What’s The Big Deal About Gratitude?

There’s a lot of talk about gratitude these days, from Oprah to books on the subject, to whole courses on the topic.  I have wondered if I could define the role gratitude plays in happiness, and until now I was confused about how to explain it.

A long time ago,  I did a course where a piece of our homework for one month was to write a thousand gratitudes.  I wrote and I wrote, and then I found myself stymied, thinking that I had run out of them after a few hundred.  It occurred to me that there were things so small that I took for granted, like eyelashes or pebbles, and for a few pages my list became hyper-focused on the tiniest stuff of life.

An amazing thing happened as I continued with the process…you’ve probably guessed it…I began to see my life through new eyes.  Every thing from the fact that I could breathe to the glass in my windows, from someone saying good morning to having a clean sheet of paper to write on…it all began to take on a new and incredible magic.  What was once neglected was suddenly my reason for rejoicing, and my joy grew.  My appreciation of life grew, and the appreciation was seemingly contagious.  People smiled at me more, gifts came my way, and money began to flow into my life more easefully.

It wasn’t all rosy, though.  There were still the things in life that irritated me, the people that annoyed or upset me, and the physical maladies that can sometimes plague us all.  But through my practice of gratitude, these upsetting parts of life became more tolerable, more manageable, and passed more quickly.

It is truly a practice, this thing called gratitude.  It’s not our normal training as humans to look for the good, to find a reason to be ecstatic, or to see a challenge or tragedy as cause for celebration.  It’s a discipline for someone seeking mastery or enlightenment.

Mastery and enlightenment require a diligence in the face of contraction from aliveness.  Breathing, which is the energy of the life force animating the flesh suits we acquire at birth, is excellent training for this practice of enlightenment.  We breathe in…expand into life and love…and we exhale…contracting into the letting go of life, or dying…expanding and contracting.  Our very existence trains us to be masters of many things including non-attachment.  Gratitude for life would mean gratitude for ALL of it…not just the so called “good things” we can weed out of the mundane we tend to focus on, but even what we may deem “bad” or “undesirable”.

My gratitudes began to take a turn somewhere in the middle towards the end of a thousand.  I found that I wasn’t just grateful for the people who made me smile and feel warm and fuzzy, but I was downright on my knees grateful for those who pissed me off, who irritated my expectations, and who reflected the parts of myself I’d rather not look at.  I was grateful for pain…which had previously been something I avoided at all costs…because pain let me know I was alive, and pain was such a fantastic backdrop for pleasure.  I was grateful for the all of life, not just the tiny gratitudes that had poured from  my pen in a desperate attempt to complete the assignment.  My journey of a thousand gratitudes did not stop that year…or ever.  I carry that particular gratitude exercise, given to me by a true master of enlightenment, to this day with a profound gratitude to her and to the lessons of living life with my heart wide open.

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