I am giddy, smitten, overcome with palpable gratitude: I just viewed a photograph I took earlier this morning as the firesmoke-enshrouded sun rose up through the trees edging my yard. And something primal woke up in me as I fell into the unexpected beauty of that image. My inner landscape feels vast and spacious. The air within is clear, bright. And all possibilities exist; I am burgeoning with wellbeing.
This is how great gratefulness can feel!
But a feeling of gratitude is transient, and is not the deepest entry point into a life of gratefulness. Being grateful is how we live the depths of gratitude—and this necessitates a process. Becoming conscious of the power of gratitude and making a commitment to be a conduit for and of it entails action: a frequent and sustained practice of the types of activities that water the seed of gratitude so that it might flourish.
In this article, I will offer a few short lists of what I have come to experience as some of the foundational practices of gratitude. I have loosely grouped them into categories: writing, nature, receiving/serving, and adversity. Coupled with these practices, I strive to deepen a set of sensitivities that I feel are “kin” to gratefulness: acceptance, compassion, kindness, generosity, gentleness, joy, peace, and presence. For me, these are also aspects of an impassioned, embodied experience of gratefulness. Anything we can do to cultivate these qualities will bolster our efforts at gratitude.
Writing for Gratitude
These require only a writing implement and paper. (I always advocate for handwritten over typewritten.)
- Write a simple gratitude list: daily or weekly.
- Make very specific and highly-detailed gratitude lists.
- Practice the ABCs of gratitude (name one gratitude per alphabet letter).
- Write out a story about a particular thing for which you’re grateful.
- Write a gratitude list of things you tend to take for granted (the most basic is being alive; but also, the ability to breathe, to walk, to read…).
- Journal about a striking aspect of nature.
- Write thank-you letters by hand, and send them via the postal service.
- Make blessings cards (which include a word or short phrase that affirms, empowers, comforts, inspires).
- Write 1-2 paragraphs about a moment of deep connection with someone; share this piece of writing.
Nature and Gratitude
All of these are intended to be done out of doors.
- Create a nature altar. This can be as simple as placing a stone on the ground, making a circle out of leaves, or placing shells in a spiral shape.
- Breathe in and look at the landscape with soft eyes.
- Pay attention to different scales of perspective. (Look small and close in; look vast and far.)
- Sit, walk, play, hike in nature. (If you are unable to go outside, gaze out the window at the natural world, the sky, the grass; or, look at something natural indoors).
- Tend to flowers, gardens, plants, trees.
- Admire the beauty and awe of nature.
Receiving/Serving in Gratitude
We give the gift of gratitude by receiving others’ offers of support and kindness. We give a gift of gratitude, too, by offering the beauty and softness of ourselves to others.
- Do RAOK (random acts of kindness).
- Accept others’ help and support.
- Share a meal.
- Volunteer (short-term, long-term, at a one-time event, frequently).
- Make some small gifts of beauty to give away: cards, small drawing/paintings, photos, found natural items, poetry (your own or others’), bookmarks.
- Share a powerful story with someone.
- Listen deeply to someone else’s story.
Adversity and Gratitude
Even in the murky depths of a major life transition; disease, illness, or injury; grief; globally unstable times; or adversity in myriad other forms, we can find small blessings.
- Write about a time you or someone you know overcame something similar to what you’re going through now.
- Get still and quiet in nature, feeling the vastness of it holding you.
- Find the smallest “positive” in the crisis.
- Stay present in this moment (easily done by watching your breath inhalation by exhalation).
Again, these represent only a few of the basic practices I engage toward a more expressed life of gratefulness.
I return to that rising sun photo and am delighted with the contrasts of crisp edges alongside blurred ones. The white ball enclosed by leaf silhouettes, tinted with red, edged in black, yellow highlights, green barely visible; these bold hues are not the colors I associate with gratitude. Yet, they create for me an unambiguous surrender to awe, to the miracle of daily life unfolding. It is both the ordinariness and the surprise that hold me enraptured. This is gratitude; this is inexplicable gratefulness of the sort that propels me farther and further into communion with all beings. I think this is the point of gratitude: remembering our inextricable interconnection with all of life, and savoring each moment that we are given by divine grace.
We invite you to share a story about yourself or another person, reflecting on the question: “How has gratefulness shifted a moment, an experience, or a lifetime?”
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Jennifer – thank you so much for this article. I felt wonder and awe i. what you wrote. I teach the importance of gratitude and journaling in my mindfulness work because bot have helped me in my life and how I look at the world. I am grateful for your ability to articulate the beauty of these pactices and I will keep your lists handy for my students. Thank you.
Oh Julie, thank you! Your words touch me deeply. It is so very gratifying when a reader actually feels something in the words. I appreciate you sharing these practices with your students…I have found them to be very powerful for myself, as well as for those I serve.