It’s easy to say, "gratitude matters." but without a regular practice of gratitude, I believe we’ll drift back toward greed. So, in that spirit, I offer two practices of gratitude, that I use in my own life:
1) Keep a daily gratitude journal. Maybe this might sounds ridiculous, but try it. Each day, in your journal, or Word document, or wherever, lift up three things out of the landscape of your life that you are thankful for. Three things – people, experiences, music, food.
Here’s how this works in my life: I regularly journal and pray early in the morning. I begin with this line from e.e. cummings: “I think you god for the most this amazing day…” And then I prayerfully list what I am thankful for:
“I thank you god for my family.
For the people I serve.
For bringing me to this moment, despite hardship and heartbreak.
This practice changes me. And I’ll tell you, giving thanks doesn’t deny the hard moments, the loss, the grief, the despair we feel. Gratitude does not mean we ignore those things.
In fact, the Reverend Peter Gomes, former minister of Harvard’s Memorial Chapel, during a Thanksgiving Sermon, encouraged his congregation to,
"think of your worst moments, your sorrows, your losses, your sadness and then remember that you are here, able to remember them...you got through the worst day of your life...you got through the trauma, the trial, you survived the bad relationship, you're making your way out of the darkness...remember these things...then look to see where you are."
And if you are in a dark, troubled place right now, know – beyond your rational mind - that you won’t remain there forever.
The first practice is to keep a gratitude journal. If you’re not into journaling, write some thank you notes on a regular basis. Surely there are people in your life who deserve your thanks.
2) Make it a practice to tell a spouse, partner or friend something you appreciate about them every day. Author Arlie Hochschild writes, "When couples struggle, it is seldom over who does what. Far more often, it is over the giving and receiving of gratitude. The struggle in the contemporary context is the struggle to cultivate gratitude between any two committed partners."
Dr. John Gottman, a national known relationship counselor, says that he can predict, often after only three minutes of observation, which marriages/partnerships are likely to flourish and which are likely to flounder.
The basic formula is that for every negative expression (a complaint, or a put-down, or getting angry with one another) there needs to be about five positive ones (smiles, compliments, laughter, expressions of appreciation and gratitude). 5 to 1 is the ratio, he says.
So this practice is about opening your heart to your partner, and truly paying attention. What are the ways, large and small, that you appreciate your partner, or friends? Have you told them? Are you being stingy with your praise?
Gratitude won’t fix everything in a relationship – I’m not saying that – but it will change the landscape of your relationship.
Here’s the bottom line: “Practicing gratitude" is not one more thing to check off your to-do list. It's not an obligation or a burden to praise, to give thanks. Rather, it is an overflowing of Love, of the heart remembering and acknowledging the web of life we are in, that we had nothing to do with, yet sustains and nourishes us, nonetheless.