My yoga teacher offered us all a January challenge. She suggested when we awaken each morning, we think of something we are grateful for before we turn on our phones, or get involved in our day.
It's a good habit. Especially when life gets stressful. Someone else suggested the same at bedtime, "Be grateful for three things in your day before you shut your eyes."
I'm not going to explain how beneficial gratitude is. We know it is.
It's the challenge part that is a, well, challenge. Changing habits can be hard. We get locked into our routines and rituals. Especially when life gets stressful. But one small thing a day can be done. If we forget, we can remind ourselves and try again. Then as the habit becomes more set, we don't need to remind ourselves as often.
Recognizing the little blessings is just as powerful as the big things: a warm drink on a cold day, the scent of onions cooking, internet fast enough to stream. But we have to stop for a sec and connect with them. Morning or night can work. As can grace at mealtimes - whatever its form, it's a way to pause and remember all the labours that brought the food to our table: the sun, rain, farmers, transport, market, cooking, everything.
I've been trying to remember the bedtime one and grace at mealtimes. I forgot at bedtime a few nights ago. But when awake in the night and thoughts of politicians and pandemic started to creep in, I reminded myself "3 things." It wasn't easy. It was a day or two before the inauguration in the US and tensions were high. Who wants to think about something fluffy when we have politicians and pandemics going on? So I did "1 thing" instead of 3. The next thing I knew it was morning.
Sometimes it feels just too hard. But there's a trick to deal with that, too. I can say, "If I could feel grateful right now, what would it be for?" Then even if I don't feel the connection, the door opens.
There's two aspects of gratitude I've noticed. One is deliberate like the examples above, where we take the time to feel that connection. The other is spontaneous. I'll be in the middle of a quiet activity and find myself unexpectedly grateful for something. It seems to rise like a bolt out of the blue. The more I practice the deliberate types, the more often the spontaneous rises.
Gratitude changes us for the better. It makes room for joy to percolate through our cells. So if you don't already have a gratitude practice, maybe you can take this up as your February challenge.