November 02, 2011
We are currently reading Jan Chozen Bays's How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness at the Tricycle Book Club. Each week in November, Bays will present us with a new mindfulness exercise that relates to the theme of gratitude. The first exercise is posted below. Give it a try and then join us at the discussion to tell us how it goes. Pick up a copy of the book here.
Mindfulness Exercise # 1: Gratitude at the End of the Day
At the end of the day, write a list of at least five things that happened during the day that you are grateful for. At the end of the week, read it out loud to a friend, partner or mindfulness companion.
Keep a notepad and pencil or pen beside your bed or on your pillow so you can write a list each night before you fall asleep.
When people first do this practice, they often think that they will have trouble making a list of at least five things they are grateful for. However, they are surprised to find that when they start, the list often grows longer. It is as if a long-neglected faucet is turned on, and the flow doesn’t shut off. This is a lovely transformation into the mind-state of ongoing gratitude.
Research shows that people who keep a “gratitude journal” or express gratitude verbally show a significant increase in happiness and decrease in depression.
We may know people who are naturally grateful. To be around them lifts our spirits and brightens the day. The Buddha spoke of “cultivating” our mind, letting unwholesome emotions and thoughts wither away while strengthening wholesome ones. How is this possible? It is an energetic phenomenon. Anything that is fed energy will grow. It may seem artificial at first, but when we deliberately cultivate gratitude, we will gradually become naturally grateful people. (Conversely, if we cultivate negative mind states, jealousy or criticism, they will become who we are.)