Living Grateful

Posted by on Nov 26, 2014 in Blog | 26 comments

Living Grateful

What are you grateful for?


Around this time of year, you may be feeling grateful – for family, for friends. For the myriad of blessings in your life that you overlook during the usual daily grind. Yet around this time of year, you may also be feeling pressure to feel grateful… even when gratitude is not the attitude that’s presenting.


In moments of deep gratitude, it’s enough to count our blessings and enjoy the feeling of fullness that accompanies. But what should we do in moments when gratitude escapes us?


Whether it’s replaced with feelings of resentment, overwhelm, grief or simple exhaustion, a good place to start is not beating yourself up.


According to Psychologist Barb Fredrickson, we feel gratitude when we appreciate something that has come our way. In her book Positivity, she describes gratitude as opening one’s heart, and carrying an urge to give back, or do something good in return. In this way, gratitude can be seen as both a feeling and a practice. Dr. Fredrickson also mentions gratitude’s evil twin: indebtedness – an emotion that arises when we feel we have to pay someone back, which feels distinctly unpleasant.


Of course, there are ways to cultivate our sense of gratitude. True gratitude is both heartfelt and unscripted. And our bodies know the difference. While pushing it or faking it is not likely to work, shifting our attention and presence can help.


Early this year, I started a habit of talking about three gratitudes with my partner each night before bed. At first, the practice seemed trite. Of course I can select three arbitrary events and express that I am grateful. But shortly, the practice revealed itself as both a challenge and an invitation. Shortly I found myself expressing genuine gratitude for difficult – even apparently unfortunate – events. Retroactively, I began to realize that from these events I was learning, growing and deepening my understanding of the world.


Not long after that, I noticed a shift in my day-to-day experience of those same events. Rather than brace against them, I began to turn toward them. That didn’t mean, of course, that they got better, or even more enjoyable in the traditional sense of the word. What it did mean, however, is that my willingness to stay present in my own body and experience them got stronger.


For example, in the past few weeks I’ve been keenly aware of the anxiety that goes with starting a new business. In my body I’ve felt a pull toward fear. More than once, my mind has been overtaken by an uprising of old demons just waiting to run my train off the tracks. Yet different than in years past, I’ve noticed my new habit of living grateful opening the door to a solidly different experience. I’ve discovered a capacity to stay in and simply feel the visceral low, round, fiery ache of failure wash over me.

Here too I am present. Here too I am grateful.


This week I invite you to shift your thinking from “grateful for” to simply “grateful.”

If you were to detach the sensation of gratitude from the object it points to, and simply feel grateful in your body, what would you feel?

And, what would change in your experience if grateful were simply another way of saying “allowing space for what is”?


In your movement practice,

pay attention to the times and ways you unintentionally leave your body while you move. Do your thoughts of the next thing pull you away from your current experience? Is the pain in your back or knee too strong, urging you to shift your attention to other parts of your body? In the physical domain, gratitude is about staying in. Can you turn up the volume instead of shying away? Can you be in agreement with, and feel that agreement in your body as a sense of gratitude?


In life,

pick one thing – one relationship, situation or project – where you struggle to feel grateful. Take a few moments to take stock of what’s in the way. What do you think, feel, say or do that pulls you out of your present experience? What do you know, believe, worry or fear that colors the flavor of your relationship with it? This week I invite you to turn up the volume on your level of presence just two degrees. Listen. Feel. Be, and be with.

If you weren’t struggling to get away, what would this other have to offer? Not in a general or grand sense. But in this… very… moment… right… now.


I closing I must confess that words do not do this subject justice… at least not my words here today. There is something subtle and tricky about a sensation that is so widely talked about (even commercialized) that it’s made into a national holiday.


And yet, there is something so human, and basic about the experience of gratitude that nonetheless it cannot be ignored.

Thus I will leave you with a thoughtful question: What is gratitude in your body? And what does it open or allow?


Desiring comments and shared reflection,





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