I was recently invited to participate in a Facebook gratitude challenge by a dear friend of mine. I must admit whilst the practice of gratitude is transforming my experience of life, I did feel some resistance to participating. Wasn’t I already expressing enough gratitude in my daily life and even on Facebook? I see life through the eyes of gratitude so much more than I ever did, my family now sits together at the dinner table most nights and we share what we are grateful for that day. But I embraced the opportunity nonetheless with the intention that I would wholeheartedly participate and use my expression of gratitude as a way of inspiring others and creating greater ripples of gratitude in cyberspace. I enjoyed this experience much more than I thought, the more I focused on this challenge the more I found that seeing with the eyes of gratitude became my focus for the day and the wider my smile grew.
Gratitude and its benefits are becoming quite well known and we are surrounded by gratitude journals, cards, calendars, quotes, and people telling us that we should be grateful for what we have. Is it this simple? Or is there more to gratitude?
My work as an instructor with the One World Academy gives me many opportunities to reflect on gratitude in my own life and to learn from others. What I have noticed is this – gratitude doesn’t just happen, gratitude doesn’t seem to come naturally for most people, gratitude is about more than just saying thank you, more than buying a gift or sending a card when someone does something for you. Please don’t get me wrong I am not saying these things are not worth doing but gratitude is more than a value, gratitude is a way of living and seeing the world. Gratitude truly does have the power to transform your experience of life but it needs to be a choice, to be understood and cultivated.
When I ask people to begin reflecting upon gratitude I ask them this question (which was asked of me by one of my teachers) – is there ever any one moment in life where we are completely independent, alone or where no other factor is involved?
If the answer for you is yes – I would love to hear about this moment/s, but for most of us the answer will be no. If you are still questioning this I encourage you to think of a tree and consider whether life is possible without trees in the world. This is where we begin to develop a deeper understanding of gratitude and how it can be of benefit in our lives.
Gratitude – an antidote to loneliness?
Many people in our families and communities feel lonely and isolated – sometimes we may not even realise they feel like this, sometimes we feel like this ourselves. Sometimes we may experience loneliness in the midst of a crowd or when spending time with family and friends. It sounds strange doesn’t it? Lonely, in a crowd? Most of us have had this experience, sometimes it seems more common in the cooler months where the days are shorter and darker, but unfortunately many people live with this feeling every day.
So what can we do about feelings of loneliness and isolation?
The good news is there is a lovely antidote to loneliness, it won’t cost you anything, and it is the perfect “tonic” for any season. I am of course talking about gratitude.
How can gratitude help to overcome loneliness and isolation?
Let’s come back to the question I posed earlier – if we agree that we are never truly independent in our lives, then perhaps we can start to see that loneliness and isolation is not actually possible, instead it has more to do with how we think about and perceive our life situation.
Please take a few moments now to reflect on what you can be grateful for today.
Everyone – no matter what your life circumstances – can find at least one thing to be grateful for.
Did you consider the many people that were involved in growing, harvesting and transporting the food that has nourished your body?
Did you consider the people who assisted your learning so that you are able to read this article?
Did you consider your parents who gave you the opportunity to live?
Did you consider the many people who have helped to create and manufacture technological equipment so that we can connect and communicate with others?
The list goes on and on. In my own experience this has opened my eyes to so many things I had previously taken for granted. For me, this includes the obvious things like seeing that I am only here today experiencing life because of my parents, not in spite of all the things I had complained I didn’t have. An understanding of gratitude has created a sense of richness in my life.
The thing with gratitude however, is that is doesn’t always come naturally. Gratitude needs to be cultivated and practiced, you need to see a value for it in your life and make a choice to focus on what you have, rather than what you don’t have. Gratitude is about seeing the multitude of factors at play in our lives, every moment, every day. This is how gratitude becomes an important antidote to loneliness and isolation.
When gratitude is cultivated on a daily basis we start to see that there really is a web of life, there is interdependence between people, animals, plants, and the ecosystem that nourishes and sustains us. We start to see how important it is for us to care for ourselves and the world around us. We start to see how each day we can make a difference. We start to feel hopeful and know there are many people supporting our life, we feel a part of something, rather than lonely, isolated and despondent about the state of the world.
Can you imagine the impact living in this way could have on your life and the lives of your family and your community?
Can gratitude heal relationships?
Many people ask how they can heal a relationship that has become distant, how they can connect to the other – the gift of gratitude is a beautiful start. Begin with reflecting on the relationship and some of the beautiful moments you have shared with the other.
What did you experience in these beautiful moments?
What has the other brought into your life?
Have you ever expressed your gratitude for these beautiful moments?
In my own life these questions have had a huge impact in my experience of connection with my husband and my parents and one of my favourite sayings to reflect upon is “I am, because you are”.
Take a gratitude challenge
As I mentioned before, everyone – no matter what your life circumstances – can find at least one thing to be grateful for and that’s all it takes to begin. Start with that one thing, then challenge yourself each day, for one month to find one more thing each day to be grateful for – at the end of the month you can smile at the 30 things you have acknowledged. Don’t feel you have to limit yourself to this suggested time frame or number – most people find that the more you cultivate gratitude, the more you find to be grateful for and life becomes more rich and beautiful each day.
In ordinary life we hardly recognise that we recive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
If you are having trouble finding something to be grateful for or are feeling lonely, I invite you to think about the air you breathe, the food you eat, the clothes you are wearing – there are so many people and factors working to support your existence.
In this recording I share with you one of my favourite meditations to nurture gratitude. For a longer practice I highly recommend this beautiful meditation by Ananda Giriji one of the senior faculty at the One World Academy.
I am grateful that you have taken the time to read this article, I am grateful for the gift of literacy given to me by many teachers, I am grateful to our home Mother Earth for nourishing and sustaining my life, I am grateful to my family who love and support me every day and I gratefully acknowledge the support and teachings of the One World Academy in inspiring this article.
The world needs our gratitude, the earth deserves our gratitude, our friends, family, teachers and all of humanity need our gratitude. Gratitude is more than a value, it is a way of being in and seeing the world. The more you look for things to be grateful for…..the more you find.
The real work is to be done by you and I wish you a beautiful journey into a more grateful way of living.