The Benefits of Starting a Gratitude Practice
We just got back from vacation!
A childhood friend of mine got married in Taormina, Sicily, over the weekend, and my husband and I took advantage of the special occasion to take our first solo trip since we became parents.
For all the nerves and preparation it took, it was so worth it. We loved exploring a place that was new to both of us, as well as the chance to reconnect with and meet so many wonderful people at a truly international (and very elegant) wedding celebration. Meanwhile our daughter was queen of the castle at her grandparents' house.
Yesterday, on the flight home, I asked my husband what was his favorite moment of the trip. He said, "This one."
"This one?" I repeated, a bit incredulously. I could think of better parts of our trip than being crammed into a budget airline flight.
"Absolutely," he said, "we're on our way home to see our daughter, with so many good memories fresh in our minds."
I liked that.
Coming home after a fun, refreshing trip is one of the best parts of travel. Being away can remind you of how good your everyday life is.
I always love coming home to the farm: seeing the vistas of the countryside around us with fresh eyes, going for a twilight walk with the exuberant dogs as the sun sets behind the mountains, or listening to the frogs' funny croak with Eva.
Last night I remembered how I felt when I first came to the farm during my sabbatical year travels. I felt like I'd magically landed in one of the most beautiful, unexpected places in the world. I felt like I'd hit the travelers' jackpot. I couldn't believe that I got to stay here for a couple of days.
I never expected to live here.
Yet, incredibly, there are times now in the midst of everyday life that I forget that feeling of gratitude and awe. I drive up to the house after a long day, and only see that this thing needs to be fixed, or that thing needs to be cleaned up. I only see the work, and the shortcomings.
So the question is now -- how do I keep this appreciative feeling alive?
It's time to return to my relatively new daily habit: a gratitude practice. An intentional moment each day to celebrate the good in life.
Do you have your own gratitude practices?
Here are some of mine:
1. Keep a gratitude journal. Dedicate a notebook and a regular time each day to list three things for which you're grateful.
2. Take a daily walk to appreciate the gifts of trees, breezes and birdsong, and whatever else you enjoy out there.
3. Say a blessing at mealtimes. Adapt this ritual to your own beliefs, even if you're not religious. It might be to simply silently say thanks for your food and the people around you.
4. Incorporate thankfulness into a meditation practice. There are specific gratitude and loving-kindness meditations. Loving-kindness meditations are a beautiful way to send positive energy to others – even those people you find difficult. In this type of meditation, you bring a person to mind, and wish them: May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease. Sending these wishes to others is expansive and powerful.
5. End your workday with appreciation and intention (instead of burnout and to-do list frazzle). Take five minutes before leaving the office to jot down three things that you were able to accomplish or that were bright spots in your day.
The benefits of gratitude are scientifically proven. Gratitude improves physical and psychological health. It leads to better sleep. It reduces aggression, depression and stress. (More here.)
In addition to these basic benefits of gratitude, what's been most powerful about these practices is that they help me to remember the ways that I am already living my dreams. So that even as I continue to push myself to improve and stretch and do more, I remember to enjoy what I already have, rather than waiting until some far off future moment when I finally "arrive" at my dreams.
Do you have a daily practice that helps you to be more grateful or do you want to try one from this list? I’d love to hear your ideas, and how they renew you.
And if you're getting ready to embark on your own summer vacations, I hope you have a wonderful, refreshing time!
P.S. You can see my Sicily photos on Instagram; lately I've been sharing mini-blogs there too. :)