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An Education in Gratitude

“To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.”  -Albert Schweitzer

Gratitude was the most challenging aspect of the positivity quest I have journeyed for close to two years. As a concept and way of living, gratitude is always one of the first concepts taught in positive psychology texts and has, for centuries, been called the greatest of virtues and the parent of all the others. A dear friend of mine once shared with me that the more she practiced gratitude daily, the more her life became increasingly abundant in ways that continued to amaze her. After hearing that I dedicated myself to learn the ways of gratitude throughout what I called the Summer of Gratitude, in which all my writing leaned towards gratitude each day.

Not surprisingly, just like at the very beginning of my positivity quest, the negative thoughts that deflect us from gratitude ran deep. Identifying and rooting out my invisible attachments to lack and other ungrateful thinking took time. Most of us walk through years of life unaware of the poisonous thinking that undermines our abilities to thrive. Tragically, this is often most deeply true within our closest relationships and explains much of relationship failure. We are often plagued with a sense of loss or misled by a sense of entitlement, both of which often prevent us from witnessing and feeling grateful for all of the goodness and love that surrounds us.

These experiences of loss and entitlement hide an even deeper sense of worthlessness that shows itself as a disappointment in those around us or, more frequently, an utter lack of recognition for how other people do show up for us. This in turn creates the vicious cycle where instead of appreciating and recognizing the people we love, we undermine the goodness intended for us, and indirectly, the people we love best. Although this seems like stating the obvious: when we don’t feel grateful inside, we are hard pressed to offer it to others.

Creating a grateful heart begins with recognizing and replacing the internal messages that keep you from receiving. Creating a willingness to be curious or lean towards self-compassion and self respect is often enough to move you towards an experience of gratitude.  Remember that focusing our attention toward what we choose to cultivate is the most powerful use of the mind’s eye; our attention is sufficient to making big changes. What we focus on multiplies and gratitude multiplies faster than most felt experiences.

An easy exercise to focus the mind is to make a running list of brief grateful moments. Many people have been very successful with a gratitude journal for this purpose. A recent study demonstrated that the practice of noticing and documenting your grateful thoughts were associated with better health and greater optimism. Also people who recorded their gratitude made more progress towards reaching their goals. This might explain why people who record their grateful moments are more likely to be alert, enthusiastic and attentive. Practicing gratitude raises your overall energy level in both your body and your mind.

I can vouch for the results. The more work I did to build my own inner experience of gratitude, the more I was able to recognize and express gratitude for the many ways that I am loved. In turn, the more I expressed my thanks, the more that my kids, my husband and even my employees, kept offering more love. What we want most in life is being recognized and appreciated.  Educating yourself in the ways of gratitude will show you how.