Christian Reifsteck, Standing Stones Healing Co.
Gratitude is underrated. As the foundation of a spiritual existence, it too often does not receive the recognition it deserves. The simple act of saying “thank you” has more power than we realize. It has the power to make us aware of our blessings, connect us to others, and to help us create meaning out of our experiences. This power is largely untapped, though, particularly because we rarely practice the kind of radical gratitude that can have life-changing effects.
You can begin this transformative process of being more grateful not only in the typical way by verbally thanking people as they perform a kindness to you in the moment, but also thanking them for all of the things they have done and will do, their friendship, love, and the ways they enrich your life. You can begin by inwardly or even verbally thanking the inanimate objects of your life. You can begin by thanking your circumstances. You can begin by thanking yourself. Any way in which you express gratitude is the right way to start, but sometimes we need help getting started. Thankfully, exercises to increase your capacity for gratitude abound, so here are three proven exercises for increasing your gratitude.
1. Write down a list of ten things you’re grateful for.
Rhonda Byrne in her book The Magic, a 28 day plan to greater gratitude, advocates writing down a list of ten things for which you are grateful. This list of ten can be anything for which you feel grateful, whether it’s a person, event, or thing. It can consist of large things and small things, life changing things, or seemingly insignificant things. I say “seemingly” because the more you practice gratitude, the more wonderful the “insignificant” things become and the more thankful you are for even the smallest things. My lists have contained items as unrelated as a near-miss accident, finding a great deal at the grocery store, or receiving an unexpected gift. Your list may contain even more disparate experiences, but they are not as different as they seem: the common and important elements are that you are aware of, recognize, and are thankful for them.
2. Count your blessings on your fingers.
Arianna Huffington recommends literally counting your blessings in her book, Thrive, by using the “ten finger gratitude exercise” of counting out things for which you are grateful on your fingers with the result to be “intentionally bringing into awareness the tiny, previously unnoticed elements of the day.” I personally employ this exercise when I find myself feeling upset, angry, anxious, or disappointed and beginning to spiral into an increasingly negative mood. At those times, I’ll pause, take a breath, say, “Ten things,” and begin thinking of things I’m grateful for in that moment. By the time my tenth finger is raised (and I’m thankful for full use of ten fingers), my mood has unfailingly improved, and I always end the exercise feeling much better than when I started only moments before. Firing off reasons to be grateful gives me a needed perspective on my situation and the things that I was getting upset about, which pale in comparison to all of the things I have to be grateful for.
3. Write out an alphabet of thanks.
Another great gratitude exercise that’s a little more challenging is to use the alphabet rather than your fingers. Starting at “A,” choose something you’re grateful for beginning with each letter. By the time you hit “Z,” you’ll have listed 25 things and have improved your mood, perhaps even drastically.
In addition to this exercise, Angeles Arrien suggests other practices in Gratitude: The Essential Practice for Happiness and Fulfillment and Living in Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life, such as keeping a gratitude journal, assembling gratitude materials, creating your own gratitude poem, prayer, or song, or holding gratitude circles in which participants share what they’re thankful for. No matter how you start giving thanks, the important thing is that you start and that you continue. Say “thank you” often, frequently, constantly. Make it your most uttered phrase. Weave these words into the fabric of your days, and your whole life will be a tapestry of beauty. Which of these three ways will you try right now?
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