the grateful life

Gratitude is a self-compassionate practice, according to therapist Lea Seigen Shinraku, MFT, who I recently interviewed for a piece on authentic ways to practice gratitude.

“Acknowledging and expressing genuine gratitude for what you appreciate in your life is a deeply kind act,” she said.

I agree. When we express gratitude for anything, it deepens our connection with it, and it deepens our connection with ourselves.

Expressing gratitude for our bodies helps us to tune in, to actually notice our bodies (instead of neglecting them), to stop seeing our bodies as some enemy or even annoyance. (An enemy who stands in the way of our weight loss, for instance, which is how I viewed my body for a very long time.)

It’s a step in accepting our bodies as they are, as we are.

We also see this deeper connection when we express gratitude for the people in our lives, for nature, for the joy in our days.

In their book The Grateful Life: The Secret to Happiness and the Science of Contentment authors Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons share a ritual that one woman has used to help her stave off insomnia and waking up in the middle of the night: She goes through the gratitude alphabet.

For instance, she thinks of something she’s thankful for that starts with the letter “A,” then “B,” and so on.

This is an excellent exercise to do before bed, or really anytime. It’s perfect for next week on Thanksgiving (wow, how is it almost Thanksgiving?). It’s perfect for getting your kids or family involved.

Having the constraint of specific letters gently nudges you to come up with all sorts of gifts and blessings, to really think through the many, many things we have to be grateful for.

Maybe you’re grateful for your strong arms, the delicious apple you’re snacking on or your sister Anna. Maybe you’re grateful for your body in general or the ballgame you’re going to see this week. Maybe you’re grateful for your breath. Maybe you’re grateful for the chilly and crisp morning or the warm coat you’re happy to have.

Maybe you’re grateful for the doughnut you just savored, the drawing your little girl created or your ability to dance. Maybe you’re grateful for your earrings, passed down from generations, or your emotions, for teaching you key lessons. Maybe you’re grateful for your fireplace, which is keeping you warm in this chilly weather, or your feet for taking you everywhere you want to go.

Write down everything you’re grateful for — including the seemingly small things. If you have several things for each letter, don’t limit yourself. Write it all down.

Cultivating gratitude isn’t about putting blinders on or drowning in denial. It’s about savoring the beautiful things that are already present in our lives. Because often we let the negative overshadow our gifts.

Lesowitz and Sammons include a powerful quote from Helen Keller in their book: “So much has been given to me; I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.”

I love this perspective, and I’ll try to carry it with me as best as I can.

What are you grateful for?