Every time I go out for my sunset walk at the seaside, during this time of quarantine, I see one fishing boat. There are actually quite a few boats there, but this one always grabs my special attention. Or rather, its name. Merci. And every time I see this boat, I think about gratitude.
Such a simple yet strong word, but which we often pay so little attention to and leave so little space in our lives. Not like with complaints… First we complain that we do not have enough time. Then we complain that there’s too much time, like now. So what do we really want, and when will be the proper moment and circumstances when we finally feel like being thankful?
Most likely, neither such a moment nor circumstances will ever come until there happens some shift in our consciousness, and shows up our ability to notice things which we do not need to go far for and look for, which are already there. There is always something to complain about, but there is always something to be thankful for as well. Then it’s just the matter of our attention and our choice where to direct this attention, isn’t it?
I write all this for myself and about myself, first of all. It took me quite a lot of effort to direct my mind towards gratitude and to make it part of my daily life and my journey. And I noticed that it brought practical results. Not only did I feel better and happier, but it seemed that more and more positive things started to come into my life. They say that like attracts like, and I think it is appropriate to apply this principle here too. Gratitude attracts even more things or events into your life, for which you want to be grateful again, and so on and so on.
I have a few gratitude habits and I would like to share with you some of my favorite ones. I didn’t make them up myself, they came from different sources – I’ve read about some, or friends told me, or I heard from webinars, and decided to try. Over time, I noticed that I got so accustomed with these little traditions that no longer I made any effort to think about them and practice them. They became my daily routine, like brushing my teeth or taking a shower. And I’m very excited about these kind of habits.
So, the first one. Every time I go to bed and about to fall asleep, I recollect five things from that day which I am grateful for. Most often we don’t fall asleep right away, we are tossing in bed for a while, our thoughts are wandering back and forth, sometimes actually preventing us from sleep. So why not direct the flow of our thoughts and our attention to search for something we can be thankful for? You’ll be amazed that you will always find it, if you only set a goal and look attentively into your day. And I noticed one more interesting thing… When a day in general wasn’t really good, and I have doubts whether I’ll be able to collect these five good things, I end up finding them even faster than normal. Let it be something small, for example, a note from a friend who hasn’t been in touch for a while, or a passerby smiled, or it stopped raining just when you were about to leave, anything like that. It is important to determine initially the number of things you’ll be recollecting (let’s say five, or three to start with), and limit yourself to this number. This disciplines and trains your brain, and will help in more difficult times, when it will not be as easy to remember the good stuff. I also noticed that this practice often helps fall asleep faster. So if you have trouble sleeping, try it. “Grateful” thoughts help you relax and slip into the dream world. In this case, if I fell asleep on the third or fourth point, I try to catch up with the missed ones next morning. Again, it’s a good start for a new day.
Next habit. When I arrive at a new place, enter a new room, meet a new person, I mark to myself five qualities or characteristics (maybe three, or any other number you prefer) which I like about this person or this place. It is important to do this not only when you immediately feel positive emotions towards this person or this place, but also when something just didn’t go well from the beginning. It turns out that you can always find something good about everything, even if not straight away. Just like in a gym, it is a matter of training and consistency; first our muscles of grateful thinking will resist and hurt, but then will get used to and surrender to their master’s will, meaning you.
And my third favorite habit that has been with me for several years already, since I visited Peru five years ago. It was shared with me by a good Peruvian friend of mine. I trust Peruvians in these matters, I think they have special knowledge, understanding and vision hidden from others. So, according to my friend from Peru, Ernesto, when you see or feel that something unpleasant, dangerous, or difficult is coming your way – for example, in my case there is a police post ahead, or some obscure bypass, or a dark cloud in front – repeat to yourself at least three times “Thank you Thank you Thank you”, and this released energy of gratitude will go ahead and prepare the ground for you when you come. I don’t know how it works, and to prove it scientifically, or to check how it would be differently, I definitely cannot, but I can say that somehow it works. Is it a coincidence? Well, feel free to think whatever you are more comfortable with, it is also a matter of choice : ) Personally I choose to think that the energy of gratitude has made its corrections and reduced the potential trouble by maximum. Anyway, it is more pleasant for me to hear “Thank you” in my mind than anything else.
Try it, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy these practices, at least they will not do any harm. And if over time you notice some positive changes in your life and in your mood, write me a comment or a message, I will be glad to know that all this worked for someone too.
What to be thankful for… Of course, this is a very personal question, and only you know what in your life causes or may cause you to feel grateful. But if we are talking about daily practice of giving thanks, I would suggest choosing something more specific of the day. Of course, gratitude for another day of your life, for being able to see, hear, feel, etc. is very important, and it is good that we do not take it for granted, but pay closer attention. But if every day we give thanks for the same general thing, it will lose its taste and color over time, and we may forget noticing little pleasant things of our everyday life. So I’m all for specificity to the maximum.
And also I’m all for honesty to the maximum, first of all, honesty to yourself. I like the idea of positive thinking, but I think that when something is bad, you should not make yourself believe that it is good. That would not be true. And between optimism and honesty to myself, I would choose honesty. I think that grateful thinking is about something else. It’s about separating good from bad in the same honest way, noticing, accepting this good and being thankful for it. As they say, let’s separate apples from oranges.
And here comes another thing, perspective. Place some ordinary object in the middle of the room and walk around it, make a few stops and describe the object from each position you stopped – what parts of the object you see, amount of light and shade, any other parameters coming into your mind. You will see that the descriptions will be different, even though about the same object. The same is true for everything in our life. It’s not flat, it has volume and perspective, and when you look at something from different angles, you will see that on one hand it can be absolute doom, but on the other a small ray of light has already showed up and bringing along some new hope.
We all remember that famous aphorism of one famous person that any crisis is an opportunity, don’t we? I am sure that the current crisis will also be an opportunity and ground for further growth for some people. And the main difference between them and all the rest will be only in that they believed it and appreciated it from a new perspective.
Today’s quarantine is one of the perspectives of our life’s vision. What we would like to keep from what has been there before and be more grateful for it, and what we would like to change and be grateful as a result…
I receive many messages now with questions like this – How are you, still stuck in Mexico? And every time this question makes me feel a bit twitchy. Yeah, I’m in Mexico, but I don’t take it as ” being stuck”. I have a feeling that using the word “stuck,” I’m discrediting my friends’ hospitality and all the good things I have now – comfort, being right next to the sea, opportunity to be on my own, free time, and much more. No, I am not stuck, but I spend this time with pleasure, take advantage of it, and grateful for it. And when the quarantine is over and I continue my journey again, I will miss many things from what I have now.
Also I read sometimes (not just with regard to the current situation, but in general) that we should be grateful because someone is less fortunate than us and they would love to be in our shoes. I think that it’s the same as comparing ourselves with someone else, and it’s not a very healthy thing to make comparisons. If you were the only person on earth, and there was no one to compare with, could you be grateful for your life and things you have? I think we should be thankful without looking back at someone else, because it devalues what we are thankful for in our lives and humiliates people who don’t. If you can change something in their lives and help them, do it, and if you can’t, don’t humiliate them with gratitude for having something they don’t have.
To be thankful, we need to notice and see; to see, we need to pay attention; and to pay attention, we often need to stop and focus. Isn’t it exactly what we have plenty of opportunities for right now? I really hope and wish for each of us to come out of the current crisis with a significantly increased list of things to be grateful for and new healthy traditions and habits.