on gratitude

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Count your blessings. Don't take life for granted. The grass isn't always greener. You're gonna miss this someday. Be happy where you are now. Don't focus so much on where you're going. It's all about the journey.

How many times have you heard those reminders? Did someone else tell you? Did you tell yourself? Maybe at the time they were mild annoyances, but as we dive further into our adult years, those cliche sayings hold a lot more value.

I'll be the first to admit I get so caught up in what I'm doing, where I'm going, and where I want to (or would rather) be, that I sometimes forget to slow down and focus on what is actually going on around me. I sometimes forget to stop and be grateful for this exact moment, the now. The present.

I read Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" a couple years ago. Actually, I take that back -- I never finished the book. It was hard to get through. I found myself going back and rereading paragraphs, pages -- chapters, even. It was like reading a book in a foreign language to me. But everything I read and could retain was powerful. I remember I was at the beach reading his book and I felt compelled to put his messages to practice. I got up, put the book down in my chair, and went for a walk. I started noticing the sand and how it felt under my bare feet. I started noticing the water hitting my ankles as the waves came in. I started noticing the smell of the salty air, and the smell of bacon coming from one of the houses above. I noticed my breath, how I was breathing. I noticed the sweat droplets starting to form on my chest.

And then I looked up. I started noticing all the different shades of blue in the sky, the formation of the clouds, the birds and planes flying by. I noticed it all.

I was doing it. I was practicing being present. Actually I wasn't practicing at all, I was really doing it. I was bringing myself into the now. Not a single thought entered my mind except for what was happening at that exact moment. It felt like time stopped. It was truly a moment of complete bliss.

I will never forget that day. I never thought I'd have that kind of power over my mind. A mind that can be easily consumed with anxious thoughts and worries. A mind that seems to go a thousands miles a minute, swarming with ideas, hopes, and memories. But I held that power, even if it was for a brief moment in time. 

I am so grateful for that moment. I felt so connected to myself and to my surroundings. Since that moment, though, I've let that practice slip away and feel a deep sense of longing to get back to that place again. The greatest gift of being present though, is it can happen anywhere, anytime. It just takes a little extra work on your end.

What I'm getting at here, is that we are so consumed in our every day lives that we don't stop enough to be present, to appreciate the little things. A couple years prior to reading Tolle's work, I was having an incredibly difficult time in my career. To distract my anxious mind I challenged myself to find at least three things I was grateful for on my way to work, and I had to name each one when I parked my car. It could be anything; the safe drive in, the sunrise, my coffee, my car, the colors of the leaves on the trees -- literally anything.

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This practice made for a much more enjoyable commute and allowed me start my morning on a more positive note.

From there I started journaling my gratitudes. I would write them down and say them out loud. I did this so frequently that I even found myself acknowledging little things I was grateful for as I was going about my daily life. I keep a journal near my bed now, and make an effort to write down at least three things I'm grateful for before I end my night. Sometimes in the morning I reread what I wrote, and think of a few things I'm thankful for upon waking up. I'm not always consistent with this practice, but when I am, there is a noticeable difference in my mood.

Back in 2011, a Harvard article was published in praise of practicing gratitude. They cited a study conducted by two psychologists who asked participants to write a few sentences each week on a particular topic. One test group was instructed to write about "daily irritants", another group was asked write about what they were grateful for, and a third group simply wrote about things that affected them during their week. I'm sure you can guess how the results panned out:

"After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation."

The article goes on to cite additional studies conducted by other psychologists but concludes that "...most of the studies published on this topic support an association between gratitude and an individual's well-being."

Our minds are incredibly powerful tools. Our negative and positive thoughts have a significant impact not only on how we feel and behave in our daily lives, but on our overall health and well being. If practicing gratitude is so simple, why aren't more people incorporating it into their daily routine? We become so obsessed over diet and exercise but often forget that exercising our mind is just as important too. It doesn't take much to start. Try to think of at least three things while you're commuting to work, eating lunch, or going to bed at night. Keep them in your mind, write them down, or even say them out loud to yourself. Acknowledge the good around you, no matter how small.

Do you keep a gratitude journal? Have you noticed a difference? If you haven't tried it before, I highly recommend giving it a shot!