Are We Practicing Gratitude?
Some of us spend November focused on practicing gratitude.
I know people who keep a gratitude journal during November. They intentionally choose one thing each day of the whole month and try to pay attention to being grateful for it.
Other people try to spend November practicing 30 Days of Gratitude. They post on various social media each day describing their gratitude for the good things which fill their lives.
I appreciate the example of their gratitude. There are days when something they share inspires me to see my own experience in new ways.
Gratitude can be a challenge for me. I am not particularly comfortable with an approach to gratitude when it is imposed on me by someone else. It is a challenge for me to buy into a system and just follow the directions toward practicing gratitude.
I feel gratitude is larger and more complex than simply keeping track of one thing each day.
A contemplative understanding of spiritual life tells me it is both more complex and simpler than that.
In some ways contemplation is about taking time to reflect and putting what we see into practice. It is a challenge for me to simply do things. I need to reflect first and decide how to apply my reflection in everyday life.
Reflecting includes trying to see life from as many different perspectives as we can.
What do we really mean when we talk about gratitude? Are we practicing gratitude whenever we thank someone else?
When we say thank you because we are committed to being grateful every day all month, is that gratitude?
Who are the people toward whom it is most important for us to be practicing gratitude?
Are we practicing gratitude to benefit ourselves or other people, or for some other reason?
How Are We Practicing Gratitude?
Spending time reflecting is not about counting our shortcomings or cataloging our failures. It is about seeing ourselves clearly, not making us feel ashamed or guilty about how well we are doing.
As I reflect on practicing gratitude I realize it is more all encompassing than just saying thank you.
I am not always as grateful as I wish I were.
Sometimes I see situations and even people as obstacles. I do not always look for what is best or helpful in them. It is easy for me to miss the lessons I could learn from them.
I experience them as challenges to be overcome as quickly and easily as possible.
Sometimes I can get tired or frustrated. I feel like I keep running into a brick wall, making the same mistakes again and again.
Practicing gratitude happens in the ways we look for new possibilities and they begin to change us.
When we are practicing gratitude we appreciate the wonders all around us. We begin to see our potential to become more of who we see ourselves to be.
When we are practicing gratitude we remember the people who have given us their time and their patience. Practicing gratitude is how we give our deepest selves to other people.
Our practice is not about feeling grateful when we are happy, or safe, or secure. It is quite the opposite.
When we are practicing gratitude we see things more clearly. We appreciate the sacred depth that is easy for us to forget. Practicing gratitude reminds us how precious, how valuable this life can be. We remember each moment is filled with incredible potential.
The power of practicing gratitude brings out the best in us over time.
The Power of Practicing Gratitude
Our practice of gratitude is transformative. Practicing gratitude transforms us, the people around us, and our larger communities.
When we practice gratitude it is more than a moment of grateful quiet before we eat. It is more than a structured approach to take one step each day for a month. Practicing gratitude is larger and longer than the month of November.
Gratitude is not merely a way to mark the time between Halloween and Black Friday.
Each of us reflects on what gratitude means for us personally and how we can put it into practice. We might begin with a dictionary definition like, “readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Our reflection might start with an experience we have had or a belief we hold. There might be an aspect of spiritual life which sparks our understanding of gratitude.
The ways we choose to practice gratitude in our everyday lives grow from seeds planted in our reflection.
As we practice gratitude it grows and spreads its roots and branches throughout our lives. The ways we choose to practice gratitude bear fruit and spread seeds of their own.
When Are We Practicing Gratitude?
The more I reflect and am open to opportunities for practicing gratitude, the more of them I recognize.
When we open ourselves to the essential meanings of being grateful we begin practicing gratitude. We explore what gratitude means to us personally. Our understanding grows deeper as we reflect and put our insights and questions into practice.
A contemplative understanding of spiritual life appreciates we are not trying to find a final answer. We open ourselves in a given moment and practice what we see in that moment. As the questions and insights of our reflection develop over time our practice grows deeper.
We are practicing gratitude as we continue applying the lessons we gain from our reflection.
How we see the world and ourselves changes over time. As our understanding expands so does our practice of gratitude.
Our practice of gratitude opens like a flower, like our minds and hearts. There is so much more to appreciate and to be thankful for when we are open to it.
Where will we find new opportunities for practicing gratitude next?
How will we begin practicing gratitude today?
What does practicing gratitude mean to us this week?
[Image by real.heightz]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.