Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and there’s always a lot of talk surrounding the idea of gratitude this time of year. I’m sure my family isn’t the only one who goes around the dinner table (or in this year’s case, the video chat) as each person says what they’re thankful for.
Let’s be honest, though: as much as I love a reason to be with loved ones and eat as much as I possibly can, the history of the upcoming holiday is absolutely horrific - we’re talking colonialism, racism, and mass murder to name a few. On top of that, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a constant bombardment of death, illness, unemployment, and separation from the ones we love - and there’s still no end in sight. To be blunt, this year has been universally shitty, and our circumstances can make it really hard to think of things to be thankful for.
This is why gratitude is so important right now, though, and why we should make gratitude a daily practice that extends beyond this one (historically terrible) holiday. When we can find even the smallest things to be thankful for each day, we are regularly training our brains to recognize the good in the world as a whole and in our own lives. As we spend the holidays away from our loved ones and continue to separate ourselves from our social circles for the sake of safety, we can use all the help we can get to find positivity wherever we can.
Some people keep a physical gratitude journal, writing down a set number of things that they’re thankful for each day or each week. Some people keep a running list as a note on their phone, computer, or tablet. Some start their day with a meditation focused on gratitude.
What’s worked for me is incorporating gratitude into my meditation practice that grounds me before I sleep each night. Here’s how:
Get comfortable and cozy, and make sure your before-sleep tasks have been completed (brush your teeth, drink some water, set your alarm(s), etc.)
Take a few deep breaths to help you relax - in through your nose for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, out through your mouth for a count of 8
Focus on the physical sensation of how the material below you supports your body, and allow yourself to really sink into whatever you’re sleeping on
Do a full body scan for any tight muscles, and try to release any tension you notice
This is where the practice of gratitude comes in.
Make a mental list of positive things that happened today, or things that you’re thankful for. If you’re having trouble, think of small things, or things that we might usually take for granted. Did you eat one of your favorite foods or talk to a friend? Did your pet do something cute today? Do you have a safe place to rest, at least for tonight? Did you spend any time doing something you enjoy today?
As you think of things you’re thankful for, imagine roots growing out of your body and into and through the surface you’re laying on, eventually extending down into a ball of light in the center of the earth.
Visualize this light spreading up through the roots and into your physical self, cleansing away the day’s stressors and negativity, creating an energetic shield that keeps you safe as you get some well-deserved rest for the night. I’m a big ol’ empath, so I like to visualize this light and safety beaming out to protect the people I love as they sleep, too.
I’ve been meditating like this every night for a few months now, and it’s become an important part of my spiritual practice. I have general anxiety disorder (GAD) as well as clinical depression, and being able to ground myself before bed and focus on the positive things in my life has proven to be a powerful tool that helps me stay closer to a more grounded and stable baseline.
*If you are or think you might be living with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness, please reach out to a medical professional. Meditation is a great tool, but cannot meet the same needs as therapy and medication. Everyone’s experience is different, and meditation is just one part of my own care that’s helped me personally.
While gratitude is an important internal practice, it’s also vital to vocally practice gratitude in our relationships with others - both personal and professional. Don’t be afraid to tell your friends how much you appreciate their presence in your life. Tell your partner how much their love and support means to you. Let your coworkers know that they’re an important part of the team, and you are grateful for their hard work.
A simple “thank you” goes a long way. When we express gratitude to our loved ones, we cultivate personal relationships where we are actively seen, loved, and appreciated. When we express gratitude to our coworkers, we cultivate a team that knows their value, has strong morale, and is motivated to perform their best.
Since I've committed myself to a daily gratitude practice, I've noticed that it's easier for me to notice the good things in my life as they happen, so matter how small. I've felt myself become more open to seeing possibilities and opportunities. Overall, I just feel better.
This might be the time of year where we hear and see the most about focusing on what we’re thankful for, but I encourage you to practice gratitude all year. It might make the stressors of 2020 feel a little bit lighter. It might strengthen your relationships with the people you care about. And who knows, it might help you find possibilities you wouldn't have noticed before.
At the very least, intentionally noticing the good things in our lives most certainly can't hurt.