Gratitude – you have to feel it

Gratitude practice is all the rage these days in both alternative and mainstream worlds and if you’ve found it helpful then you’ll understand why. However, there’s one aspect that is rarely talked about amidst all the hype and that’s the fact that you have to feel grateful!

A quick search online will bring up literally millions of articles about gratitude practice but I have found they are mostly concerned with either the benefits or the details of what to do. The benefits are fantastic. Gratitude can help improve your physical and psychological health, your general wellbeing and even your relationships so you can see why it would be worth trying. Also, there are many different ways to practice gratitude, journaling seems to be the most common, but you can use letters, a jar, a box, a rock or many other variations. If you are a little creative, you could easily invent your own gratitude practice to suit you.

What I haven’t found in other articles is the distinction that while you are listing things you are grateful for, you have to actually take a moment to FEEL grateful. That sounds really obvious, perhaps it is obvious for most people, but I was coming from a place of worry and stress. It was easy to list the things I felt I should be grateful for: my warm home and my family was plenty to begin with. I was materially comfortable with plenty to be grateful for but at the same time I was really worried about what could happen to it all.

I was incredibly stressed about the state of the world and stress had overflowed into all aspects of my life. I would write that I was grateful for my clothes but what I was feeling was actually a sense of worry that they will wear out and I will have to replace them and …. financial issues. I was grateful for the time I was spending with my children but I worried about how I will feel once they leave home (we’re nearly at that stage). I would try and be grateful for the sunshine but I would panic about climate change or I would be grateful for something nice I had but that would set me feeling guilty that I shouldn’t have it and that there is so much unfairness in the world and things are bound to fall apart…

It was a couple of years later that I discovered Esther Hicks’ videos and I realised what I was doing and what was happening. I was not experiencing the emotion of gratitude or appreciation; I was experiencing a sense of lack, even though that was not my physical reality. So no wonder I was not reaping the benefits of gratitude, just the consequences of worry!

It wasn’t just a simple case of flicking a switch and being suddenly able to appreciate things, but once I realised what I was doing “wrong” I switched my focus to finding things that I could truly feel appreciation for without a sense of worry or other negative emotions kicking in. At first, I could only catch momentary “glimpses” of that feeling of gratitude, small things that I could truly feel grateful for without a worry behind the feeling, perhaps a tasty meal or my comfortable bed. One of the easier things to be grateful for was unexpected friendly exchanges with strangers, probably because it’s not a problem to imagine life without that person, even just a smile or an unexpected hello can seem like a little gift dropped by the universe.

It might be the case that simply starting a gratitude practice helps you begin to look for the positive things in life, a change in attitude that in itself might eventually lead to being able to actually feel grateful. I’m not sure, but I worked at finding those small things that I could genuinely feel grateful for and gradually I was able to appreciate more and more of the world around me. It’s true that I have also made other changes and worked on other issues in my life – see my article on ruminative thinking – but somehow I have come to a point where I am extremely grateful about almost everything and I feel incredibly positive about life. I tried to find those small things that I could genuinely feel grateful for and gradually I was able to appreciate more and more of the world around me. It’s true that I have also made other changes and worked on other issues in my life but gratitude has been part of a bigger process and somehow I have come to a point where I am extremely grateful about almost everything and I feel incredibly positive about life.

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