Too often, “gratitude” is one of those “should” disciplines—right alongside flossing your teeth and changing the oil in your car. We know it’s good for us, but we avoid it, except for (perhaps) an obligatory annual reflection over family dinner. It seems trite, underwhelming: like the “one more thing” our life doesn’t need.
But what if gratitude is actually the pathway to the peace and contentment we spend time and money trying to manufacture? What if it could cultivate resilience and even rewire your brain? What those two minutes of gratitude could refine your character and improve your experience of the life you’re living right now?
Gratitude works because it trains our attention. It’s a habit of mind. What you pay attention to changes what you want, how you feel, and what you believe. Gratitude disciplines you to pay attention to the good stuff all around you. It’s a habit that alters the way you experience the past, present, and future.
Build a Memory Treasure Trove
What happened last week?
You probably don’t have any trouble recalling the biting comment from your boss or the anxiety of feeling out of place at that social event. But do you remember the laughter with a colleague over lunch, the windows-down drive home in perfect fall weather, or the unexpected phone call from a friend that boosted your spirits after a long day?
Capturing gratitude ensures you remember the good stuff—the stuff you want to remember. You begin to build a treasure trove of memories that make you smile, not unlike your camera roll.
Imagine your mind as a jar. Every time you ruminate on the stuff that makes you sad, ashamed, or anxious, you add small dark pebbles. When you capture beautiful moments, you add bright marbles. You might find it difficult to just stop fixating on painful moments, but you can begin to bring balance by filling your mind with bright moments. With enough practice, you can spend more time remembering the bright moments than the dark moments. What could that make possible?
And as you change the way you remember the past, you change the way you experience the present.
Delight in Small, Present Joys
It’s vital to envision and move toward a future you love. But it is also essential to receive the good of the reality in which you are, in fact, presently living. Living in the past or living for the future can both rob you of the joy of the present.
When you start a gratitude habit at the end of each day, you’ll naturally start looking for things you might later write throughout the day. Soon, you start to notice the good things as they’re happening. Instead of experiencing gratitude only in retrospect, you experience it in the present.
You notice the children’s laughter, the pattern of shadow and light created by sun shining through leaves, the song of the birds after your workout, and how refreshing you find the company of your friends. You start to savor these moments. You let them penetrate the day’s monotony and fill your soul. It’s not that these moments didn’t exist before. You just weren’t paying attention. Not like this.
Every season is a mixed bag. That means an idyllic, perfect set of circumstances is, well, improbable. But it also means that even the worst seasons contain good—for those with eyes to see it enjoy it. Gratitude gives us eyes to see.
Develop Future Hopefulness
Abundance mindset opens worlds of possibility. We imagine more. We risk more. We try more. And as a result, we accomplish more. We contribute more. We grow more.
But an abundance mindset requires a very valuable resource: hope.
Hope isn’t blind optimism. It would be insincere (and therefore mostly powerless) if it were. Hope is the anticipation of goodness in the time to come even amidst challenges. It’s believing that even in inevitable suffering, life can be meaningful, even beautiful.
How do you cultivate hope? How can you know goodness will come? Because you’ve witnessed goodness every day. You’ve named it. Bit by bit, you have built the case to your tired, anxious heart that the world is full of light. It’s no hollow, self-deceptive mantra. It’s a reality you can argue with your list of grateful moments.
And when you can look forward to the future with hope, with a mindset of abundance, you can give more generously, love more freely, and live more selflessly.
All of that from a short grateful list each day? All that in more. Like most good things, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s like a river carving a canyon: day by day, bit by bit. Change takes time. But it will come. Will you dare to try it?
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