Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude


It's easy to be grateful when you're pregnant. The fetus offers constant reminders of the miracle unraveling inside. My husband and I saw our next daughter's teaspoon-sized form on the ultrasound screen a few weeks ago. We watched her tiny heart pump blood to her tiny brain and her tiny hands curl up next to her tiny face. And I am grateful. 

Now that I know we're having a second daughter, I'm even more grateful for the time I spend with our first daughter, who is currently obsessed with pennies and Chapstick - anything she can put in her toddler-size purse. The night after the ultrasound, I dreamt of leading a line of little girls, all with their pennies and Chapstick and toddler-size purses, through a park, down a ski slope, through a mall and beyond, on into their own lives. And I am grateful. 

As I lie in bed staring at the ceiling and feeling sorry for my insomniac self, the new baby will give me a swift kick and I am all-at-once grateful for this teaspoon-sized child with the strength and vigor to kick me in such a way. I get weepy watching commercials for Toll House Cookies, and I am grateful for all the memories that haven't been created and all the cookies my girls and I haven't yet baked. 

Pregnancy hormones are no doubt at work here (my "normal" self can endure a commercial break without shedding tears), but, for all of us, actively cultivating a sense of gratitude can help us heal and grow, and this sense of gratitude will thrive and strengthen when we begin to pay attention to it in even the smallest ways. 

The Importance of Gratitude
Gratitude wards off jealousy. When we're busy aaah-ing over what we have, we're not looking at the person across the street and wanting what she has. Jealousy has an enormous power to change us, but only if we let it. By focusing on gratitude, we shift the focus away from the things we may feel are missing in our lives. 

Gratitude keeps us centered. We're not panicking over what we can accomplish but simply basking in the day-to-day glory of what is. And yet gratitude combines nicely with ambition, helping us to be gracious to the people who help us in our achievements. 

Gratitude helps us to not complain. Too many of our conversations, it seems, reduce to a competition of who has it the worst.
"Oh, I'm so tired. Bethany is teething."
"I know. I was up all night finishing a business proposal."
"I don't feel good either." 
We feed off one another until, in our heads, we really are unhappy. 

We often mistake the tremendous power of our words. A simple negative comment or complaint can damage another person's day because it can damage the way they see their life, either as they compare their life to yours or as they start focusing on their own negativity. 

Don Miguel Ruiz, in The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, calls such negativity "emotional poison." But we can instill more positive emotions - in ourselves and in others. 

Cultivate Gratitude 
Help yourself cultivate gratitude. Here are a few little things we can all do every day. 

Choose your friends wisely
If you want to be more grateful, spend time with grateful women. Spend time with positive women to be more positive, joyful women to be more joyful, critical women to be more critical, irritated women to be more irritated. 

If you strive to be spiritually strong, supportive, empowering, intelligent, energetic, and positive, seek those characteristics in others. Help your friends develop more positive traits by living those positive traits yourself. Know what kind of friends will help you nurture your soul, and set out to find some.

Help your friends cultivate gratitude.
Before you say anything about a friend's situation, remember that everyone's situation is unique. I've seen it happen to myself and to my friends. They'll be perfectly happy until someone tells them they're being mistreated. Suddenly, they're upset. Don't let your friends wield such power, and work to not wield such power yourself. 

Day by day, hour by hour, make a goal to stop complaining about your own lot. Make a pact with your friends to cut the complaints from your conversations. 

Give the gift of gratitude to your children.
One of the most lasting contributions we can make to our children is to help them understand that we don't deserve anything and everything just because we live and breathe. Help them to be satisfied with the simple things while giving them the innate power and ability to achieve whatever they want in life by living in such a way yourself.
 
Say Thank You. 
Whom in your life do you appreciate? Let them know, whether it's your mom, your kids, your friends, your husband, your child's daycare provider or the helpful woman behind the cosmetics counter. 

You don't have to spout some corny line. A heartfelt "thank you," often does the trick. Make it a habit and your attention will suddenly turn to all the things people do for you. Write thank you notes regularly - not just after a gift exchange - and be mindful of all the ways you show your appreciation by the things you do in return. 

Spend 15 minutes writing a letter to your children. In this note, tell them how much you love them, why you're thankful for them, and all the ways they have enriched your life. This can be something you give them now or after they have grown.

Be mindful of the little things. 
Today, strive to be aware of all the aspects of your personal, professional, and family life for which you are thankful. Take a few minutes today to appreciate nature. Go for a walk and notice only those things that are beautiful. Whether you focus on the stars above, a distant mountain range, or the cottonwood tree in your backyard, try to notice the details. Give thanks for the beauty that surrounds us.

Oprah Winfrey and Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance, speak often of the importance of a Gratitude Journal, in which, at the end of each day, they record five things that they're grateful for. Regardless of whether you record these items, spend some time each day to focus on the little things in your life that make each day special. Perhaps it's your child's toothless grin. A warm home. Delicious food enjoyed with family. 

Together, let's work on focusing on what we have - not on what we don't have - and all the ways we can help one another have more gratitude for their own lives.