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Developing Gratitude as a Lifelong Practice

Developing Gratitude as a Lifelong Practice

Developing Gratitude as a Lifelong Practice

by Christine Sine

This week I started celebrating a season of gratitude. Several years ago, I celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada at the beginning of October, and American Thanksgiving at the end of November, and since then, I have designated October and November as my gratitude months. This year I need the season more than ever, yet like many people in our churches, I struggle to find anything to be grateful for. The ongoing challenge of COVID, the turmoil caused by racism, economic inequality and our anxieties about climate change weigh heavily on all of us. The practice of gratitude is one of the tools we all need to cope with the exhaustion and looming burnout that besets us.

In preparation for the season, I read Diana Butler Bass’s book Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks. She helped me realize that one reason we struggle to establish gratitude as a way of life is because we do not fully understand what gratitude is. She explains that gratitude involves both emotion and ethics (moral principles). We feel grateful when we see something beautiful or receive unexpected gifts from someone – that is definitely emotion. Writing a thank you note to show we appreciate the gift is a choice, an ethical decision that comes from our belief that such notes matter.

Bass points points out, that most of us have a distorted view of gratitude emphasizing only one aspect, usually relegating it to feel good emotions that come and go in our lives. It is this confusion that makes it so difficult for us to choose to practice gratitude whether we “feel” grateful or not. Depression, anxiety and stress strip away the emotions of gratitude. 

“Gratitude is not only the emotional response to random experiences, but even in the darkest times of life, gratitude waits to be seen, recognized and acted upon more thoughtfully and with a sense of purpose. Gratitude is a feeling, but it is also more than that. And it is much more than a spiritual technique to achieve peace of mind or prosperity. Gratitude is a habit of awareness that reshapes our self-understanding and the moral choices we make the world.” (Grateful 60) 

Don’t you love that? Gratitude is a habit of awareness that reshapes our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. In other words we can choose to be grateful people and establish practices that develop it into a life long habit. In the process we become happier, healthier and less stressed people. Teaching gratitude as a way of life to our congregations, is, I think, essential to help us overcome burn-out . 

Many of us, myself included, have tried keeping gratitude journals that lasted a week and then got discarded. To be honest making a list of things I am grateful for just does not seem to resonate with me, but I knew I needed something to help anchor me through this challenging season. Years ago I read that there are three simple steps to make a routine into a life long practice. “Keep it simple, make it meaningful, stick to it,” still good advice I that certainly stood me in good stead as I developed my new practice. Hopefully my gratitude practice will help you too:

Gratitude Practice: 

When I wake up in the morning I make a cup of tea and sit quietly in my sacred space for a few minutes enjoying the early morning sounds and sights. I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths in and out and recite what has become my morning mantra: 

Thank you God for the gift of life

A wondrous gift so freely given. 

I continue to sit quietly with eyes closed breathing slowly in and out, receiving that gift and allowing the wonder of it to sink down deep into my soul. Sometimes a list of gratitudes flows out – thankfulness for breath, and sight and a warm house, thankfulness for a loving husband, a silly dog, food on the table each day. Some days the list seems endless and often unexpected – gratitude for the organizations we support who are able to help in ways we cannot. On others nothing comes to mind and I sit content in the presence of God knowing that if nothing else the gift of life provides me with the opportunity to appreciate the glory of God. 

When I sense my time of quiet contemplation is over I open my eyes ready for the day. Then if I feel prompted I jot down what I felt thankful for that morning and end with the words

Thank you God for you. 

Evidently it is much easier for us to focus on the negative aspects of life than on the positive and practices like this help shift the balance. When we begin the day with gratitude, not only does our stress lift, but we are able to see the silver lining in clouds throughout the day. So I hope you will try this practice or something similar to begin your day and ward off the burnout and stress that is hanging over us all. 

 

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