To be grateful means to be simple. To be grateful means to be joyful. To be grateful means to be content.
Unfortunately, most people have been conditioned to live in discontentment. In the competitive, materialistic, consumption-driven society that we’re living, we’ve been programmed to always want more than what we have and to strive to be different than who we are. No wonder life seems like a constant struggle, not allowing us to enjoy ourselves and find inner fulfillment.
If we want to change this way of living, we first need a shift in our consciousness. We need to realize that we are living in an incredibly beautiful world of abundance, and that we’re an important and inseparable part of it. A good first step to achieving this is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, and the benefits we’ll reap from doing so are tremendous. Here are some of them:
- Improved physical health
- Improved psychological health
- Enhanced empathy
- Better relationships
- Improved self-esteem
- Improved decision making
But how can one cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Here’s a little guide with gratitude-inducing insights and tips that you might find helpful along your journey.
Recognize the Precious Gift of Life
Life is a wonder-full gift, but few of us seem to appreciate it. In fact, we usually don’t realize how precious life is, unless we are faced with a misfortune.
But even in our misfortunes, life still has a lot to offer us, if we pay better attention to it and savor what we’ve been given. This is well-illustrated by a beautiful story coming from the land of India, showing in a vivid way that we have more than we tend to think, even at times when life gets rough:
One man was complaining to another, “I am a very poor man, I don’t have anything.”
So the second man said, “If you are that poor you can do one thing: I want your right eye. I will give you five thousand rupees for it. Take these five thousand rupees and give me your right eye.”
And the first man said, “That is very difficult. I cannot give my right eye.” So then the other man offered, “I will give you ten thousand rupees for both of your eyes.”
Again the first man replied, “Ten thousand rupees! But still, I cannot give my eyes.”
At which point the other man offered, “I will give you fifty thousand rupees if you will give me your life.”
At this the first man said, “But that is impossible! I cannot give my life.”
The first man said, “This shows you have many valuable things. You have two eyes which you will not sell for ten thousand rupees, and you have your life – and you were saying that you don’t have anything!” 1
Stop for a moment and take a clear look around you with fresh eyes. Look at the calming sky, the glittering stars, the colorful trees, the playful animals… Pay attention to all the beauty of existence that you’re lucky to experience and your heart will be filled with gratitude for every single breath you take.
Practice Being Mindful of the Present
The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca once said:
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have…”
Being so focused on the future, most of us are filled with so many worries that we can’t live care-free and savor the gifts of life. We are overthinking, and the constant chatter in our heads doesn’t allow us to focus on what is happening in the here and now.
The best way to empty yourself of the continuous stream of thoughts is to develop mindfulness. The most common mindfulness practice is that of sitting with eyes half-closed, cross-legged on a cushion, or on a chair, with the back straight and paying attention to the movement of the abdomen when breathing in and out or to the breath as it goes in and out the nostrils. This simple practice will do wonders to help you be rooted in the present moment.
By learning to be more mindful of the present moment, you’ll be able to take in more of what life is offering you. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think about the future at all. Think ahead, make plans, set new goals, but remember to appreciate the life that you already have.
To cultivate gratitude, we need to learn to embrace ourselves, for if we don’t feel well with who we are, how can we be grateful for the life that we’re living?
From a very young age, most people have learned not to accept and appreciate themselves for who they are. Instead, they’ve been conditioned to believe that they are not good enough and that they need to strive to become different in order to be accepted by society. Believing that there is something terribly wrong with themselves, they can’t feel well just the way they are. In fact, they despise themselves, feeling worthless and unimportant.
The truth is that not a single person alive is perfect. No one can be good at everything or always make the right choices in life, no matter how much one tries. As we’re growing and maturing, we learn new things and become wiser, but we can never achieve perfection. Perfection is something like the horizon — the more you chase it, the more it recedes from you — it is unreachable.
This, however, doesn’t mean that we are not important. We are unique and significant despite our flaws and imperfections. Every individual — including yourself — has a unique beauty that adds something to existence and without which it would be less rich. So no matter how imperfect you are, you still have great gifts to contribute to this world which, although wonderful, is imperfect too.
When you realize and embrace your uniqueness, and start appreciating and loving yourself, you’ll start loving and be grateful for the world you live in, since the way we perceive the world is to a great extent the reflection of how we perceive ourselves. The world is a great mirror, reflecting our being, and when we are able to see the goodness in ourselves, we begin to see it all around us.
The power of gratitude can be immensely beneficial, if only we learn to cultivate it and practice it in our daily lives. Then, we’ll be able to enjoy life to the fullest and find contentment in every step we take.