Why does the human mind have a tendency to drift toward the negative? Why is it effortless to complain mentally, while it requires some concentration and effort to direct the mind toward gratitude? It may be a leftover survival habit acquired after enduring, for generations, the recent history of our species, which seems to be riddled with war, religious persecution and crisis. But which came first, negative mental states or the conflict-ridden state of humanity? I'm not sure, and I've not yet figured out the chicken and the egg dilemma, either.
Certainly, the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday seems to have been initiated in a moment of peaceful and tolerant co-existence between humans. Could gratitude be a way to inner peace, and perhaps worldly peace? Indeed, there seems to be evidence for that possibility. And because gratitude leads to inner peace, it can also be qualified as a type of meditation.
One fact is certain: Through numerous studies conducted at the University of Miami and the University of California at Davis, among many other reputable institutions, practicing daily gratitude can help adults feel better about life in general, feel more optimistic and experience fewer physical symptoms of pain and illness. Furthermore, goals were clearer and more likely attained in comparison with the control group. Children who had a gratitude practice demonstrated higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy. Better sleep and higher quality of sleep were also reported by those who had a gratitude practice.
So how does one practice gratitude? There are many ways to practice, and here's one of my favorites: Make a daily gratitude list. Write your list on a napkin as you wait for your morning brew, or invest in a blank journal in which to write your daily gratitudes. It's not something that you need to keep, so feel free to write it and forget about it. Or, you can keep it and enjoy reviewing a year's worth of gratitude lists on the upcoming gratitude holiday: Thanksgiving.
The main element of this gratitude practice is that you give your gratitude your attention. You use your power of concentration to focus on positive elements of your existence, as opposed to complaints, problems to be solved or troublesome issues of the past. Just give gratitude enough time out of your day to make a list, and enjoy the many benefits of this practice.
If you are already a meditator, a gratitude list is a wonderful thing to make before you do your daily practice of mindfulness, TM, mantra meditation, prayer, Zen silence or any other practice. It takes your brain into a positive neurochemical state, improving every experience that might follow it.
Make your list as long as you like. Be specific and personal, or acknowledge universal goodness. Keep it, or throw it away. Just do it and enjoy the benefits. Here's a sample gratitude list:
I am grateful for
1. Waking up
3. Oxygen in the air I am breathing
4. The ground supporting my body where ever I happen to stand or walk
5. Gravity for keeping me on the earth and not floating about aimlessly
6. Cozy pajamas
7. Music I love
8. The existence of laughter
9. The beauty that my favorite pen is still working
Please feel welcome to share your own gratitude list or experience with gratitude listing in the comment section below.