The technologies of the 21st century have enabled us to communicate and consume information in a matter of seconds. We can share how we’re feeling, pictures of life’s precious moments, even inspirational quotes. Although all of these technologies have shaken up society’s foundation for the better and the worse, most of us still have a common goal of having a fulfilling, joyful life. With that being said, one spiritual practice that is a building block of a fulfilling, joyful life is gratitude.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines gratitude as “warm and friendly feeling toward a benefactor prompting one to repay a favor.” However, gratitude goes much deeper than a simple definition.
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., the world’s leading gratitude expert, gives gratitude a two-part definition.
“First, it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm good things are in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”
The practice of gratitude gives us recognition of the belongings, relationships, and the life we have. Through this recognition, we forget what things we don’t have and focus on the things we do have. Why is this important to know?
There are numerous situations throughout life that present us with challenges. Oftentimes, these challenges shift our focus to all the lost opportunities, items, etc., brought by these challenges. However, gratitude is a shift in perspective to all the gains from these challenges.
For example: Someone loses their job. This job was the main income of the household, which has five children. Although the loss of the main source of income may put the family in a financial hole, gratitude shifts their perspective to the gained opportunity of other jobs in the market that could potentially bring in a better income than before.
This affirmation of goodness proves to us that although there will be roadblocks in our lives; we still has some good in our life. Regardless if you’re going through rough times or not, there is a lot of goodness in your life that we oftentimes overlook. This recognition of goodness is a powerful tool that strengthens your will to have a more fulfilling, joyful life.
The second part definition of gratitude Emmons gives goes further into this recognition.
“We recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. We acknowledge that other people—or even higher powers, if you’re of a spiritual mindset—gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”
A deeper recognition of what you have builds a compelling stronghold within the soul. Throughout your life, you can agree that you have earned some of your accomplishments or failures because what you did yourself. However, no matter who it is, someone has helped you get where you are today and there are other sources of goodness beyond yourself.
This point of emphasis is vital to practicing and understanding gratitude because once this deeper understanding of goodness settles into heart, mind, and soul, it invigorates this human trinity in ways never thought possible. Once we understand that our lives are built based on the sum total of several key parts, whether that be parents, friends, God, or whatever they may be, you will see that your life is much bigger and has much more value than you realized.
Furthermore, gratitude produces many positive outcomes. For example, gratitude inhibits negative emotions that only poison the mind that can lead to regrettable decisions. Would it make sense for someone who’s grateful to be envious of something another person has that they themselves don’t have? Moreover, gratitude helps celebrate the present moment in our lives. Through gratitude, we understand that we have so much goodness in our lives in the present moment that has shaped us to become who we are today.
With all of this in mind, you must understand that gratitude is simple to understand but can be difficult to practice. In fact, gratitude is hard work. It takes time and patience to foster gratitude. Especially within contemporary culture, there is a notion that people don’t deserve goodness. As a result, life’s obstacles can blur our vision and shift our focus on all the losses instead of all of the gains.
Fortunately, there are many, yet simple ways that have helped me grow gratitude within my heart, soul, and mind, that can help you strive toward a more fulfilling, joyful life.
1.) Gratitude Lists:
A simple and effective way to help manifest gratitude is a gratitude list. A gratitude list is simply a list of things you are grateful for. If it’s hard at first to think of a complete list, just start with a few things on your list and build on it each day. Remind yourself to go through the list daily. You could even make a new list each day. I feel that writing all the things you are grateful for down on a list helps see every bit of goodness in your life.
Meditation has been practiced in several different traditions for 1000’s of years. A specific meditation I use to foster gratitude is an old Buddhist meditation practice that involves self-love. Find a quiet spot to sit comfortably and close your eyes. As you sit with your eyes closed, imagine yourself as a child and for twenty minutes, repeat the following sayings:
May I be filled with loving-kindness
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be happy
This meditation is one of my favorite ways to help manifest gratitude because it helps one realize how special they are because of the beautiful, pure qualities they possess. The more often you meditate the better you’ll get at it and the more you feel better in your heart, mind, and soul. If you want further instruction on this meditation, check out A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield.
3.) Gratitude Rock
You can get creative with gratitude as well! One way to do this is with a gratitude rock. Find a smaller sized rock and paint it your favorite color. After you paint it, carry it in your pocket everywhere you go. Each time you reach into your pocket touch your gratitude rock, think about everything your grateful for. You’d be surprised how many times you’ll be thinking about gratitude!
Don’t be afraid to try all of these techniques. But understand that to foster gratitude takes time and effort. Don’t get discouraged because you can’t think of anything your grateful for, or because the meditation is too difficult. Take it one step at a time. If worse comes to worse, call up someone who’s inspired you or helped you in a big way and tell them how much they mean to you. You never know how much it’ll impact their day or life.
Life can get chaotic sometimes. Through the chaos, our focus can be blurred by looking at the “losses” it has brought us. However, once we understand that we have only gains in our lives, no matter the circumstances, we begin to see how beautiful our lives are and take one step closer to a fulfilling, joyful life.