We hear a lot about the merits of feeling gratitude, especially at this time of year. There is something about New Years that calls for reflection and introspection so we may look back over the past year to acknowledge the privileged lives we lead: the people who love and care for us, the food we eat every day, our warm homes, our healthy bodies and even feeling safe.
Most of us recognize the importance of these things when we take the time to reflect. The problem is we don’t often take the time and our reflection is brief. Instead we spend most of our time caught up in disappointments about how life should be different. We become consumed with pet peeves, disappointments and fears. Negative thoughts take over and our lives become darker.
When people come for counselling for the first time, many are asking how this could have happened to them. How did their lives become so painful and why are they so afraid? Many acknowledge the things that they are grateful for and this makes it harder to understand why these negative thoughts and fears continue to consume them.
Gratitude is more than just a random thought of appreciation that passes every once in awhile. It’s a practice of focus that leads to a shift in consciousness. The practice of focus is how and what we pay attention to. This not only includes what is happening to us and around us but also what is happening within us: our thoughts or self-talk.
What we focus on becomes our reality. We can be unconscious of all that life offers us, or we can practice shifting our focus to all that life offers us at any moment in time: the clean air we breathe, the feeling of warmth and comfort, the amazing sunrise, the taste of good food, the laughter of children, the sound of the wind and on and on. All these things exist every day all around us and yet for many go unnoticed and unappreciated.
When we take a walk in a beautiful park while focusing on thoughts about all that happened in the past or what might happen in the future, the thoughts start to consume us and take over our experience of life in that moment. The more we engage with those thoughts, the more vivid and detailed they become. This then becomes our reality and very quickly our beautiful walk in the park is shaded by dark thoughts and imagery. The sun doesn’t shine as bright, the smell of grass goes unnoticed, sounds of children playing annoys us, distracting us from our miserable dark thoughts.
The good news is that we can change this. Once we are aware that our thoughts are not real, that they distract us from all the potential joy and happiness that surrounds us, then we can begin to shift our focus to all that life has to offer. It sounds simple and really, it is! It starts with catching ourselves getting caught up in a dialogue with our thoughts and noticing how entrenched we are in our own imaginations. Shift that very moment to your breath, to how our body feels, to your heart beating and your muscles working. Look around you and pay attention to the light, the wind, the trees or the stars. Take a moment to let your heart feel gratitude. You’re alive! In one moment, you became consciously alive.
Stop living in your thoughts and shift your focus to what is right in front of you. Take a moment to appreciate all that life is offering. With practice, this shift in your focus will eventually lead to becoming more conscious, peaceful, content and alive. Gratitude is the pathway towards genuine happiness.