Louai Rahal, a well-known mindfulness practitioner and author, describes the concept of mindfulness as:
“The act of nonjudgmental awareness. It invites us to accept and observe our mental state and our external reality with a compassionate and nonjudgmental attitude no matter how harsh it is. We cannot stop reacting to negative events with sadness or pain, but we can stop reacting to pain and sadness with frustration and irritation.”
Mindfulness practitioners use an army of tools to help with their daily practice in observing the world around them exactly as it is. In addition to breathing strategies, meditation and journaling, another common tool used by these practitioners is creating a gratitude practice: each day, you aim to find at least one thing you are grateful for – a spouse, your family, even seat warmers in your car on a cold winter’s day – and reflect on that thing and why you are grateful for it.
Cultivating a gratitude practice allows you to intentionally focus on to the world around you – to pause from the busyness and pay careful attention to your life. This causes you to express your gratitude in a heartfelt and genuine way, rather than automatically giving thanks without reflection.
As with most things in life, the positive effects of expressing gratitude gain momentum over time. Once you start to actively and intentionally work on your gratitude “muscle,” it will become easier and easier to flex it. Here are a few exercises you can try:
Start by observing your use of typical gratitude expressions. Notice the “thank yous” you say on a daily basis. What is the inflection you use? Are you being reactionary, or is it a genuine reflection of your feeling of gratitude towards the other person? Pick one interaction a day to start. When your instinct to say “thanks” arises, stop for a moment and acknowledge what makes you grateful and identify it when you say thank you.
Commit to a daily gratitude practice for just one week. Intentionally reflect on three things that you are grateful for and why. Notice the experience in your body, how you feel while acknowledging the gratefulness. Think about what you see in your mind’s eye at that time. Note these sensations and observations in writing to track your progress over time.
Thank You Note Challenge
Pick up a simple package of “Thank You” notes and stamps. Over the course of two weeks, aim to send thank you notes to people who you are grateful for, without expectation of anything in return.
Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, has done several studies on gratitude. The participants in these studies report several benefits:
- Greater Energy Levels: People who kept a gratitude journal reported that their energy levels improved. Many also started exercising more.
- Better Sleep: Study participants reported waking up feeling more refreshed and ready for the coming day.
- Reduced Blood Pressure: Some participants in the study lowered their blood pressure.
- Feeling Less Lonely: Gratitude strengthens relationships, not just with people we know, but with other people in general.
- Fewer Physical Symptoms: People who wrote down five things they were grateful for each day became less affected by aches, pains and other physical symptoms.
- Improved Attentiveness: Participants in the study who deliberately thought about what they were grateful for experienced greater attentiveness.
- Taking Better Care of Health: Practicing daily gratitude resulted in many participants taking better care of their physical health.
- Increased Joy: Life contains both good and bad, but mindful gratitude helps us appreciate those joyful moments in life.
Try out of these three exercises this month and see if you can cultivate your own attitude of gratitude. Take note of how it impacts how you show up in your life.
By Rachel Shields Williams, Senior Manager, Experience Management at Sidley Austin