One of the main pillars of today’s mindfulness-based practices is the art of cultivating gratitude. You may hear it as a theme in yoga class, read about it in self-help books, hear about it in seminars and retreats, or see it every day in your social media feeds. Cultivating gratitude every day can be a powerful catalyst for creating a more positive mindset.
You may know from experience that steeping yourself in gratitude can be a feel-good practice of bringing to mind the things you feel blessed to have in your life. You may know that sharing your gratitude with others creates a ripple effect and has a positive impact on those around you. Meditating on or making daily lists of the things you are thankful for on a regular basis is a great way to focus on what is good in the world, especially during times when there is so much uncertainty, anger, and fear swirling about.
Gratitude comes in many forms and how you experience it can vary a great deal, depending on your intention. It’s easy to hone in on the things you are grateful for when life is going well. A good economy, a happy family, a loving relationship, a successful career, and good physical health are laced with blessings. Your happiness stems from positivity, and its usually times like these that you may take your success, your relationships, your happiness, and your health for granted. Things are going so well that you may forget you are invulnerable to disharmony, loss, poor health, pain, and suffering—until it’s knocking on your door. It’s in your not-so-wonderful times that you may lose sight of the good that still exists around you.
Gratitude During Hard Times
Just like acknowledging all the amazing things you are thankful for in your life, there can also be a great deal of insight and healing available when you can feel gratitude in your hardest moments. Remembering how difficult things once were and how far you’ve come since then creates a significant contrast in your mindset that can be highly productive.
Can you remember a time in your life when you felt the heartache from a breakup with someone you cared for deeply? Now, all these years later, are you able to look back on the situation and be thankful in some way that things ended when they did? Maybe you wouldn’t be married to your current spouse or have the children you have today. Can you think of a time in your life when you were overlooked for a job promotion only to realize down the road that it would have been the worst job ever? Looking back on your life, you may find times when something happened that seemed awful in the moment and, had it not happened, you wouldn’t have something even better in its place today. There is so much to be learned from your past painful experiences and turned into gold if you’re willing to shift your perception just a bit.
Likewise, you may have something difficult happening in your life today—an important life decision, an impending breakup, confusion about what you’re supposed to be doing with your life—and if you settle into a space of being completely honest with yourself (even when it’s unpleasant), odds are that you know there is something bigger, better, grander awaiting you on the other end. This is where finding gratitude comes in. You may be thankful for your own courage and determination or appreciative of your health as you are healing from a physical, emotional, or mental challenge. Perhaps you can find gratitude for your humility and grace in how you handled a difficult conversation, or appreciation for the fact that you have a roof over your head.
As human beings, we all run into various situations and circumstances that range from slight annoyances to overwhelming tragedies. Even in the most difficult times, if you can slow things down in your mind just long enough to connect with your heart, you will be able to find something, even if it’s just a small shred of appreciation, that will pull you through.
Gratitude is a practice of creating a state of emotional prosperity. It’s about focusing on the good things you have. It is as relevant to be grateful for the positive outcomes from your past negative experiences as it is to be thankful for the amazing things in your life. It’s not about pretending that things were okay when they weren’t, and it’s not about ignoring the way you’re feeling when things aren’t good. Rather, it’s a practice for reevaluating what is important for you to focus on at the end of the day to help you stay positive, calm, centered, and balanced.
Gratitude Mindset Meditation
Use this guided visualization to journey through an upsetting time, find something positive that came about as a result of what happened (or what’s happening), and cultivate gratitude for it.
- Find a nice, quiet space where you won’t be disturbed.
- Silence your phone, close the door, and settle into a comfortable seat in your favorite spot.
- With your eyes closed, begin to breathe slowly and deeply.
- Feel your body begin to relax from the top of your head down through your shoulders, arms, torso, hips, and finally down through your legs.
- Bring to mind a time in your life when things were not going so well—a time when something happened that caused you confusion, pain, or suffering of some kind.
- As you think back on this time, take in what happened during this experience.
- Now begin to travel forward in your mind observing as you navigated through this situation.
- Put your awareness on the person you were then—doing the best you knew how at that time.
- Next, notice that where you are currently at in your life is a very different time, space, and experience. See how far you have come and become aware of the different person you are today.
- As you reflect back on what happened, ask yourself, “What is the gift, positive lesson, or wisdom I received from having had this experience?” This difficult time that happened has somehow provided you with insight or knowledge that it happened for some reason that you weren’t able to see at the time.
- Ask yourself, “What are you grateful for now as a result of what happened back in your hardest moments?”
- When you’re ready, take a few more deep breaths and open your eyes.
- Do some journaling if it calls to you.
If you’re new to personal growth and things aren’t exactly spectacular in your life, it’s sometimes easier to begin by focusing on the positive things you have to be thankful for—and why you’re grateful. When you’re down in the dumps it can be a real mood-killer to try finding the silver lining in a situation that just plain stinks.
As things improve in your life and you’re feeling stronger (spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically), looking back on the less-than-positive experiences you’ve had and finding the gifts from those times will become easier. The biggest thing to remember when practicing gratitude is to meet yourself where you are in the moment and work with what is most readily available to you while you journey on toward greater happiness and healing.
By Tris Thorp