A few years ago I was invited to attend a humanitarian meeting to prepare for an upcoming trip overseas. It was a Saturday. I rolled out of bed much earlier than I would have liked to, got ready for the day, ate breakfast, jumped in my car, and drove the 45 minutes to the meeting location. The morning was not particularly “bad”, or particularly “good”, for that matter. I simply went about doing what needed to be done.
When I arrived on site I took my seat in a circle of strangers. I have always considered myself a social person, and was satisfied with my effort to chit-chat with the person next me. For the most part, however, each member sitting in the circle was silent and avoiding any certain eye contact.
The meeting began and the facilitator explained we would start with a gratitude circle. We would go around the circle, and, one by one, say, “I am grateful for…” and then simply state, in a word or three, something we were grateful for. Easy. I felt comfortable with the idea due to keeping a robust gratitude journal at various times in my life.
There were a few rules to the exercise.
#1 No one can “steal” what you are grateful for. If I were to say, “I am grateful for my family” and the person after me were to say the very same thing, it was ok. We are both allowed to be grateful for our family and to feel that gratitude at the very same time. Logical.
#2 Be present. Do your best to listen to your friends (aka the other people in the room). Try not to worry about or premeditated what you are going to say next. Yikes! This one might be a little harder. Simply say the first thing that comes to mind when it is your turn.
#3 Pay attention to what gets your attention. How do you feel? What are you observing?
We began… “I am grateful to be alive.” “I am grateful for my family.” “I am grateful for sunshine.” “I am grateful for cookie dough.” “I am grateful for my health.” “I am grateful for a home.” “ I am grateful for God.” “I am grateful for music.” We continued to go around and around. As time passed, I stopped worrying so much about what I was going to say and started really listening. I found myself thinking, “Ooo, I like that one!” or “Oh, me too! Me too! Me too!” I also began to smile and I didn’t even know why.
The exercise concluded and the facilitator asked, “What did you notice? What did you observe? How do you feel?”
I was dumbfounded. I felt great! My heart was open. I felt connected to people who were strangers to me just moments before. I was still smiling. The simple act of expressing gratitude had changed me. Others in the group felt the same. Their comments and reaction were similar. There was something here!
I have continued to experience the life changing power of gratitude and am more convinced than ever of its ability to open my heart and allow me to feel peace. I see how it changes others and I LOVE the change I see in the world because of it.
Oprah Winfrey said, “The single greatest thing you can do to change your life today would be to start being grateful for what you have right now. And the more grateful you are, the more you get.”
The Dalai Lama said, “Every day, think as you wake up: Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry, or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
Melody Beattie said, “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow...Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”
With Thanksgiving just around the corner I invite you to start practicing. Here are a few things you can do to manifest gratitude in your life:
Keep a gratitude journal and list 3-5 things you are grateful for every day.
Be intentional about saying, “Thank you!” as often as you can to those around you.
Express gratitude to your higher power (God, the universe, your higher-self) for the blessings in your life.
When a positive thought comes to mind share it out loud. When you notice someone being nice or something beautiful in nature, point it out to those around you.
Observe, without judgement, times in the day when you think negatively, complain about your circumstances, or talk down about someone else. Practice reversing the action or the thought in the moment it happens.
Write a thank you letter! It could be for anything. Thank a neighbor for helping watch your kids while you ran an errand, thank a teacher for the impact they have had on your life, thank one of your children for being helpful around the house.
Express gratitude at meal times, quietly to yourself or with others who feel comfortable participating.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down all the things you love and appreciate about your partner.
Now, do the same for yourself. Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down all the things you love and appreciate about YOU. This could be potentially difficult for some of you. Stick to the time and do not stop until the timer runs out.