Practicing Gratitude

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The magic of gratitude is that it never leaves us. No matter how dire the circumstances or how small the golden nugget we may unearth, a glittering, golden space always exists within… waiting for our return. Discovering a connection to this quality in yourself is like owning a pair of enchanted glasses that allow you to always see clearly the reality of a situation when you can’t find your way through the fog.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel considerably as a young independent adult, and in September of last year, I woke one a grey morning in Milan with unexpected weight of unbearable frustration pressing down on me. I was temporarily sharing space in a small studio apartment at the time, and the lack of connection I was feeling with those around me brought up a deep struggle with the familiar human experiences of social isolation and personal insecurity. I found myself going through the motions in a new land and ultimately spending my time in Italy dully trailing behind a group and wasting time between opportunities to eat pasta, lost more in a detached corner of my mind than the strange and exciting streets.

The frustration happened all at once: why was I throwing this away? I recognized in some tiny corner of my consciousness how absurd it was that I had gone through the trouble of crossing an entire ocean only to waste time like this, but I just couldn’t find my way out of the isolated fog that had caught me. In the early morning darkness with my roommate still snoring on the bunk below me, I rummaged for my notebook, drunk from the fizzing buildup of apathy, pen in hand and blank page before me, ready to scrawl my inward-directed frustrations until the ink was dry-- but what came to the paper took me by surprise. It looked something like this:

Yes, all the cash got stolen at the train station, but at least we have the debit cards still. I don’t have anyone to say this to, but at least I have this notebook to write in. I have enough Euro to afford a coffee this morning. If I’m going to be lonely and drink coffee, at least I get to do it in Italy. At least I had a warm bed to sleep in last night. I woke up alive...

Almost as quickly as it had come on, I was done, drained out, flipping through the pages I had filled with every single element of my current condition I could conjure to be grateful for. Rereading my own inky handwriting, I realized that every single thing I had written down, all four pages of it, was true. It was a turning point in my travels and in my life: I was free.

This is what the practice of gratitude can do. It’s powerful, simple, sweet stuff, and the good news is that you don’t have to wait until you’re reeling like I was. You can practice gratitude as a moving meditation throughout your day, as I’ve come to do (“I got to see a hummingbird today!”) or whenever your mind doesn’t know what else to latch on to, keeping your stream of consciousness from losing its way in the muddied waters of anxiety or negativity. The more you train your mind to think this way, the more second-nature it becomes, and is scientifically proven to make you happier.

The next time you’re feeling lost or down, I challenge you to write down everything you can think of that you’re thankful for in that moment. Can you find 10 things? 20? When you’re navigating troubled waters and need to ground yourself more than usual, return to this practice as often as you need to. There’s deep solace and joy to be found in a daily ritual of gratitude, and you will never run out of things to be grateful for!

Now is a great time to start: what are you grateful for, in this moment?

Written by Melanie Rose 

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