As 2016 draws to a close and a new year approaches, a common refrain I hear from many people is what a lousy year it has been for them individually – illnesses, injuries, relationship woes, work problems, and other disappointments. Personally speaking, it hasn’t been my best year as well, but it’s during the trying times that I’m reminded of the positives in my life, like a loving and generous spouse, supportive family, amazing friends, and for that I’m deeply grateful.
When faced with life’s disappointments or challenges, it’s easy for us to focus on what’s wrong or what we don’t have. We perceive that the grass is always greener on the other side as in the Zen classic, The Other Side.
One day a young Buddhist on his journey home came to the banks of a wide river. Staring hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him, he pondered for hours on just how to cross such a wide barrier.
Just as he was about to give up his pursuit to continue his journey he saw a great teacher on the other side of the river. The young Buddhist yells over to the teacher, “Oh wise one, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river”?
The teacher ponders for a moment looks up and down the river and yells back, “My son, you are on the other side”.
No doubt, many of us can relate to the young Buddhist. We can become so fixated on our current situation or problem that we fail to appreciate the present moment and the existing joys in our life.
The cultivation of gratitude in fact, is healthy for us. According to research by author and world’s leading psychologist on gratitude Dr. Robert Emmons, people who actively practice gratitude are happier, less stressed, more optimistic, focused, and energetic, and overall experience greater physical and emotional well-being than those who don’t.
How can we cultivate a grateful outlook? Here are two ways to practice gratitude:
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Create a quiet time and space to record your blessings or joys. You can write in your journal daily or weekly, in the morning upon rising, or at the end of day. What’s important is consistency of practice. It can be helpful to pick a set number of things (three to five) for which you’re grateful. As you write in your journal about these joys, try to be specific in describing how they enhance your life, including sensations felt.
Make it a habit to acknowledge the people who’ve had a meaningful impact on your life by writing each of them a letter of gratitude. Ideally, deliver the letter in person. Never underestimate the power of the written word. Taking the time to write a letter conveys to the recipient that your appreciation is heartfelt and a written thank-you is a gift that keeps giving.
Science says cultivating a grateful outlook does our mind and body good.
Are you still trying to get to the other side of the river?”