Gratitude: Learnings from our collective journey
There are a few practices that I have found life-changing and gratitude has been one of them. My journey with gratitude started in 2013. I had started teaching a group of children in a community in Shivaji Nagar, Mumbai. I was privileged and gifted in many ways and yet I was unhappy and angry about many things in my life and society. On the other hand, my children, who faced a lot of daily struggle and a dearth of material resources, were often able to see the bright side and be joyful every day. The time with them reframed my whole perspective and I grew to become more and more grateful. I continue my gratitude practice until today and unsurprisingly, I have also found myself to be a happier person.
My team and I in the Wellbeing Movement strongly felt we need to take this practice to more people because each one of us had experienced the many benefits of living in gratitude. We recently introduced the theme of gratitude and appreciation to the community through a learning space, following which we initiated a 21-day gratitude challenge. We saw nearly 80 people participate in the challenge with different levels of consistency. We closed out the challenge yesterday with a Reflection Circle, where we discussed four key questions. In this article, I will share my reflections on this shared experience we had as a community.
What shapes and forms did gratitude take for us? Which ones were easy to identify and which harder?
In her article on four portals for gratitude, Angeles Arrien spoke about blessings, learning, mercy, and protection as the four pathways for gratitude in our lives. To explain the four portals within the context of writing this article, I am grateful:
- For the internet and Medium to be able to write the article (blessing)
- For my ability to listen, read, process and write (learning)
- To the readers who read my article, despite its imperfections (mercy)
- For my home, the supporting staff in the apartment and all the delivery persons, who have kept me safe from the pandemic thus far (protection)
As we were discussing yesterday, the form of gratitude that was the easiest to demonstrate is for nature and for people who are a part of our lives, excluding our closest ones. Gratitude was harder to express for the people and things we take for granted (like your mother or living in a society that has some law and order) or people who we don’t see every day as visible contributors to our lives (like the farmer who grows our food).
In the 21-day prompts, we engaged with blessings the most, which is just one of the four portals. Even with the challenge’s narrow scope, we experienced many benefits.
What were the benefits of gratitude? How did they come alive in our experience?
Many participants, including me, shared that feeling and expressing gratitude helped improve our relationships. It made our everyday interactions more pleasant and positive. Some of us even felt nostalgic about the positive memories in our past. More so, the relationships improved not just with friends, family, and colleagues, but also with our selves — our bodies, our souls. For many of us, gratitude turned what we already have into enough (this is also a quote by Melodie Beattie).
In addition to relationships, some participants shared examples of how it made them attend to moments they would have otherwise ignored. It made us feel present and calm. We were appreciative of the everyday beauty in our lives, even when the situation was challenging or frustrating. In some ways, gratitude had become a tool to fundamentally changed the way we look at the world.
What were the barriers to gratitude? What might be some ways of overcoming them?
We felt many barriers to feeling and expressing gratitude. Some of us felt our ego come in the way — “How can I be grateful to this person despite everything she/he has done?” Some of us felt selfish — “What will I get in return?” Others felt the fear that it would make people waiver from their duty — “Why should I be grateful to someone who is only doing their job?” A few of us felt the class barrier — “I have shown my gratitude by paying them. Why should I say thank you?” Of course, these are not the actual verbatim reflections but a summary to help you understand the varying barriers.
Acknowledging our common humanity seemed to be a powerful way to look past some of these barriers. Can we see people as humans first and with their gender, caste, occupation, region, relation, or religion later? Would our response be different if you did not know these things about the person?
The other lens that I find useful to wear is: How will you know unless you try it? What is the worse that may happen if you tried acting with gratitude in these situations? Often, the challenge seemed more a function of our conditioned mind than the actual reality. In reality, gratitude only made people feel more abundance.
As you take small steps in this direction, you come to realize its benefits soon. To illustrate my point, some participants shared how their family members even joined them in the gratitude challenge after they expressed their thanks to them. The initial awkwardness of saying thank you after many years was of little concern thereafter.
To learn more, read Angeles Arrien’s article on the obstacles to gratitude.
How will we take our practice forward and deeper?
When we are supported by daily prompts and when we are inspired by a community of practice, practicing daily gratitude does not seem hard. To continue their practice, participants shared ideas like setting up structures, like a journal, a gratitude jar, a photo-a-day challenge. However, what does living with gratitude every single day truly mean?
Check out the video of the 365 days of gratitude by Hailey Bartholomew. More resources here: https://365grateful.com/
The group brought out the difference between saying thank you for its sake versus expressing gratitude when you genuinely feel it. While the former is a good courtesy, it is the latter that truly brings alive the benefits of gratitude. It is also much harder to do the latter. It requires us to be constantly mindful and attentive to our experiences. We need to widen how we see our interdependence with other living and nonliving things in the world. Lastly, we need to recognize and embrace that feeling of gratitude and appreciation when it happens and acknowledge the feeling through its expression.
What are your ideas to deepen your gratitude practice? Leave your ideas in the comments section.