Gratitude is one of those words that has been used so much it almost seems to lose its meaning. We have probably all experienced the invitation to give thanks for what we have around a Thanksgiving feast, but enthusiasm for this activity can vary greatly (or is that just my inner eye-rolling teenager projecting her complaints?). I probably don’t need to tell you that research has revealed many profound health benefits of gratitude, but how do we access our deepest well of true thanks?
1. Contrast the experience you are having right now with a time in your life that you desperately longed for that experience. It could be something as simple as remembering a time you had a cold and felt miserable, and realizing you don’t have a cold today and you are breathing easy. Perhaps you find yourself in a better financial situation, a better home, a better relationship than at another time in your life. Perhaps you are wiser, have an easier time forgiving others, or have learned to accept yourself. I recently captured the above photo of a light bulb that had somehow survived a perilous voyage at sea without a single shard of glass shattering. Have there been times in your life that you survived a perilous journey, whether real or metaphorical? What did it feel like to return to abundance, shelter, warmth and belonging? Gratitude comes naturally in these moments of return.
2. Practice selfless service. When we reach out to help another, we realize that we are the recipients of many gifts that others would love to enjoy, and these gifts have come so easily to us that we don’t even recognize or appreciate them. Whether those be our natural talents, strengths and skills, or the physical or material pleasures that we enjoy, we all have something to offer someone else that is of profound value. The opposite of taking our gifts for granted is appreciating them–another natural wellspring of gratitude.
3. Practice “santosha”, or contentment. In yoga, santosha is one of the Niyamas, (positive duties or observances), and is a recommended practice for anyone who wants a healthier and happier life. There is a Chinese proverb which states, “People in the West are always getting ready to live.” Can you take this holiday as an opportunity to slow down, stop striving, let go of perfectionism and bask in each moment? Can you really live in each moment, rather than getting ready to live? If we live only for the moments in between the furious cooking prep and the mad rush to clean up, what are we left with? How do we enjoy and savor each moment, even doing the dishes?
4. Avoid “FOMO” at all costs. I first heard this phrase a few years ago when my best friend kindly suggested that I might suffer from FOMO. “What’s that?” I asked, wide-eyed. “Fear Of Missing Out”, she informed me. My heart sunk a bit as I realized how true it was. I am an expert over-scheduler, always sneaking in one more thing, never quite satiated by any one experience. I am initially motivated by my enthusiasm for life, but I quickly spiral into a feeling that I am always in a hurry, that I can never settle into the enjoyment of the present moment. Yoga has helped me immensely–I never experience FOMO when I am connecting to the joy of being alive through my breath and movement. So I have started to notice: when do I experience FOMO? One of my primary triggers is social media, though really FOMO comes at us from all directions in an information saturated society. My friend, Yasmin, is a master of what he calls “gratitude inspired living”, and I love his suggestion. Instead of indulging in FOMO, become a MOFO (Manifestor of Fantastic Opportunities)! These days, if I am scrolling Facebook and I feel that old familiar tinge of FOMO creeping in, I immediately put down my phone and look for an activity that will ground and connect me to the fabulous life I am already living in.
Looking for a way to do all of the above this Thanksgiving? Join me for a donation-based fundraiser yoga class on Thanksgiving morning. We will practice gratitude in community, while raising funds for Puerto Rico, to support hurricane recovery efforts.