a great big pile of … doo-doo (which I do, more often than I’d strictly care to – don’t we all??), I’m not immediately thankful for that. What I am able to appreciate (usually some time later, admittedly) is that it’s taught me some sort of useful lesson. I will also add that of course we cannot be expected to be grateful for tragic losses…such as marriages that go in the tank, friends or family members who die…or losing a great job. What we can be grateful for is that we once had this wonderful person/marriage/job in our lives. This kind of “hard” gratitude teaches us two things: #1: to be thankful right now for what we have right now, and #2: to live in the present moment…one day at a time, one moment at a time – since no-one is offering any sort of promises or guarantees about what is coming around life’s next bend!

P.P.P.S. I read in the Globe and Mail one time (March 19, 2003, to be precise) about some research showing that people who practice gratitude actively show “marked improvements in mental health & some aspects of physical health.” The Globe article was quoting the Dallas Morning News, which was quoting a study that had been published in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. So there you go, readers. What I discovered for myself has been confirmed under the microscope, you might say…

P.P.P.P.S. There is a very, very lovely book called The Hidden Messages in Water by Dr. Masaru Emoto, that is all about gratitude. I highly recommend it. For (Christian) believers, the book What’s So Amazing About Grace, by Philip Yancey, is of particular interest on the important subject of gratitude.

(1) Believers are invited, of course, to thank God/Allah/the Great Spirit/the Goddess; unbelievers can just leave it at “the Universe.” We can conceive of it all as “Creation,” or we can just call it “the world.” This is an equal opportunity message meant for everyone, believers & non-believers alike.

(2) Irish poet, philosopher, & ex-priest John O’Donohue had this to say about privilege: “We are privileged, and the duty of privilege is absolute integrity.” Stirring words…