For a long time I’ve resisted the concept of gratitude. It is a buzz word in the mindfulness world and lots of people are doing gratitude meditations, radical acceptance workshops and all sorts of practices that encourage one to take notice of the blessings in their lives.
For the last few years I’ve known that my life is blessed, but it always felt hard enough that I wasn’t particularly grateful for it. I found that there were five key aspects of my life that prevented me from experiencing gratitude. In fact, until I began deeply questioning my relationship to these five issues I couldn’t stay mindful or be grateful for all the blessings in my life.
- Being in pain: Those of you who have ever spent time in chronic pain, even if it was only for a week of a season, know that physical discomfort shuts the mind down. It drastically fatigues the body, lowers your capacity for doing fun things and makes you resent healthy people. It is a perfect set up for not feeling grateful.
- Worrying about money: We all do this regardless of our income levels. Even if it just second guessing whether or not something is worth purchasing, most of us worry about money a little. Some of us live more closely to that edge than others and the worry has a greater threat to it. Worrying about money is an excellent trap. It doesn’t solve problems and it just depletes the body.
- Working too hard: In our culture working too hard is idolized. The 40 hour work week is only appropriate if you are in grad school and work out 6 days a week and train for a marathon and have three kids under the age of 10. How did we become such crazy multi-taskers and over-achievers? Working too hard and complaining about it is boring to those around you and detrimental to your overall health. Why are you working that hard? What are you trying to accomplish? How much money made will be enough?
- Being trapped inside: This isn’t esoteric, this is physical. It is hard to feel good about life when you are stuck inside a cubical or dark office under fluorescent lights all day. Or worse if you spend an hour or more a day in the car with the windows up. The desire for views of nature and the physical sensations of nature (walking barefoot in the grass, smelling flowers, feeling the wind, stepping into a cold brook) are innate and do build up. We need the grounding of being outside and without it we do feel a little lost.
- Suffering from insomnia: The percentage of Americans who suffer from insomnia is unfathomable. It is scary to think that such a large portion of people are going about their every day lives working at 30, 40, or 50% of their potential simply based on how many hours they successfully slept the night before. Health starts with a decent night’s sleep.
A gratitude practice helps to slow life down and allow you to be mindful and thankful for all the positive parts of your world instead of being caught up on the striving and wanting for something else. But before you dive into a practice and try to force yourself to be grateful, take time to sit down and list out what things are preventing you from feeling grateful right now. What would it take to change your perspective or the actual details around those issues?
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