by Katherine McHugh
The secret to happiness? Some say it's money, others say fame. But the research says that feeling more joy, energy, and all around happiness on a consistent basis comes down to one simple practice: gratitude. A series of groundbreaking studies from UC Berkeley found that those who regularly practice gratitude experience a wealth of benefits, from stronger immune systems to high levels of positive emotions.
Gratitude becomes a practice when we purposefully pay attention to and reflect on all of the things we are thankful for--for some, this means keeping a gratitude journal, for others it may simply be a mental choice.
Sounds simple, right? Well, chances are, like most of us, your moments of gratitude happen only once in awhile--on a special holiday or when something monumental happens, like the birth of a child or the purchase of a new home.
So, on this Thanksgiving week when we all turn our attention to feeling thankful, we wanted to devote the Cup of Calm to developing an attitude of gratitude on a daily basis--and making feelings of joy and connection regular visitors instead of occasional guests.
How can I feel more grateful everyday?
To practice gratitude, you must also practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment--without judgement and with an open friendliness to whatever we find.
One of the best ways to practice mindfulness? Meditation. Try sitting quietly for a few minutes, focusing your attention on the slow inhale and exhale of your breath. You'll notice that the mind slows down and you feel calmer, present, and even more focused.
How can I make feeling grateful a habit?
David Steindl-Rast, the Founder and Senior Advisor of A Network for Grateful Living and whose TED Talk on gratitude has been viewed nearly 5 million times, suggests three mindful steps to feeling grateful (and happier) right now:
Stop. The first thing we have to do is stop, even if only for a few moments. With just a brief pause, you can shift your awareness--giving yourself the opportunity to appreciate what's right in front of you instead of letting the moment get away from you.
Look. What actually is here? Use this time to write down a few things that you're noticing, or think about something you're grateful for right now. You may take this moment to acknowledge the people you care about, the beauty of the day, food you enjoy, music, laughter. Your list will expand as you practice!
Go. Joy and happiness show up naturally, so share the wealth! Grateful people can't help but share their good feelings with others.
How do I find things to be grateful for?
Let's face it, we all feel frustrated at times and finding things to feel grateful for doesn't always come easily. Steindl-Rast instructs that we don't have to feel grateful for every thing in our lives, "but in every moment." This is an important distinction. There are things that we can't be grateful for: a difficult illness, an untimely loss...but within every moment, there IS something you can be grateful for. For instance, you could learn something from a difficult experience; become stronger, and gain greater compassion for yourself and others. And in the midst of even the most trying of situations, we have the ability to find appreciation in the little things--which we discover are not so little after all.
When we create space for the moment we are in, we can find that joy arises naturally. Try this practice for yourself and see how it grows.
Katherine McHugh is a meQuilibrium meditation expert and the Executive Director of Awaken Mindfulness & Resiliency Training. She began studying and practicing mindfulness in 1987 after taking the original course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Katherine began teaching and leading retreats locally in 2000 and has over a decade of experience teaching mindfulness in corporate, academic, and diverse community settings. She has lectured at Harvard Law School and Boston College.