Gratitude, The Practice of Happy

Gratitude being synonymous with Thanksgiving finds its way to the tables we share with the ones we love as the topic of conversation.  I find in this season gratitude is abundant, as many of us observe this practice... if for only one day of the year. 

When looking around our family table this year I definitely felt a strong sense of gratitude in the simple act of sharing a meal with my husband, children, their cousins and my in-laws, most whom I don't see nearly as often as I'd wish.  Don't get me wrong, just like all families there are always challenges in relationships, especially when you don't always share the same values or history, but still I am thankful for those challenges.  When my mother in law requested each member of the family share what they are thankful for our youth joined us without phones or tablets, and as they each shared what they were grateful for. Each child had the same reply, family and friends.  The fact they were each willing to participate in this practice with the added challenge of sharing it out loud with a table full of grown ups was without a doubt a beautiful experience in cultivating a potentially life long practice of gratitude.  Still, I couldn't help but think their responses were lacking in creativity, thought and authenticity.  Even though this exercise didn't exactly begin in an authentic state, as we were all being prompted to suddenly share our thanks, it does however, provide an opportunity for reflection no matter how brief.  This experience and their responses did get me thinking, how can we cultivate a life full of gratitude? 

As a mother I have a strong desire to facilitate practices of gratitude as they have been strongly linked to lifelong happiness which is truly the biggest wish I have for my children. Luckily for us gratitude has become a buzz word and not just through the lens of the Autumnal harvests our ancestors have been giving thanks for, but a broad view of gratitude, encompassing our past, and current experiences large and small.  With this interest has come scientific studies that support the idea that you can cultivate a happy mind by taking time to consider what you are thankful for.  What I find to be even more impactful is that when we engage in this act of acknowledging what we are grateful for, we experience this sensation of gratitude even more frequently.  Beyond this, studies suggest that to benefit most fully from this practice try  focusing on people that enrich your life and experiences instead of objects.  Note these experiences in as much detail as possible avoiding the simple "I'm grateful for my family" answer, incorporate the colors, sensations, visual and felt experiences as well as who is present at these moments.  Perhaps consider utilizing the prompts of a gratitude journal, or a jar where you record what experiences you encountered through the day and then read them on New Years or your birthday, maybe you even turn of the TV, put the phone away and turn it off so you can have an uninterrupted meal with those you love and tell them face to face what they mean to you, and the fullness they bring to your life.   Practicing gratitude cultivates a grateful, more fulfilled and happier life, which we all deserve and are never too old to obtain.