“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” —Denis Waitley
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. No presents, no stress of did you buy that for her or him. No rushing around and making oneself into a consumer nightmare. Dressing a delicious turkey even as Amelia Bedelia did is oh so easy and volunteering at a homeless shelter oh so fulfilling. To express gratitude all one has to do is to be kind, walk with clarity, have pure intentions and perform random acts of gratitude.
While my family and friends often give a devilish sigh before our fine Thanksgiving tradition, I happen to see it as an example of an act of gratitude. For the tradition, each family member must stand and express gratitude. It can be a small tidbit or a grand list of thoughts and ideas. It’s my family’s way of reflecting on the past year and bringing to light that which we are most grateful for. To unearth gratitude in your life, here is a question to start with:
HOW GOOD ARE YOU AT GRATITUDE?
Some say I am terrible at gratitude. I wake up and forget to thank the Hummingbird that perches on top of our feeder, or say Namaste to the giant Buddah that graces our pool with prayer flags swinging overhead, or say thank you to my sweet spouse who makes sure the coffee made, or the driver that stops his car so I can cross busy Santa Monica Blvd.
I take for granted my knee replacement as I climb steep Alta Loma, or my bright blue eyes that I see with or arms to hug my grandchildren with. When I was younger I sometimes forgot to pick a daughter up at school or listen carefully. As I face the later half of life, I sometimes forget how much all of my children have changed my life for the better.
Gratitude and its sibling – appreciation – is the mental tool we use to remind ourselves of the good stuff. It’s a lens that helps us see things that don’t make it onto our lists of problems to be solved, a spotlight we might shine on the people who give us the good things in life. It’s a bright red paintbrush we apply to invisible blessings – like clean streets and bathrooms, outdoor parks, health or enough food to eat.
On my recent trip to Bhutan, people expressed gratitude to nature, to the sky, to their kingdom and to their religion. The Bhutanese people taught me that expressing gratitude is about walking with pure intentions, being mindful and respectful.
Gratitude, as I have learned, does not make threats or problems disappear. Grateful folks still lose their jobs, witness crimes, become ill, lose people they love. I have experienced all of those things and more. I remember some very harrowing times where my heart raced, my palms were sweaty, my throat constricted and my stomach ached. My body wanted to crawl into a hole and shrivel up. I wanted to hit someone when there was no one to hit. The threats were real and at the moment of memory they exist albeit only in my memory or my imagination. Expressing gratitude has helped me realize that I am the threat, it is me who is worrying me out with worry!
That’s when I turn to gratitude. I know and I teach my clients as such that it takes 90 days to change a habit, and I invite them to take on gratitude as a habit. I invite them to wake up each morning, meditate, and write down 5 things they are grateful for and to practice expressing gratitude twice a day. What that means for me and you is we increase our chances of psychologically surviving the hard times. And we stand a chance of being happier in the good times. While we cannot ignore, deny or minimize the tough times, we can increase – with daily practice of gratitude – the resources and people that might help us face those challenges.
In anticipation of Thanksgiving, I want to share with you The 6 Habits of Grateful People as inspired by Jeremey Adam Smith (The Daily Good).
1. Contemplation Life and Death
Contemplating endings really does make you more grateful for the life you have, according to several studies. For example, in Bhutan, life and death are inextricably tied to one another. There is an impermanence of all things. However, each birth and each death is revered. According to friends and colleagues, when one is asked to visualize their death their gratitude measurably increases. When people envision the sudden disappearance of a romantic partner from their lives, they became more grateful to their partners. As a woman who has experienced several sudden deaths (father, mother, son, first husband), I can tell you first hand that family and friends became more important and hence I became more grateful for them.
Researchers have also found that when you take something for granted you value it less. When you give that something up for a while and reintegrate the activity back into your life, research suggests you value it more. It’s a specific relationship we can observe in many aspects of life and experience.
Have you contemplated the great mysteries of the life cycle today?
2. Take Time to Smell the Roses
And smell the coffee, the bread baking in the oven, the crisp fresh air, the sweat at the gym, etc. The point is to stop, observe, dwell and relish in whatever gives you pleasure.
Fred Bryant, a Loyola University professor, finds that savoring positive experiences makes them stickier in your brain, and increases their benefits to your psyche. And the key, he argues, is to express gratitude for the experience.
For example, I recently traveled to the land of happiness (i.e. Bhutan) after speaking at several conferences meeting all kinds of wonderfully thoughtful people. In Bhutan, we climbed over 10,000 feet to a temple called Tiger’s Nest to visit one of the oldest temples. The experience of rejuvenation and pleasure from our climb, which I savored along with the graciousness, kindness, and sincerity of the people who took this journey, can be recalled in a nanosecond. So when I’m traversing the darker, narrower passages in my brain, I switch over to an experience like the climb in Bhutan to help me return to gratitude and therefore happiness.
In the photo above I’m holding a flower during my recent travels to Bhutan.
** This article originally appeared on Huffington Post. Read the original publication here.