Practicing gratitude can be challenging on those days you want to curl up and completely shun the world. Sometimes it takes a boost of gratitude to help you get out of a slump. Gratitude for yourself, for others, for the world. Yes, even gratitude for your enemies.
Gratitude meditation can be considered one of the most simple ways to meditate. You can try it at any time and anywhere. All you need to do is reflect on all of the people and things that you are grateful for.
As Jack Kornfield says:
Open the meditation to include neutral people, difficult people, and even enemies- until you extend sympathetic joy to all beings everywhere, young and old, near and far.”
Benefits of Gratitude Meditation
You may be skeptical but there are many benefits to invoking feelings of gratitude.
- Decreased levels of depression(Sirois, 2017 Gratitude Uniquely Predicts Lower Depression in Chronic Illness Populations)
- Greater feelings of well-being (Nezlek, 2017 A daily diary study of relationships between feelings of gratitude and well-being)
- Trust in social situations with strangers (Drążkowski, 2017 Gratitude pays: A weekly gratitude intervention influences monetary decisions, physiological responses, and emotional experiences during a trust-related social interaction)
- Greater sleep quality (Jackowska, 2016: The impact of a brief gratitude intervention on subjective well-being, biology, and sleep)
- Reduced levels of stress and increased happiness (Kyeong, 2018 Effects of Gratitude Meditation on Neural Network Functional Connectivity and Brain-Heart Coupling)
Here is an easy 10 minute meditation to wake up with which will help you start your day in a more positive way.
This guided gratitude meditation is just over 10 minutes long and you can listen to it wherever you like whether you’re on the train or bus on the way to work or just beginning your day.
How are gratitude and mindfulness linked?
Mindfulness is all about being aware without judgement of your thoughts. Try to observe your surroundings and also your internal mental state with compassion, without judgement.
I found it very useful to treat mindfulness as brain training. You can train your brain to stop reacting to negative situations with irritation and frustration. Expressing irritation and frustration will always lead to negative outcomes. Consider all of the times you showed irritation and how it worsened the situation. If we train ourselves to react with compassion and acceptance those negative moments become so much more bearable.
As written by Williams and Penman (2012), mindfulness can prevent the relapse of depression and I have definitely felt this in my personal experience. My depression and anxiety has become manageable and bearable thanks to the brain training towards a mindfulness mentality.
Feelings of sadness and pain are part of the normal human experience. However, our mental health is affected by the frustration with which we reaction to that sadness and pain. Sadness can cause a person to react with frustration. That frustration leads to more sadness. That sadness brings about more feelings of frustration that feeds the negative spiral downwards into depression.
The downward depression spiral can be stopped! There is hope. If we don’t react to negative emotions with irritation and frustration, but instead with compassion and acceptance, we can stop spiralling and become more productive.
“Once you’ve felt [negative emotions], acknowledge their existence and let go of the tendency to explain or get rid of them, they are much more likely to vanish naturally, like the mist on a spring morning.” -Williams and Penman, 2012
Acknowledge and accept the existence of your sadness and anger; then let them fade away. It’s just a moment in the span of your existence. Moments of pleasure don’t last just as moments of sadness don’t last. As long as you don’t feed them.
Happiness isn’t a life free of irritation and negativity. Happiness is a life where negativity and irritation aren’t fed and strengthened, they are acknowledged and accepted with humility.
“You can’t stop the triggering of unhappy memories, negative self-talk and judgmental ways of thinking -but what you can stop is what happens next. You can stop the vicious circle from feeding off itself and triggering the next spiral of negative thoughts.” -Williams and Penman, 2012
The next time you feel negativity bubbling up during a moment of vulnerability or desperation, do not get frustrated at yourself or at external factors, just take a deep breath and patiently acknowledge the experience, observe it as it simply fades away.
Gratitude makes it possible to notice the positive blessings around us and removes our thoughts from the difficulties we’re facing in this life. Mindfulness helps us react to our misfortunes with acceptance and humility.
Life is difficult enough for all of us, let’s not make it harder.