How is your gratitude bucket doing? Is it empty? Half-full?
Every year, from the beginning of Thanksgiving throughout the rest of the year (before we start setting goals and declaring our new-fangled resolutions for the impending year) there is great pressure to outwardly verbalize gratitude for various things, from our families and the things we have, and for those other intangible things. Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable, these outward displays of being grateful, because it feels almost, well, performative. This season of gratitude is built right into the winter play book: receive with gratitude, spread gratitude and magnanimity all around, be thankful, be effusively appreciative, scream it from the roof, your car, the roof of your car…
But is it all for show? I think that some of it may be for show, you know, to keep in the “spirit” of the winter holidays (whatever that might mean to you), but I prefer to see it as a good reminder to myself to stop and acknowledge everything I am able to do and be, and the fact that I am alive enjoying the bounties of life.
Actually, according to studies done on positive psychology interventions by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman of UPenn, Dr. Robert Emmons of UC Davis, and Dr. Michael McCullogh of the University of Miami, there is a strong correlation between gratitude practices, health and happiness, thereby increasing optimism, lessening aggravation, and improving relationships.
So, given that everyone else is doing it, I’m in. Actually, I’ve been in for a while. There’s this thing I do sometimes when I’m having a tough moment in a race or in training--I stop, step off the trail, breathe deeply and focus on my toes, soles, and ankles. I thank them for giving me stability on the trail. Then I turn my attention to my calves, quads, and hammies, and I thank them for powering up and moving me forward. Then on to my heart (for pumping and well, keeping me alive) and my emotional heart for allowing me the sense of expansiveness that gratitude constantly gives me.
This habit I have, I learned a few years ago from a yoga teacher one day when I was the only student in class on a busy holiday weekend. The yoga nidra focused on turning my attention to each part of my body, starting with my feet and ending on the top of my head, in an effort to achieve deep relaxation. I used that framework to begin a practice of acknowledging and thanking my body for the things I put it through--namely long, arduous trail races on big mountains--for a sense of deep and heart-filled gratitude.
Does this make me a better person? Probably not. But it definitely makes me happier, more optimistic, and more willing to sharing my joy with other human beings that might be in need of a smile, a hug, or encouragement in the moment. So, I’m in. You?