How to experience gratitude

Gratitude clears a path for life-sustaining habits, positive transformation, and wise action.

Gratitude wipes out limiting thoughts, regret and despair. It preserves time and energy that you would otherwise spend on complaining and criticizing.

Across the U.S. today, we celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s a special day for families and friends to get together for a feast and to give thanks for what they have.

But this morning I woke up feeling sullen and somber over losing some prized (digital) possessions.

Last night, I discovered my toddler deleted from my camera every single video and photo I took of her over the past 16 months from the day she was born. Three clicks on a single button are all it took.

Had I uploaded the files before they got deleted? No. Did I have backups? No.Could I recover the deleted files? No… or not likely (for reasons I won’t get into here).

This episode amounted to a refresher crash course on how to experience gratitude. Here are a few key points:

Acknowledge what sucks.

When crap happens, gratitude is not always the healthiest immediate response. Instead, you first need to acknowledge what sucks.

It doesn’t help to wallow in misery and self-pity. But you also don’t want to deny your pain by reframing the situation too quickly. It’s okay to be ticked off. Just face the loss or the less-than-ideal experience, as is, without trying to make it less troubling with affirmations of gratitude.

Mistakes are human and they teach us to do better next time. Losing the videos and photos taught me an important lesson. It reminded me that if you care about something, you need to take steps within your control to avoid outright loss.

For now though, I choose to feel disappointment over the loss. I’m not going to gloss over it with “everything happens for a reason” or “it is what it is” platitudes.

Realize that dissatisfaction can coexist with gratitude. 

Gratitude involves rejoicing in what you have, which is often more than enough. Gratitude doesn’t mean you won’t have unfulfilled desires, dreams and wishes that create dissatisfaction.

If you cover up the negatives with your positives, life might start to feel superficial and shallow. But if dissatisfaction greatly outweighs gratitude, life can be pretty depressing and heavy.

Aim for the right proportions and make conscious choices. If you’re getting too complacent, work toward building a new habit. If you’re complaining too much, focus on an existing thing that brings you joy.

Dissatisfaction and gratitude are non-dual experiences that can coexist well together. While I’m disappointed about losing the videos and photos that were on my camera, I’m grateful that I still have many that were stored elsewhere.

Appreciate what is before you.

While I was missing the videos and photos I lost, I was missing out on my daughter standing right in front of me – eager to play and have fun.  She’s no longer the helpless little baby who could barely lift her head. Rather, she now walks around like she owns the place.

Getting wrapped up in the past and worrying about not having certain mementos for the future made it hard to be present. The sweetest moments are right here, right now. The present is when life is most delicious, abundant, real, and full of possibilities.

Get specific about what you’re thankful for. 

Whatever you’re grateful for becomes more tangible and immediate when you know exactly why you appreciate it. Picking five things you appreciate is great. Listing five reasons why you’re thankful for one particular thing is even better.

And if you’re having trouble naming one thing, dig deep and search wide. Are you grateful for that faithful friend who will give you a ride when your car breaks down? Do you own a nice pair of boots to keep your feet warm in winter?  Do you have strengths that you get to use daily or regularly? Is there at least one person on earth who holds you accountable?

Why do you wake up in the morning? Be grateful for that. 


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Photo by: Jessica Lucia