It’s a trait that is associated with happy, successful and wealthy people all over the world.
But what exactly is gratitude?
I’m not talking about the definition. Sure, it’s good to be grateful, but what does it look like to live a grateful life? What does it feel like? Is it a peaceful warmth that floods your chest? Is it where the voice in your head that says: “Do more – NOW” goes quiet? Is it the subtle confidence that things will work out? Gratitude plays a large role in a new area of psychology called positive psychology. From my experience in psychology along with my foundation in New Church teachings, I can see a connection: there is an underlying spiritual foundation that supports many of these concepts. Accordingly, I was excited to see how gratitude could be applied to my life. Of course, you don’t become grateful overnight. It takes months of patience and practice and, even then, everyone has their ups and downs. A great way to start out is by turning to the Word, but just sitting and reading all the time left me restless. I wanted to take action!
About four years ago, I experimented with practicing gratefulness every day.
It was much harder than I anticipated.
Ultimately, gratitude is a habit, and a habit requires a lot of dedication and attention to create. So, I started small. I began with the goal to list three things I was grateful for very day. Just three simple little things, such as the sun, or my lunch, or a family member. It didn’t matter what they were, as long as they weren’t the same two days in a row. While I was supposed to complete this task in the morning when I got out of bed, I usually forgot, or procrastinated, or did both. In the end, finding things I was grateful for became chore that I did before going to bed.
At the time of my experiment, I was a part of a theatre production, which meant lots of late-night rehearsals, usually combined with early morning starts. I would get home, exhausted from the mental strain of human interaction, and all I would think about was crawling into my bed and burying my head underneath the blankets. I’d give up three minutes of writing for a few extra seconds of sleep.
Determined to fit gratitude in somewhere, I tried a different method: sticking reminders on the wall. Everywhere. On my desk, on the fridge, on the back of the toilet door. (The back of the toilet door is a good place to put stuff as you are forced to read it.) As a result of my quote craze, I had an entire wall in my bedroom covered in inspirational quotes and brilliant phrases, all hand-written and stuck down on colourful paper. But I would never read them…they became invisible.
I was beginning to feel that I would never be able to successfully incorporate gratitude into my life. My attempts had just turned it into a chore and made me resent the concept of ‘gratitude’. But then I experienced an exercise that solidified the act of gratitude in my mind and made it ‘active’. A simple, yet beautiful exercise that changed gratitude from a thing, into a feeling.
Try the exercise for yourself:
- List all the things that you don’t want to do. Like so…
‘I don’t want to get up in the morning.’ ‘I don’t want to have a shower.’ ‘I don’t want to brush my teeth.’ ‘I don’t want to walk to work.’ Etc.
- Now, say the list out loud.
Do you feel the burden? Do you feel the weight behind the words?
- Next, exchange the words ‘I don’t want’ to ‘I’m blessed to’.
‘I’m blessed to get up in the morning.’ ‘I’m blessed to have a shower.’ ‘I’m blessed to be able to brush my teeth,’ ‘I’m blessed to walk to work and back.’
Do you feel the difference? Do you feel lighter, like you have had a weight lifted from your shoulders?
It was a beautifully effective but simple exercise. It made me feel so fulfilled with my life and all my achievements thus far, just as they were. I realised that this approach to gratitude particularly resonated with me because it reminded me that the things I had in life were gifts, blessings of which I was privileged to be experiencing.
After this experiment, I eventually stopped practicing gratefulness—at least deliberately. I have changed a lot since then. I was reminded of this exercise recently when a friend challenged me to read the Word every day. The Word is a gift! Sometimes, making time to read the Word feels like a chore, but it is so worthwhile in the long run. I realised that picking up the Word was something I was blessed to be able to do—not everyone has access to the truths that are found within the heavenly doctrines. While it may feel like an obligation or a chore sometimes, I can use the gratitude exercise I discovered previously to empower me to read on…even when I don’t feel like it. We are all truly blessed to be able to read the Word and I am forever grateful that these truths made it into my life. Maybe with some practice, gratitude and a little bit of patience, we can all build our trust in the Lord.