Gratitude: Beyond Lists to In-The-Moment

gratitudeFar too often in our striving to improve, to stretch, to reinvent parts of our lives, we forget to be grateful for who we are and what surrounds us. In our focus on the future, we neglect the present.

Many of the gratitude exercises and practices I have heard of and practiced are of the reflecting and listing type. For example, at the end of each day, write down 5 things for which you are grateful. In fact, I encourage such practices, as in this blog post: Gratitude as the Overriding Tone of Your Life. I recognize the value of them and also am glad to learn of another way of having a sense of gratitude infuse the day and form the foundation of all we do.

David Cain, in “Gratitude Comes From Noticing Your Life, Not From Thinking About It” provides inspiration for this practice.

Gratitude, when we do genuinely feel it, arises from experiences we are currently having, not from evaluating our lives in our heads. When you feel lonely, for example, simply remembering that you have friends is a dull, nominal comfort compared to how wonderful it feels when one of those friends calls you out of the blue. Reflecting on the good fortune of having a fixed address is nice, but stepping inside your front door after a cold and rainy walk home is sublime.

 

The experience, not the idea, is what matters. So if you want to feel grateful, forget the thinking exercises. Look for your good fortune not in some abstract assessment of your life situation, but in your experience right in this moment. What can you see, feel, hear, or sense, right here in the present, that’s helpful, pleasant, or beautiful?

Often our push toward change we are acting out of dissatisfaction, which can be a powerful motivator. If, however, we are at the same time acknowledging and feeling gratitude for things in our present moment, it is a much more powerful position from which to move forward. It also calms us and reduces the stress caused by dissatisfaction, thus freeing up energy for moving forward into our intended future. I am not quite ready to “forget the thinking exercises” as David suggests, but I will add this practice to my days and encourage you to try it too.

In addition to this simple and profound practice, I invite you to check out this extremely helpful book, Unlock Your Ideal Self, Transformation From Within by Dennis Becker. Gratitude is among the topics covered. This is indeed a handbook that you can refer to again and again.

Transforming Your Years After 50: What if Gratitude Were the Overriding Tone of Your Life?

Daily Gratitude Practice
If you are not already doing this, start a daily practice of writing a Gratitude List and really monitor how it changes your attitude. It’s very simple and most effective it you use a journal (a simple notebook is fine, or a folder in your computer) rather than scattered pieces of paper. That’s because looking back over a month, or a quarter, or a year can take you to a whole new level of gratitude. And if you don’t make it easy for yourself to do it, guess what? It likely won’t be done.

Write down 5-10 things every day for which you are grateful. If you’re not used to doing this, you may start with 5 per day; expand from there to 10 as you get into the rhythm of it. They don’t have to be huge things; in fact if you get into the habit of expressing gratitude for small things, it’s even more powerful.

Include things that you are grateful about in yourself. They may be attributes or attitudes; they may be things you did or didn’t do. As you make the change from employed to retired, measures of accomplishment and self-worth inevitably change. This is a way to acknowledge yourself in this new stage of transforming your years after 50.

Writing these down at the end of the day is most beneficial as you more easily remember the day. It puts you in a positive state of mind that will lead to sleep. It just wraps up the day in a lovely package.

Gratitude as a Tool for Specific Situations

What I’ve just described is a Daily Gratitude Practice. You can also use the technique any time you are facing a situation about which you are ambivalent or conflicted. For example, list all of the things for which you’re grateful related to the change in this new state of life: I have time for myself and my interests; I can do things more spontaneously; I can explore new hobbies and interests; and so on. You will note that these are all stated as positive statements, not the lack of the negative (I don’t have to be available for taxiing kids around all the time). This can change your feelings about a situation, or perhaps identify an aspect of it that you do want to change in some way.