Cultivating gratitude helps to create a new way of experiencing the world. It actually rewires your brain to form new pathways inclined toward happiness and peace. This happens even if your life circumstances are far less than ideal.
In fact, it may be most beneficial to start a gratitude practice when you think things couldn’t possibly be any worse. It’s in those times we most need to find something to be grateful for. Even finding a willingness to be grateful will incline your thoughts in that direction.
Soon after you start a gratitude practice, you will notice a softening of your heart. You will notice things that other things begin to grow inside yourself in addition to gratitude. Compassion, curiosity, generosity and joy all increase as you continue the practice.
You will notice you feel happier, even though your situation in life may not have changed. Then you may start to notice that your circumstance do start to change—because you are happier!
Coming from a place of gratitude and happiness opens you to new possibilities that you never saw before. Along with this comes a sense of freedom in your soul that says you can take that next step.
When I began my own gratitude practice several years ago, my life was a mess. I had been ill for a long time and for a large period of that time I had been bed-ridden. I was separated from my husband and had no doubt we were headed for divorce. I lived miles away from my own family. I couldn’t work and I was so poor I often had little to eat. I was miserable, alone and struggling. I often felt unwanted, abandoned and depressed.
During that time, I heard how keeping a gratitude journal had changed the lives of many people. I didn’t think it would work for me. I didn’t even think I could do it. What did I have to be grateful for anyway?
I started very small. I added things for which I had never before thought to be grateful. I had a bed and blankets. I had a bath tub and hot water, which brought me great comfort with evening soaks. While I had very little to eat, I always had something, however small. I had known having to beg for money in parking lots in order to have something to eat. I had a place to live, and it was safe and it was dry. I knew what it was to have no place to go and not to be safe.
When I started, I doubted I would have enough to write about for more than a few days. But as time went on, I saw more and more to be grateful for. I was tuned in to gratitude as I went through each day. My depression didn’t just lift, it broke the way the sun can suddenly break through the dark clouds during a fierce storm.
My various illnesses began to resolve themselves within a year. It was slow at first, but the relief of each symptom, the decrease of every pain brought more to be grateful for. Within another year, I found myself grateful for things I never imagined I could be grateful for.
I was grateful that I had known great pain, illness and difficulty. I began to see that these experiences had caused me to stretch, reach and grow in ways I would not have done otherwise.
I saw that each circumstance of my life had brought me to exactly what I needed in order to expand my soul. Every single thing I had ever been through gave me an opportunity. Precisely the opportunity I needed at that point in my growth.
This realization brought me back to the awe and wonder I had as a small child. I had a new appreciation for the amazing place this world is. For the beautiful way things come together, fall apart and come together again time after time. I became OK with not having all the answers, yet remained in a state of open curiosity.
Gratitude practice is not a method for making the world conform to your will. It is a means of seeing what is already available, in any circumstance and within you. It is slowly learning to not only appreciate the rain, but each individual rain drop. It is saying “thank you, you’re beautiful, I love you” as each drop falls.