I have a confession to make: I’ve never successfully meditated for more than about 10 minutes. Trust me, I’ve tried. I always have the best of intentions as I sit cross-legged on the floor, eyes clamped shut. But within a few minutes, I always find my mind wandering to what I’m going to have for dinner that night. I know, it’s perfectly normal for the mind to wander when you first start meditating. I do always persevere to the end of my allotted meditation time, but by the time I’m done I tend to feel more frustrated than relaxed.
I’m sure if I committed to meditating every day, I would get a lot better at it over time. But what if there was a simple alternative that would give me the same benefits as meditation, without me having to be ‘good’ at it? Well, that’s where gratitude training comes in.
Simply put, gratitude is the act of being appreciative of your present state. It’s about experiencing and savouring the ‘right now’, rather than obsessing over what’s happening the next day. Buddhist monk and zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, uses a simple parable to explain the importance of present state mindfulness.
Let’s say that you want to eat a peach for dessert one night, but you decide to only allow yourself to do it after washing the dishes. If, while washing the dishes, all you think of is eating the peach, what will you be thinking of when you eat the peach? Chances are you won’t savour it, because you’re already too busy thinking about the next thing!
The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
While meditation can be great for teaching you to focus, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the achievement aspect of it. It can become just another thing to tick-off your to do list, which ironically can make you even more stressed.
Researchers from two US universities conducted a study into the benefits of gratitude training. Test subjects were split into three groups: one group kept a diary of events that occurred during the day, the second group recorded unpleasant experiences and the last group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful.
The results of the study showed that the group who conducted daily gratitude exercises had higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, energy and optimism. They also experienced less depression and stress, exercised more regularly, were more likely to help others and made more progress towards personal goals. Essentially, being grateful leads you on the path to greatness.
Here are three easy ways you can incorporate gratitude training into your everyday life:
Find a beautiful journal or download the app Gratitude Journal. First thing each morning (or just before you go to bed at night), ask yourself this question: ‘What am I grateful for in my life?’ Jot down as many things as possible, even if it’s as mundane as “I have a clean pair of socks to wear to work today.” The great thing about it is, there’s no wrong or right answer. Not only will reflecting on these small wins start or end your day on a positive note, you’ll be able to look back at your notes whenever you’re feeling down.
How often do you automatically blurt out “good thanks!” without reflecting on specifics when someone asks how your day was? Or perhaps your partner enquires and it spirals into a 25-minute rant about all the annoying things that happened to you that day? While it’s great to be open and honest, it’s not exactly ideal for practicing gratitude. Try the ‘three good things’ challenge instead.
Buddy up with a partner to keep you accountable, whether it’s your husband, girlfriend, best friend, parent or sibling. At the end of each day, ask them to tell you three good things that happened that day. It can be in person, over the phone, via Skype or even through Snapchat! You’d be surprised how much looking for positivity shakes up your perspective.
Sometimes, we all take things for granted. Next time the local barista makes your almond milk latte or the guy at the convenience store hands you your change, don’t just mumble ‘thanks’ and rush off. Stop, look them in the eyes and sincerely give your thanks. Not only will it make them feel appreciated, it’ll leave you feeling #blessed too! You can do the same thing with your loved ones as well, when they do something as small as taking out the rubbish or making the bed.