As a consistent Gratitude practitioner, I have to admit, it was not "love at first sight." In fact, in the beginning, I couldn't understand the whole idea. I had this personal perception it was a religious practice. I thought it was an abstract concept. But, little by little I discovered I was wrong. It is far from being abstract, and most importantly everybody can learn it.
First, I would like to ask you, how often do you pause to appreciate what you have?
If you are like the rest of us, the answer is not enough. We tend to focus our attention on things which we lack instead of what we have. And, the beauty we already have passes unnoticed. Gratitude is like a superpower, responsible for strengthening our immune system, enhance optimism, and unlock happiness. When we focused on what we are grateful for, we widen our perspective. On the other hand, when stress and despair catch us, we end up with a tunnel vision which enables us to see only negativity. When we experience wonder, appreciation, and thankfulness our mood changes to happiness, opening our heart.
Gratitude is a habit developable. It takes a little effort, and most importantly patience. Like everything, we cannot become master overnight but, one breath at the time, eventually, it will become easier. First, we should be realistic. The learning process takes time. Personally, when I started, every morning, I sat on my bed, thinking of impressive things to be grateful for, but nothing was coming up. My mind was completely blank. It was frustrating but, then I reminded myself how difficult is to learn a new skill. For example, think when you were learning how to drive. Based on my experience, I admit, I was overwhelmed by the multitude of things I had to do behind the wheel.
But, with lots of practice, it became easier, almost automatic. So, if you wish to learn “The Attitude of Gratitude” starts from basics, and all is coming. I did it. I stepped back, and I started from scratch, expressing gratitude to everything I utilized on my morning routine: toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, hair conditioner, etc. If you consider, behind each and every item listed, there is lots of work. In fact, every day millions of people work to make our life easier, and I am grateful to them.
A daily practice of Gratitude enhances our mental and physical health in a multitude of ways. It strengthens our immune system; it releases natural endorphins into our brain cells. And, it works on our blood pressure as well. Never the less, it has the power to help our brain to a biological level. In fact, it releases, naturally, serotonin and dopamine. In medicine, those substances are synthetically created to make antidepressants. But, Gratitude is free and natural. With regular practice, our brain relearns to unveil and develop more positive patterns. And, little by little it starts to look for things to be grateful to feel good.
Now, I have another question for you, how many times do you hear yourself saying the words “I want” or “I wish”? Probably often, many of us are addicted to this not enough syndrome. So, we rush buying the trendiest pair of shoes. We search a better job, and we look for a new Mr. or Mrs. Right. For a bit, we feel accomplished. It seems we have finally found our happiness. Until the novelty passes, and once again we feel unhappy; the shoes become obsolete. Our boss is too demanding. And, we start to be annoyed by our partner habits. Wanting for more and wishing for better is a trap but, trough gratitude we can exit this vicious cycle. I know it sounds too simple to be true but, it works. In fact, if we start to focus on what we have, we begin to experience joy and contentment instead of frustration.
Another aspect of our life where we should practice gratitude is in our relationships. Usually, we tend to develop expectations from our family members, friends, partners, colleagues and so on. And, an act of kindness passes by unnoticed, or worst we take it for granted. In my personal experience, I started to think, what I would like to hear from others, and, I say it. I do it even with strangers. For example, at the supermarket, I call the cashier by name (it is easy, they wear a tag with their name on it), smile, and I thank wishing them a good day. It is a micro gesture but, it makes the receiver feel good about them. And, in return, I feel good too. When we express gratitude to others, they feel appreciated, and it strengthens our relationships.
Now, it is not always easy to feel or express gratitude. Especially when we face challenges, loss or adversity. Usually, many of us feel like the victim, and it seems as there is not room for Gratitude. But, we don’t know the future, and sometimes, a leap of faith is needed. We never know what we could learn from sufferings. A misfortune can become an opportunity for growth. I am not saying it is easy, but it is possible. I grew up with a disease, and for many years I just wanted to get over it, but I was battling against windmills. All my efforts were useless. And, trough Gratitude I became aware of the possibilities I had in front of me. One above all, I could help others to overcome this illness, across my experience. Trust me, I suffered, and I still suffer enormous pains but, I am a better version of me because of them. With patience and equanimity, the benefits of our sufferings will be unveiled.
At last but not least I would like to talk about self-acceptance. I am still working on it, and I believe it is a lifetime practice. Since we were kids, two words have been echoing in our head “Good” and “Bad”. We grew up with the misled idea that we should be one way or another. And, if not, we judged ourselves inclemently. We believe we are not enough. Personally, I still struggle with self-acceptance but, I do my best. I started making a list of harsh words, I used toward me: Bad, Ugly, stupid, fat, thin, ignorant, etc., and I canceled them from my vocabulary. It is not easy, especially because we have to overcome a lifetime habit. So, every time we are about to use one of those words we should stop, and focus on finding nicer synonyms. Sometimes, I still fall into that trap. But, I apologize to myself, and next time, probably, I won't do it again.
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