This week is Thanksgiving, and at this time of year we start to hear a lot of reminders to be thankful for the blessings in our lives.
From a mindfulness perspective, which is all about being in the present moment, gratitude allows us to notice the blessings, but also invites us to find balance in life’s challenges. Because let’s face it: life is full of both beautiful gifts and great difficulty. (Sometimes both at the same time.)
So gratitude, from the perspective of mindfulness, is not about laying a screen of toxic positivity over everything and saying, “Be thankful! Look how much better you have it than other people!” or “You should stop focusing on your difficulty, look how much you have to be grateful for.” Blessings and difficulty are both equally real. Ups and downs are a part of life, and it can feel really terrible when you’re experiencing hardship and someone tells you “It’s all for the best” or “It’s all part of God’s plan” and “Cheer up! It could be so much worse!”
Practicing gratitude isn’t about glossing over what’s challenging. It’s the intentional practice of noticing what’s good – whether that’s the people in your life, or your home, or your pets, or good health if you’re so fortunate, or a beautiful sunset, or a piece of music that moved you. Not to negate the challenges, but just to keep a balanced view. We can hold both conditions as equally true: yes, this thing is deeply challenging and really hard; and yes, I can point to things that are good and that make me feel grateful.
A gratitude practice can improve your overall quality of life in a number of ways. It can improve your mood, help you sleep better, lower your heart rate, lower your stress levels, help you access compassion for yourself and others, and just improve your outlook on life.
There’s no one way to make a regular gratitude practice part of your life. You can keep a gratitude journal where you list maybe 3-5 things you’re grateful for each day. You can set a timer that when it goes off is a reminder to stop and notice where you are and how you’re feeling, and to identify a couple of things you’re grateful for in that moment. You can do a guided meditation, or take a “sense and savor” walk, not to get anywhere in particular but where you walk along and stop and linger on anything that catches your attention. Spend as much time with this thing as you would like before moving on. Notice how it feels, notice its color, its smell, whatever – and savor it.
However you observe the Thanksgiving holiday, I wish you many blessings. Stay safe and be well.