cultivating gratitude



The older I get, the more I understand the importance, and the enduring gift, of the power of gratitude. There’s a great line in the song Stay by Rihanna (I have young children, and they are neck deep in popular music…hence, so am I)…

                                               It’s not much of a life you’re living
                                          It’s not just something you take–it’s given

This is a powerful reminder for a pop song.  Life is given.  Each and every one of us was granted this gift – the gift of life, the gift of being alive, a gift that was given to us………..and every day, every moment, it is our decision, our choice, as to how we choose to build this gift.  Do we take?  Do we give back?  It is up to us.

When I was studying the path of yoga, as taught by Krishnamacharya (the grandfather of yoga as we know it in this country, and largely abroad as well), my teacher – a happy fellow here in Los Angeles named Robert Birnberg, who spent many years traveling to India and studying under Krishnamacharya’s son, Desikachar – instilled in us the power, and grace, of practicing gratitude.  A great part of our instruction was based on this premise, and we were all “urged” to keep a daily Gratitude Journal, as a way of planting gratitude deeper and deeper into our daily experience.  For gratitude, like anything else, is a prism through which we view the world, as is hatred, or love, or anger, or self doubt, or the countless prisms that we can, and do, construct as we move through our lives.

The cool thing about gratitude is that it gives back, it instructs with a tenderness that other prisms simply do not.  Anger clouds my judgement, whereas gratitude clarifies it.  Resentment closes me off to those I love, whereas gratitude opens me to them.  Every moment, of every day, we each are presented countless moments of choosing how we will respond to any given situation, or any one person, that we encounter. Even when the situation might appear, at first response, as something that deserves our anger or annoyance…if we take a moment to breathe, we can usually see the “something”  in the situation that allows us to expand, to grow, to improve the quality of our own humanity, on some level.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the aim for us as people, was to develop a superb quality of humanity?  What if awards were given out for that – like the Oscars, or the People’s Choice Award…and people from all around the world would tune into the award ceremony to find out what fantastic human being took home the prize? That would be pretty amazing!  Imagine how much we would get done, how incredible our societies would be, how limitless we would look at the future before us.  Utopia?  sounds like to me.  Impossible?  In truth, I don’t believe so.  It begins with an idea, a dream, and a belief that we can strive toward our greatest selves, as individuals, and as a society – and with commitment, and practice, we can achieve precisely that…the quality of superb individuals, practicing being human.

I deeply encourage you to practice gratitude for one month, on a daily basis, and see how it moves through you and your daily experience.  I keep a gratitude journal, and prefer to write in it each night before turning in to bed. I write down whatever it is I am grateful for, from my day.  It can be the smallest thing (so grateful for sleep!), or something of deep significance (I’m grateful for the love my husband shows me).  The pointedness of clarifying specific moments, or people, or events, thoughts, feelings, etc…and writing them down, reinforces the grace of gratitude.  It is this intentional act, this intentional practice, of strengthening and flexing this perspective, that allows us to grow deeper and deeper into our best selves, and build richer and more extraordinary lives.  Don’t believe me? Try it out…and see :)

Consumed with anger, the world is an ugly place.                                                                                       Bathed in happiness, the world is a wonderful place.                                                                   But aha! The same world.                                                                                                                                                   – Taitetsu Unno




2 thoughts on “cultivating gratitude”

  1. Aha! Same world.
    Love that!
    I learned my greatest lessons about gratitude (so far) while part of an Alanon community and a failing marriage. It saved my bacon, my sanity and my ability to be patient with myself, my husband, my life and my marriage. But gratitude still doesn’t come to me cheap or easy. Sometimes a good stew is still appealing. So I still do gratitude exercises. On a restless night when my brain is picking over everything that frustrates and unsettles me, I force myself to lie there in the dark and go through the alphabet, naming one thing for each letter to represent something I am grateful for. It’s a neat little trick.

    1. This is really good Mary – I love that you work your way through the alphabet as you move through, and make yourself remember, to find gratitude…and that gratitude can be found anywhere. This is lovely :)

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