Gratitude. It is something we are all told to practice. But what exactly does practicing gratitude look like? Because just having gratitude isn't enough. And, according to Brené Brown, having an attitude of gratitude, certainly isn't enough. You have to practice gratitude. And you have to do it daily. In fact, I have found, you have to do it multiple times a day.
As Brené describes it, an attitude of gratitude is similar to her attitude of yoga: She wears yoga pants. And shirts with cool heartfelt sayings on them like Om or Namasté. But she doesn't practice yoga by attending classes or know her Ashtanga from her Bikram. So what benefit other than hip fashion sense and comfort does her attitude of yoga gain her? And if we are to pursue growth is comfort the ultimate goal? I hope not.
So we have to take the attitude and put it into practice. For me that materializes in two ways: journaling and physical reminders. I journal every day in the Daily Stoic Journal (admittedly a new practice for me) and in a gratitude journal gifted to me by one of my mentors. Writing in the Daily Stoic Journal has been a great addition to my journaling practice. In it you reflect on a stated question based on Stoic philosophy. Things like 'Am I doing work that matters' or 'What are sources of unsteadiness in my life'. These are great questions that nudge the writer to reflect on there day to day habits and thought patterns to identify where they may be allowing suffering to manifest where it does not need to. The latter part of my journaling I have been doing for quite some time. In that gratitude journal I write at least three things I am grateful for and why. I have found that this practice has helped me to set the day with peace and happiness in my heart.
Another way that I practice gratitude is through a physical reminder. Daily I carry with me a coin that has on one side of it the phrase Memento Mori, and on the other the phrase "you could leave this life right now". I know it seems morbid at first, but let me explain. Marcus Aurelius in his book Meditations, wrote "You could leave this life right now, so let that determine what you do and say and think." It was a call to be virtuous and to practice gratitude in this moment, in every moment. Regardless of the insult or suffering you may be feeling. What I have discovered throughout the year or so I have carried this coin is that when I am feeling put upon throughout the day, I can go to it and feel it in my hand or in my pocket and remind myself that time is not infinite. And that with such a valuable resource such as time outside of my control, I must decide if I am going to allow this perceived injury to control my day or if I will choose to control it, most often by simply letting it go. Journaling in the morning certainly helps to set the intention for the day to be in gratitude and happiness. And we all know that intention is often left behind when the machinations of the day take hold. Having a physical reminder on hand to ignite the meditative practice whenever and wherever necessary has become a very necessary part of my gratitude practice.
I was recently challenged by one of my mentors to take this practice even deeper. It was suggested that the things I am showing gratitude for and reflect on daily, while beneficial, could be more specific, and more abundant. It was brought to my awareness that I may not be recognizing the small miracles that are bestowed upon me daily. Upon reflection I think that may be accurate, and I would like to invite you to raise your awareness as well to the small miracles that may be coming into your life. For example, as I write this my 8 year old is in the kitchen making banana bread muffins. This morning at the gym I rowed 5000 meters in 28 minutes. Seemingly innocuous things perhaps, but the value in even being physically able to row, or to have a child providing sustenance to her family, these are small miracles that may have otherwise gone unrecognized.
I think most of us would agree that we attract what we focus on. If you find those miracles within your life, large and small, and recognize them they will grow in abundance. Bless them for gracing you with their presence and adding value to your life. To be fair, you do not need a coin with a phrase on it at all to put this into practice in your life. You could carry anything that causes you to step into gratitude; a pebble, a note, a photograph, or a charm. Anything really that you carry with the intention of using it in the manner to remind you to have gratitude. Not for the experience itself necessarily, but for the time you have now, and the realization that time is finite. The realization that were you to leave this life right now, this particular thing causing you pain may not be so important after all. Time, in my opinion, is the greatest asset we have. We can grow more food, create more energy, earn more money. We cannot create time.
To that point, let me express my deep gratitude for you, and your time in reading this short blog post. I hope that it inspires you to look deeper at your own practices, and that whatever your attitude of gratitude is today, to choose to accelerate it into a physical and mental daily practice of gratitude.